Post-Katrina Words For Newcomers Reveal Anti-Change Anxiety

Aug 6, 2015

In May, vandals defaced the new, gussied-up St Roch Market, spray-painting "YUPPIE = BAD" and breaking 

Henry Folse, member of Krewe du Vieux's Krewe of Underwear, satirizes Post-Katrina anxiety about change, and the most recent target of cultural ire.
Credit courtesy of Henry Folse

  all of the windows. And last month, when actor Wendell Pierce's plans for redeveloping a blighted property were rebuffed by the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, he tweeted, "Not hipster enough? Gentrification." The fear is that Post-K New Orleans is losing something essential -- something from Pre-K New Orleans. Eve Abrams examines what else we’re saying when we use these words.

This past Carnival -- Krewe du Vieux night, there was one sign that got a lot of attention. You might have seen it. “Hipsters Go Home.”

“People came out of the crowd, into the street to shake my hand, and say, ‘thank you for saying that., laughs Henry Folser, maker of the sign, proud member of Krewe du Viuex since its founding. “But I really don’t know who hipsters are. I knew they were supposed to be responsible for a lot of problems.”

Folse is a 70 year old native born New Orleanian and a retired Loyola philosophy professor.

He says his idea for the sign came from his sub-krewe’s theme – Bulldozing for Change – and its suggestion that change was being spurred by hipsters-- whoever they are. He intentionally played on the famous phrase, “Yankee Go Home,” which suggests a foreign intrusion.

Folse says many newcomers adapt smoothly and naturally to New Orleans values, while others never do. People who like old things and feel at home in a state of semi-disrepair, likely integrate well. But for people who move here with expectations that don’t match what New Orleans offers – sometimes, they try and change things.

Joan Folse is Henry’s wife and also a native New Orleanian and a member of Krewe du Vieux. She says, “I think the thing about Henry’s hipster go home sign, is that a lot of young people come to New Orleans and they say, well this is really cool but it needs more coffee shops, or it needs things they want in their lives, and that is what is making New Orleans change a little too quickly.”

This quickness is entirely post-Katrina, says Joan Folse, because of the way it brought people here.

“Hordes of Spring Break volunteers.  Instead of going to the beach, people would come to New Orleans and gut houses – And a lot of them discovered New Orleans because of that. They would gut houses and then go party in French Quarter at night and hear music and eat food. Even the year after Katrina, it was still such a cool place.”

Author and filmmaker Rebecca Snedeker grew up in New Orleans, and moved right back after college in the mid-90s. It wasn’t a popular choice at the time.

“I had been taught that if I wanted to do something with my life, I had to get out,” laughs Snedeker.

Having come back and stayed in her hometown, Snedeker says she’s grateful when people choose it, bringing their different ideas, questions, and artistic practices. She says newcomers help her see things she considers normal with fresh eyes. Besides, people have been coming and going since there’s been a New Orleans.

“Certainly I feel territorial sometimes,” she confesses. “Like, sometimes that crops up. But the thing I always go back to – whether I’m thinking about how people visited New Orleans or even like disaster voyeurism and tourism – I always go back to this place of: people may be doing it imperfectly, but what if no one came?”

“Change is good.  You can’t stay the same,” says Myron Clark, who works at the Saint Roch Market. “I mean, you got to adjust to the new things around you.  Simple.”

Clark was in the back baking bread pudding and cinnamon rolls the night the windows were smashed and "yuppy = bad" was spray-painted on the building. He ran out to see what the noise was.

“I just seen all the glass broken. Me being the way I am, I ran back in there and started hiding.”

Clark called the police, and then, even though he was scared, saved his cinnamon rolls from burning. He thinks the message was to get out of the neighborhood, but Clark says the city’s going in the right direction, and he’s grateful for his job.

So is Harrison Karnes, a barrista in the market at Coast Roast, who recently moved here from Seattle.

“Yuppie,” muses Carnes. “It’s interesting that they used that cause to me yuppie’s like an antiquated word. I think of like a New York Stockbroker. I was kind of expecting something more contemporary or obvious like ‘hipsters.’”

“People like the idea of a scapegoat,” says Henry Folse. “They like the idea of blaming problems on some labeled group of people, and hipsters will do as well as anything.”

After all, it isn’t an ethnic or religious slur.

“Maybe that’s why we invent these labels,” Folse muses, “because other labels that were used for humor in the past are now no longer eligible, and so now we have to have new labels to create groups to make fun of!”

So that when we’re upset or anxious, instead of busting a window, we can laugh.