Blights Out is a collective of artists, activists, and architects who seek to demystify and democratize the system of housing development and expose the policies that lead to gentrification. We located the lynchpin of gentrification in laws governing property, debt, and racialized wealth stratification. Between 2014 and 2018, our mission was to generate dialogue, art, and action that could challenge inequitable development and drive land use policy in New Orleans. We are currently in a period of hibernation and reflection.
Blights Out in collaboration with Junebug Productions, Frederick "Hollywood" Delahoussaye, and Kesha McKey
An Invitation is a Call to Action, or, A Composite Prose Portrait of What Folks from Blights Out are Feeling, Thinking, & Talking About on the 10th Anniversary of Katrina
August 21, 2015
On August 15, 2015, members of Blights Out--natives and newcomers--were asked to share one word to describe how they were feeling as the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached. Dueling, conflicting, entwined emotions about the future were exposed: fear and anxiety tempered with optimism and hope. These single words sparked a profound conversation about what it means to belong to and become part of a place and a community. Simply, to enter a place is a free choice; to become a part of a community requires an invitation. The following is an invitation from Blights Out to those who may be struggling to understand their place in this contested city:
The air is charged this time of year. Indignities of displacement and replacement hang as heavy as the pregnant August Sky. We move stiffly, anxiously, defenders of (or monuments to?) an indigenous culture of New Orleans. Yet this time of year, we native New Orleanians must remind ourselves that we are not the first natives of this land to be colonized. We are living witnesses to the cyclical nature of history. The Law of Sankofa tells us that we must look back in order to move forward. So. let us remember:
The first Louisianans to be colonized were the Houma. The Atakapa, Avoyel, Bayogoula, Bilouxi, Chatot, Chawasha, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Koasati, Koroa, Mugulasha, Muskogee, Natchez, Natchitoches, Olelousa, Opelousa, Pascagoula, Quapaw, Quinipissa, Souchitioni, Taensa, Tangipahoa, Tawasa, and the Washa.
In the face of genocide, these peoples and others across America understood that difference and distance between peoples are not insurmountable divides. We have heard the tales: indigenous communities opened their arms to Marooned Africans who escaped from bondage and sought safe haven. They adopted them into their homes. But History Textbooks conveniently omit the other half of the story. Many tribes also welcomed defecting Colonists who refused to participate in the displacement and genocide of an entire people on behalf of European oligarchs and debt collectors. To those who were willing to listen—those who were ready to recognize and renounce their complicity with a culture of oppression—they offered home, family, and community.
This tri-racial culture of refusal was America’s first intentional community.
Katrina sent us wheeling, spinning, out of control, on a downward, outward spiral. Off kilter, left asunder, left bereft, left empty, left blighted, homeless, hopeless, stranded, alone.
But Katrina alone is not to blame for our alienation.
Katrina, and the changes that unfolded thereafter, were just fireworks at the climax of a long con: Slavery. Colonialism. Segregation. Desegregation. Disinvestment and Urban Renewal. The Claiborne Overpass. The displacement of people from their homelands; the elimination of public transportation; the closing and privatization of neighborhood schools; the indefinite isolation of individuals within prison cells; in some neighborhoods—working class neighborhoods of color, that is—one out of three businesses and one out of four homes linger vacant, ghostly...
We New Orleanians have been called “resilient”. Enough with the word. We stand on a cultural foundation carved out of a bedrock of resistance and refusal. The dance steps of the Revolution have been worked into our muscle memory. Our limbs move unconsciously in the automatic writing of buried history. Do not be mistaken: we will not be defeated so easily.
But we are also willing to welcome newcomers, to share, and to teach, provided that you are capable of truly listening. And we are willing to learn from, to listen to, and to embrace others as well. You have made a choice to move to this new place. But the process of becoming a part of this place is slow, intentional, and collaborative. It requires an invitation. The indigenous peoples of Louisiana invited their potential colonizers to disengage with systems of privilege that reinforced the oppression of others. An invitation is a call to action. This is an invitation.
Science has shown that none of the individual sub-atomic components within our own bodies ever actually touch. They are encased within their own energy fields, which bump up and rub against each other, creating friction. This kinetic energy bridges an otherwise infinite divide, serving as the glue that holds us together, offering the possibility of harmonic collaboration of parts within a whole. An assembly of individuals within a collective, acting intentionally as one. The social and civic body, as with the human body, is stronger as a sum of its respective parts.
The energy that surrounds people, places, and experiences is sub-cellular, social, spiritual, commiserative, communicative. We may never truly merge into one being, but sparks could really fly if we attempt to touch.
Blights Out invites newcomers to our city to sit with us. And to listen. And to learn. And to defect. And, when you’re ready, to join us in action. There has been some friction between us. But that’s okay. Friction is good. It starts fires.
- Blights Out
Blights Out was made possible through the support of our partners and funders: