Ray Nagin and the Chocolate Factory
By Selwyn Duke
Sometimes the news’ timing is bittersweet. On the heels of a piece I just wrote about modern man and the wrath of God, New Orleans Mayor “Sugar Ray” Nagin chimed in with his own thoughts on the matter. While he seemed to agree with those who attribute Hurricane Katrina to divine retribution, his conception of God’s priorities differs a tad from those of the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells and Hank Irwins of the world.
Sugar Ray said,
“Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country.”
“Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves.”
Sugar Ray also expressed a desire to resurrect New Orleans’ “chocolate” city status, saying,
“It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans – the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans.”
So the Mayor has originated a new theory in the universe of theological thought: God as divine confectioner. It seems to me, though, that if God had any preference for the Big Easy whatsoever, it was for saltwater taffy.
Many things course through my mind when pondering such sentiments, especially in light of Sugar Ray’s subsequent apology. And prominent among them is that Mayor Sweet Tooth has nothing for which to apologize.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no confection . . . er, affection for this sweets-talking liberal, a man who would be out of his depth as one of Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas, never mind as mayor of a metropolis. Although, I must say, his defense against the accusation of divisiveness was classic:
“How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That is the chocolate I am talking about. New Orleans was a chocolate city before Katrina. It is going to be a chocolate city after. How is that divisive?”
Great spin, Sugar Ray, I must say. That’s a recipe for vindication worthy of the combined efforts of Dick Morris and Emeril LaGasse. Only, if it’s true that lies have short legs, we’ll have to call it Essence of the Ephemeral.
Sugar Ray also pleaded that he simply got caught up in the moment, which is, oh . . . let’ say, an artificial sweetener. I watched footage of the comments, and they were anything but extemporaneous. A little hint, Sugar Ray: claims that you were caught up in the moment aren’t too convincing when it’s obvious you were uttering words rehearsed well before the moment.
This matters little to me, though. Because, you see, I’m truly sick of phony apologies brought about by politically-correct pressure-cooking. Quite frankly, I’d like to know what Sugar Ray – and everyone else, for that matter – really thinks about a subject. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with flavorful characterizations. Thus, instead of busying ourselves posturing, pouting and feigning umbrage, why don’t we focus our energies on gleaning insight from such comments?
For instance, it occurs to me that when he juxtaposes a statement about God’s disfavor with our Iraq campaign with the assertion that God “is upset at black America also,” it’s possible that he doesn’t really consider blacks to be part of our country. In other words, the Iraq situation is the milk’s handiwork, while the dark chocolate, constituting a different nation altogether, has an entirely different province. But I thought they both had been mixed together, forming a delicious drink? Perhaps we’re milk chocolate when credit is due the nation, but separate ingredients when it’s time to take responsibility. It’s all very confusing . . . if not fattening.
Of course, let’s read between the lines. It should come as no surprise that Sugar Ray wants New Orleans to be Hershey, La. – he’s up for re-election this year. Sugar’s thoughts most likely are, “If I don’t increase the local calorie-count fast, I’ll be looking for another job come November!” As far as Sugar Ray is concerned, it isn’t true that milk does a political body good.
There are also a few things I can say about the issue of God’s wrath. While I really don’t think that God cares very much about filling New Orleans’ cup with milk, dark chocolate, coffee candy, lemon drops, cinnamon jellies or any mixture thereof, I’m no hypocrite. When Pat Robertson claimed that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was God’s punishment, I defended him against those who reflexively scoff at any talk of divine retribution, despite the fact that I attribute Sharon’s malady more to adherence to Sugar Ray’s preferred diet. So I’ll not score the Mayor for asserting that God governs the affairs of men.
Not surprisingly, however, Sugar Ray hasn’t come under nearly as much fire for purporting to know God’s mind in these matters as Robertson, or, for that matter, Irwin, who also saw God’s hand in Katrina. Of course, while much of this involves the greater scrutiny placed on milk than chocolate in today’s kitchen, it also has to do with the fact that Sugar’s fashionable criticisms are far more pleasing to the politically-correct, junk-food palate. After all, while he imputed wickedness to the Iraq venture, no mention was made of the fact that he presides over a city that hosts the Mardi Gras, a buffet of decadent gastronomical oddities – including fruits, nuts and tarts – that have a penchant for unwrapping themselves in public.
No, were it not for the use of racial metaphor (something I studiously avoid), this little tempest in a bain marie would have been unlikely. Why? It’s as simple as apple pie: when men like Robertson, Falwell or Irwin speak of God’s wrath, they’re usually proscribing indulgence in addictive sweets that liberals find sinfully delicious and won’t do without. They tell us to eat our vegetables to achieve spiritual health. Sugar Ray’s menu selections accord far more with libertine tastes.
To the aspiring chocolatier’s credit, he did point out to his audience that the best way to have a healthy body is to take responsibility for your own diet. Sugar Ray said that he had an imaginary conversation with Martin Luther King Jr., who told him,
“I don't think that we need to pay attention any more as much about other folks and racists on the other side. The thing we need to focus on as a community – black folks I'm talking about – is ourselves . . . We as a people need to fix ourselves first.”
Sugar Ray also bemoaned the infighting among black leaders and said that King would not cotton to the fact that they are, “. . . most of the time tearing each other down publicly for the delight of many.”
My, my, methinks such talk of responsibility and bitter chocolate could be a bitter pill to swallow.
As for Sugar Ray and his political future, don’t count him out too fast. He may yet cook something up. ‘Cause, y’know, the Candy Man can.
For my part, I’m more interested in turning America into the land of milk and honey.
Biblically speaking, that is.