People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

Is the chocolate city turning vanilla?

Posted by schroeder915 on January 19, 2006

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to New Orleans, but instead to Washington, D.C.

After writer Natalie Hopkinson bought a Victorian house the Bloomingdale section of D.C. back in 2001, she wrote an article for The Washington Post proclaiming why she did it:

We damn sure are not about to let white folks buy up all the property in D.C.

The libertarian pundit Andrew Sullivan asked his readers to imagine the Post printing a more obviously racist view by, say, the Ku Klux Klan:

Just imagine the statement “There is a real sense among white Washingtonians that the city is slipping away from us.”

It’s difficult to read Andrew Sullivan given his hypocritical behavior, but many of his views still merit attention for the sake of discussion.

Sullivan continued:

The freedom of association to keep to one’s own should be legal, as long as the government doesn’t enforce it. But in a liberal culture, such separatism should be seen for what it is: an assertion that what we have in common as citizens and as human beings is less important than what separates us as members of racial, ethnic, or other groups. This, in many ways, is still the fault line in our current cultural politics. It hasn’t gone away. In fact, the separatists’ arguments are gaining force all the time–abetted by white liberals who should know better and who are too cowardly and guilt-ridden to take this evil on.

Meanwhile, back to the “chocolate city” of New Orleans, in his last column, Lolis Eric Elie made reference to the Parliament song by the same title, but Abby actually played the song on WTUL — gotta love the ‘TUL — actually played the song. You won’t hear that on any of the pre-programmed bullshit on commercial stations.’s review of the Parliament song emphasizes that the social criticism of the song’s lyrics are underscored by a spirit of universal respect:

Any perceived racial epithets or motivated comments in “Chocolate City” were most assuredly intended and delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. This includes lines such as “We didn’t get our 40 acres and a mule/But we did get you CC” [read: Chocolate City].

The dialogue is also an indirect reflection of the ideologies and daily realities of the overpopulated inner cities. The narrator takes the message to the people indicating that “there are a lot of Chocolate cities around/We got Newark, we got Gary/Somebody told me ‘we got L.A.’/And we’re workin’ on Atlanta”.

The universal sense of brotherhood is likewise a major factor in the success of both the fictitious Chocolate City and this very real performance. Perhaps the line that best states this is “God bless CC and its vanilla suburbs.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Carroll wrote a Washington Post article in 1998 examining the D.C. music scene from the 70’s through the 90’s, emphasizing the empowerment represented by the “chocolate city” movement:

They had made it clear that poverty didn’t necessarily mean powerlessness, which was a funky idea.

Wikipedia has a review of the history of the term “chocolate city,” and a Google search produced a wide array of interesting hits.

The lyrics to Parliament’s “Chocolate City” can be found here:

Hey, CC!
They say your jivin’ game, it can’t be changed
But on the positive side,
You’re my piece of the rock
And I love you, CC.
Can you dig it?

I encourage a reading, in particular, of the perspective of black New Orleanians found on the “Voices of Katrina” blog. There are some valid points made.


To be honest, there actually are rumors among Black New Orleanians that the people “Uptown” are against them. I know lots of wonderful people who live or lived Uptown – Black and White people – and few of them are racist but I’ve heard these rumors passed around among New Orleanians in Texas. As a white New Orleanian, I have actually heard some other white New Orleanians comment that “it is good that the poor are gone” or “I hope they don’t reopen the projects” and it has made me uncomfortable wondering if they are glad that the city’s African American population has by and large not returned to the city.


I think that what the mayor did was make everyone in this city uncomfortable, because he acknowledged that the big elefant everyone was trying to ignore was still in the room even if you didn’t talk about it. The truth is that the racial relations in New Orleans were a problem before Katrina. They’ve gotten worse since. This city has become extremely divided in an us against them mentality and most of the black citizens of New Orleans have not felt welcome home since the tragic days of Katrina. That is a problem. And before we all go out spouting hateful words about our mayor and his use of certain words during the speech, I think everyone needs to take a step back and really ask yourself… why are you really mad?


Mr. Nagin, I truly don’t believe you’re a racist, anymore than I am. But I do believe that in the eyes of far too many who have the power to help your city if they so wish, you have tarred yourself with that brush.


Although Nagin’s comments might have been misguided, they were not racist. Racism is prejudice plus power, which is not possible in a city where the power still rests mostly with white men.

Finally, Technorati has this chart documenting the use of the term “chocolate city” over the last 90 days. If you visit the site, you can search for its use in relation to the city of New Orleans — there were evidently a couple of other spikes in the last 90 days.


4 Responses to “Is the chocolate city turning vanilla?”

  1. Michael said

    You might want to check out this article by Sam Smith–a similar theme to your own…

  2. Schroeder said

    Great article Michael! I hadn’t seen it before. I don’t agree totally that we should view such comments neutrally, especially when Nagin’s tone of voice was so inciting, and when he so vindictively wrote off Uptown New Orleanians. My read of the D.C. chocolate city movement was that it was empowering without being divisively hostile.

  3. Mixter said

    All this talk of chocolate is giving me a sweet tooth…


  4. Michael said

    I think the actual term was one of derison years ago–but then was embraced nonetheless. NOLA–and Louisiana–have similarly embraced derogatory terms or symbols at times.

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