The Problematic Nature of Mardi Gras

In Roach’s “History, Memory, and Performance,” he talks about New Orlean’s Mardi Gras festival culture and the history of discrimination that the floats and parades are rooted in. This is something that caught me off-guard, as I was always taught growing up that these were respectful and “good” celebrations of culture. This is perhaps because I was taught that they were a French celebration, which completely whitewashes the significant role that cultural-mixing played in forming New Orleans and its traditions. Roach’s article caused me to view the Mardi Gras festivities in a different light and to reconsider other instances of cultural celebrations. While at face value, it may seem as though these festivities are important as they bring awareness to a group of people and their traditions, not all representations and performances are positive. I did not realize that the Mardi Gras groups were appropriating Black culture through racist means, such as blackface and minstrelsy. The inappropriate and racist nature of blackface is something that is being called attention to more in today’s society and the news, and for good reason. This negative idea of Mardi Gras seemed similar to how some Irish people take offense in the depiction of the Irish as drunks St. Patrick’s Day, which is often appropriated as a day where people can get drunk in the spirit of the Irish. It is important for society today to realize that representation is not enough; the quality of the way that people are remembered is just as and perhaps even more important.

2 Replies to “The Problematic Nature of Mardi Gras”

  1. This article shocked me, as well. I was always under the impression that Mardi Gras was a similar celebration to Carnival. I always thought it was a good version, as well, since New Orleans has such a unique blend of Africana and French culture. The Roach article has definitely made it clear to me that I need to be more careful when evaluating the reasons behind celebrations, practices, and traditions. I would never have thought twice about Mardi Gras without this article’s thought-provoking analysis.

  2. I think that even more so than the prevalent racist undertones of certain aspects of Mardi Gras festivities, Roach’s mention of Rex, the typically “old money” white elite krewe, and Zulu, the typically black krewe, literally coming together on Mardi Gras Day serves as a powerful image of the re-appropriation of the holiday. Because of the exaggerated and bombastic nature of the holiday, Roach notes that the black use of racial caricature, used to be more expressive to parade goers on the sidewalk and neutral ground, also functions as a parody of the white appropriation of many of the cultural rituals associated with the season. I also find it concerning just how much white people have utilized these pre-existing rituals and customs for their own enjoyment and celebration, especially because “Louisiana creole culture [is] the most significant source of the Africanization of the entire culture of the United States” (Roach 22). The article succeeded in placing Mardi Gras, a celebration which I have participated in for my entire life, in a new racialized context which makes me more aware of its problematic aspects than ever before.

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