Question about the TV show Treme
April 26, 2010 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Question about the TV show Treme and race. (Possible spoilers inside. Well, at least, plot points inside.)

In the most recent episode, the character played by Khandi Alexander made reference to her brother-in-law's aversion to her and her family. She intimated that this is a racial issue.

Both she and her brother-in-law are black.

What am I missing here?
posted by dfriedman to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't seen the show yet, but based on a quick Google search, I bet it has something to do with Creole prejudices against darker-skinned African-Americans.

Are his relatives Creole?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2010

(I mean - her husband or the brother-in-law)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2010

From my viewing of the show, yes. The in-laws are "7th Ward Creoles". And that's about as much as I know about it.
posted by Fortran at 4:05 PM on April 26, 2010

This LA Times profile on Khandi Alexander includes this tidbit:

She’s bumping up against not only insurance and a roofer, but a New Orleans class system that puts her husband's family up a few notches -- what she calls their "7th Ward Creole [stuff]" -- and therefore apparently disdainful of her and her bar-tending ways.

I suspect this is about the historical divide, post-Civil-War, between Creole residents of the 7th Ward and what were, then, called "colored" residents-- non-Creole blacks. More info here. It is an issue of loss of former social standing and the attempt to differentiate Creoles from darker-skinned African-Americans in the Ward in order to elevate Creoles to their previous status.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:05 PM on April 26, 2010

Ah, forgot to link to this. Dave Walker in his weekly 'Treme' explained column (spoilers, of course) says:

LaDonna’s lament about Creoles is a caste issue among African-Americans that is too complex to deconstruct in a single Sunday night blog post. Start here, I guess. Commenters: Any suggestions for further reading?

The commenters' comments might have more.
posted by Fortran at 4:08 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

As several commenters here have noted, they're "7th Ward Creoles" and people certainly make divisions and distinctions, warranted or no. The link provided by Fortran via Dave Walker is indeed a great place to start. Unfortunately I think we could talk all night and never understand all of it.

I was honestly wondering last episode about Ladonna's husband (the dentist (?)) and his skin color and his demeanor and mannerisms (as given to us by the show's writers) and sure enough, it came up bigger and faster than I thought. If you look at how the show presents him and his brother, both upright light-skinned professionals ...

... well, just like many other things in Treme it's a bit heavy-handed but fortunately or un- it's grounded in reality.
posted by komara at 5:08 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just in case you're wondering, the wards of New Orleans are political boundaries usually used for voting purposes and not much else, officially. Have a map if you're interested. New Orleanians have a sense of pride with regards to their wards, even going so far as to call them out. I've certainly heard "3rd Ward Represent!" shouted out by callers-in to radio stations on more than one occasion.

Within the 7th Ward district we also have a neighborhood called the 7th Ward. Chances are that Ladonna is referring to the entire political ward, not the neighborhood, as 7th Ward is economically challenged, to put it lightly.
posted by komara at 5:12 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, further slightly-off-topic discussion about wards being significant cultural identifiers in NOLA: there is a housing project called B.W. Cooper but often referred to as the Calliope (pronounced KALLY-ope). Some people who have lived there use the abbreviation CP3 as a quick reference: Calliope Projects, 3rd Ward - though technically the B.W. Cooper is inside the 2nd Ward. I'm not sure who started using CP3 or how the confusion came about.

Anyway, the point is that wards were and continue to be dividing lines in this city.
posted by komara at 5:18 PM on April 26, 2010

To get back on topic, here is a quote from this New Orleans LJ community post:

"LaDonna nails it when she says "Seventh Ward Creole bullshit, like they a different race." If you've never read my essay "On Being Creole," I recommend it to you now. LaDonna is spot-on, seventh ward creoles DO think they're a different race. I remember when I taught at Redeemer High out in Gentilly. We had a large number of Seventh Ward girls who used to attend St. Joseph Academy, and continued at Redeemer when SJA closed in the spring of 1980. Redemptorist was coed up in the channel, and the mix of the two student bodies was interesting to say the least. While most of us were worried about what we were going to do the first time a black boy asked out a white girl, but it was the reverse that generated more anxiety. When a white boy asked out one of the creole girls,there was all sorts of talk and a good bit of disapproval from the creole families. They really do think they're a different race. The creoles don't try to "pass" as much as people think; they see themselves as better than both whites and darker-skinned blacks. LaDonna's b-i-l the judge sees her brother as just another black criminal that he's not really obliged to help."

as of right now the 'On Being Creole' link is not responding, but I'm leaving it in in hopes that it comes back soon
posted by komara at 9:29 PM on April 26, 2010

On Being Creole [alternate link]
posted by komara at 9:32 PM on April 26, 2010

Thanks for all the responses. Very interesting stuff.
posted by dfriedman at 4:51 PM on April 27, 2010

Louis Armstrong's New Orleans, by Thomas Brothers is a fascinating look at how the various cultural undercurrents (middle class/poor, uptown/downtown, English/French, Black/Creole) of early twentieth century New Orleans shaped the development of Jazz.
posted by timeistight at 11:23 AM on April 28, 2010

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