Black Like Whom?

We’ve received a flurry of e-mails in response to Reed Kroloff’s article, Black Like Me.

Below are excerpts from readers’ e-mails who are confounded by Kroloff’s stance. Opposing viewpoints can be found here.

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For a few paragraphs, “Black Like Me” reads like a parody in which some clever author has brilliantly captured the light-weight, pedantic oratory style that is Reed Kroloff’s trademark, self-satisfied condescension. When I realized that the author was the demagogue himself, dean of Tulane University’s School of Architecture, amusement was instantly replaced by abject horror.

“We all became black last summer.” Who’s we, white boy? Dean Kroloff and his companion high-tailed it out of New Orleans and the state before you could say, “Superdome!” First, they landed in dry dock in Houston then found sanctuary in Austin before returning to their undamaged maisonette, once the electricity was restored and the looters had been chased off.

Some wonder why Dean Kroloff didn’t stay behind to help his people in the Ninth Ward, but I say his talents were put to better use explaining architecture and design in a post-Katrina world to NPR and the print media. He’s everywhere! With all the attention the good dean has received, one might even go so far as to suggest that Katrina was the best thing to happen to his career. And although the mainstream media, not knowing any better, can’t be faulted for giving him a stage upon which “to strut and fret,” Metropolis sure as hell can. What in the world possessed an otherwise sober and dispassionate journal to publish—idiocy aside—just plain bad writing? Delete all the shameful, callous, and borderline racist references to black identity, and this reads like a high-school essay. Dean Kroloff takes common knowledge and dresses it up to look like original reporting—”…the levee system had been improperly engineered,” “…New Orleans is an American city. Americans live here…”

The Metropolis editors needn’t worry about recriminations, at least not from the disenfranchised citizens the Good Dean fatuously profiled from his Ivory-Tower perch. They’re about as likely to see an issue of Metropolis, as they are to find him living next door.

Sara Hart
New York, New York

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I think Katrina is not about Reed Kroloff. I think Katrina has nothing to do with him appearing once a month in a magazine…and much less to do with his racial preferences.

I think it is shameful, and I feel embarrassed to have had him and his panel full of used car salesmen tactics at the lecture series that I co-curate.

Jacqueline Miro

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I believe that the piece is highly symptomatic of the exclusion of questions of race from architectural discourse. More than two decades ago, discussions on race deeply affected and transformed many disciplines—history, visual art, film, and sociology to name a few—but these debates and vocabularies never quite penetrated the collective architectural psyche. The result is a clumsy, outdated, and embarrassing inability to engage in a discussion of race when it is most crucial. In this sense, architects are just as unprepared as FEMA when it comes to dealing with Katrina.

Kroloff’s disturbing and silly identification of himself as “black” results, I believe, from a confusion of sympathy and empathy. While sympathy, with its root “sym” (suggesting sameness) produces a collapse of self and other, empathy suggests a movement towards and into the other, without the necessity of them being the same.

Another fundamental problem in Kroloff’s piece is the defining and essentializing of “blackness” (being black means x, y, and z) in relation to the disaster of Katrina. This reduction of identity to an economic and social status (which in this case is one of total crisis) excludes the cultural and historical roots that are the real substance of identity. In other words, to Kroloff, being black means being a victim of Katrina.

If Kroloff cares about issues of race and social exclusion in New Orleans (which is the roundabout message of his piece), it should be reflected in his actions – his curriculum and hiring choices at Tulane, his involvement with local communities, and perhaps most importantly, his consideration of issues of race in the project of rebuilding the city. He doesn’t have to be black to do that.

Daniela Fabricius
New York, NY

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“More important, where are the soaring ideals, and the best and brightest solutions?”

Read as upper-middle class architectural theorists completely removed from the practice of architecture (and the conditions and experience of the American poor) testing out untried architectural theory and forms on the poor—once again stigmatizing poverty with an architectural style removed from tradition. Despicable and reprehensible to say the least.

Gary Brewer

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