'Chocolate' Aftertaste: Bittersweet, Indeed

Ray Nagin spoke at the mayors' conference yesterday. He doesn't get
Ray Nagin spoke at the mayors' conference yesterday. He doesn't get "all the fuss" over his call to rebuild New Orleans as a "chocolate city." (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 26, 2006

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin blew into the original Chocolate City yesterday. Everywhere he goes these days, there seem to be things to explain, his words and comments tossed about as if, well, in yet another hurricane.

"Everything I say gets zoomed in on," sighs Nagin, in town to attend the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the Capital Hilton. "I don't get what all the fuss was about when I talked about New Orleans being a chocolate city. I mean, I understand the frustration with my 'God' comments. Maybe I went a little overboard. But Chocolate City? Come on."

In the aftermath of the horrific Hurricane Katrina, the mayor has been richly and routinely quotable.

He said, "How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexican workers?"

He said to federal officials, whom he criticized for a feeble response to Katrina, "Get off your asses."

He said, "Surely, God is mad at New Orleans. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on the country."

And he said, of God, "But surely he is upset at black America also."

And he said that New Orleans will be a "Chocolate City" again.

The Chocolate City reference, Nagin has explained, exploded when he did not mean it to. The term was widely used by Washington's black radio announcers in the early '70s and referred proudly to the city's majority-black status and its prominent place in the black cultural scene. It gained wider recognition as the title of a 1975 album by the funk band Parliament.

Before Katrina, New Orleans was 67 percent black. Nagin says he was appealing to those evacuated to come back to a welcoming New Orleans. But there were those who believed his comment could be interpreted to mean that whites were no longer wanted.

Nagin says he wants anyone and everyone to return to New Orleans, heretofore known as the Crescent City.

"I thought, personally," says San Bernardino, Calif., Mayor Judith Valles, "with his 'Chocolate City' comment, he was just saying to the people who left -- and let's face it, most were African American -- that this is still your city. I think he meant it in a positive way. But it was politically incorrect, I guess. It missed the proper gesture." Then she says: "I'm a Democrat. That's why I understand the 'Chocolate City' phrase."

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