Mardi Gras Activism on the South Slope

I’ve never been to a Mardi Gras celebration. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s not as big a deal north of the wall, or if it’s because my personal philosophy towards lent makes the celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday something of a moot point—I decided a while back on the sage advice of a very wise friend, that I don’t have to believe in the concept of Lent. Is giving up cheese for forty days going to make me a better person? Is giving up candy going to bring Jesus back?

Since I haven’t been to any real Mardi Gras celebration before, I was expecting a small, low-key affair when a friend invited me to go to the South Slope Mardi Gras parade. Now, the parade was small, but not low-key. We arrived at Banks Avenue to watch the parade as it were about midway through around 3:30 and seemed to be the only ones there who hadn’t been drinking since breakfast, not that I’m complaining—it was phenomenal people watching. 

At one point, my friend looked around at the chaos around us, looked back at me, and said, “how can they be celebrating with what’s going on in Ukraine?” He was joking, but we both agreed we were surprised that no one had, in what I’m learning is a very Ashevillian trope, attempted to turn this traditional hedonistic celebration of excessive into some sort of misguided call to action. Soon after that conversation, we migrated over to Catawba for the afternoon, whose crowd of new parents and children were embarrassingly more our speed. 

Well, there’s a reason we can’t have nice things—the next morning, while watching WLOS from the elliptical I saw coverage of the prior day’s festivities where a gentleman unironically told the reporter that he was celebrating Mardi Gras to honor Ukraine. 

I don’t know that I have an eye-roll big enough for this kind of performance. 

I’m a big believer in two things can be true at the same time. You could be horrified about what’s happened in Ukraine (we spoke at length at Catawba about how we hope it’s over soon and doesn’t ignite something bigger and more deadly), and also go out and day drink to excess on a Sunday afternoon for no other reason other than you want to day drink to excess on a Sunday afternoon. People like this gentleman are the modern-day version of the “there are children starving in Africa” crowd—I’m not sure if the endgame is some sort of attempt at moral superiority or some weird guilt-fetish, but it’s irritating.

And it’s not limited to Mardi Gras. There was a rally for Ukraine on Pack Square last week, once again covered by WLOS—I’m ready for the think pieces about how much the lamestream media actually loves the war in Ukraine—where the same gentleman from the first WLOS piece decided to get my panties in an ever bigger bunch, saying,” If we could have an effect of the tourists coming through—coming to have chocolate, some dinner—and remind them there’s more to life than hanging out, partying. There’s standing for things.” How does he know the tourists haven’t donated money? How does he know they shared their “points of view, thoughts, care, love, and intentions” privately, or simply at another event? How does he know that these tourists don’t have other things they stand for, other causes they champion, and maybe just don’t have the bandwidth, time, or want to stand in a very public place and shame people who are just trying to have a nice weekend? 

Now, I’m sure there were people at this rally who were there for the right reasons (I hope?), but I’d wager a decent sum that plenty of the people here, and probably the loudest and most sanctimonious, wouldn’t offer money nor food to any homeless individuals they encountered walking to or from the rally. I’d bet they didn’t protest the violence being thrust upon the citizens of the Middle East or Africa (I don’t recall any Asheville demonstrations to rally behind Ethiopia, Yemen, or the Congo in my two years here), or want to talk about the high sexual assault rates here in the United States—I could get sanctimonious too. There’s a gentleman I follow on social media who recently took to his Facebook profile to decry how none of his Facebook friends were showing enough support or outrage for the Ukrainian people. The same gentleman thought it was very unnecessary during the summer of 2020 that anyone protest police violence.

I also wonder if as many people would’ve shown up to these rallies if the news wasn’t covering them so voraciously. 

If I believed in Lent, I would’ve been embarking on forty days and forty nights of not judging people in a cynical manner. However, as we’ve established, I don’t believe in it. 

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