How do second line-like parades fit into New Orleans today, and what questions should we ask ourselves to try to arrive at that answer?

princess leia photo
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia

Rather than specifically talk about a tribute parade for Carrie Fisher or David Bowie, let’s think big picture about the future. People are going to want to honor the passing of public figures who were important to them with second line-like parades again, and we can collectively have the same aggravated conversation again and again, or we can start a dialogue about how to respectfully practice New Orleans and African-American traditions in the 21st Century.

Who qualifies for a tribute parade? If the deceased needs a New Orleans connection, what does that connection need to be? Does “touched many New Orleanians” count? If not, what were people recognizing when they held second lines, jazz funerals, and memorial parades in the past? 

If we think the deceased needs to be a New Orleanian who contributed to New Orleans’ culture, are we prepared for the possibility that the practice will die out? That there will come a day when we have few obvious greats to merit such an honor? Who under 50 do you think would merit a second line, jazz funeral, tribute parade or second line-style parade if he/she were to pass away?

Does the language we use to talk about the event matter? If we know that the second line is an African-American invention and we’re doing that thing but calling it something else, is the alternative phrasing anything more than a fig leaf? What’s preserved by setting aside “second line” for parades with African-American involvement and using “tribute parade” or a similar phrase to describe the same parade but with primarily white paraders and a non-traditional honoree? If we’re concerned about cultural appropriation, what should a culturally respectful memorial parade look like? 

How do the people likely to attend a memorial parade or second line affect how you feel about it? Is what separates the parades you believe in from those you’re opposed to really a matter of taste? If not, what is it?

What do our choices of who to hold second lines, jazz funerals and memorial parades for say about our city? About our country? Is it possible that we’re not as culturally isolated as we once were? That we’re not quite as inwardly focused as we once were? If so, is that wrong? What are the conditions that would make it okay? If tribute parades honor people that New Orleanians care about, what's wrong with that?  

What is our duty to the present? Since second lines for traditional honorees aren’t what they were 50 or a hundred years ago, are we being out of step to insist on traditional correctness when it comes to tribute parades we disapprove of? How should we adapt the practice to the 21st Century? What should such a parade look like in a bigger, busier, more ethnically diverse city? In one that is not as isolated and insular as it once was? Or should they be private affairs for long-time New Orleanians only? Should they be ways that we beat back the myriad factors that shape today? Should our traditions be a part of 21st Century New Orleans or a refuge from it?

What other questions should we be asking ourselves?