Carnival cruelty exposed and New Orleans' love goes viral
As popular as it has become, social media has developed a reputation over these last few years as a sort of cyber forum for bullies, a place where harassment and abuse can be so targeted and yet so broadly disseminated that some young people have killed themselves in response.
But Thursday evening in New Orleans, it was on multiple social media platforms that good people came together to mobilize in support of a young girl who had sought the joy of the Carnival experience, but instead got a glimpse of human beings at their ugliest. She had her view of the Feb. 16 Muses parade blocked by a group of young foul-mouthed drunks, one of whom splashed her with beer, nearly singed her hair with a cigarette and humiliated her by calling her "retard."
Emily's the child's name. She's 11. She has autism. If it matters -- and I don't think it does -- Amy Mueller describes her daughter as a highly functioning autistic child, one who keeps a journal of gratitude and reads books as she waits for her favorite parades to roll, one who, as a 10-year-old, analyzed her love of Carnival this way: "I don't feel like I am different than everyone else during Mardi Gras, Mama. During Mardi Gras, everyone is a little weird like me."
Based on that statement alone, we can all concur that Emily's brain operates on a high plane. But even if that weren't the case, it wouldn't matter. Those whose struggles are more pronounced wouldn't have been any more deserving of the bullying Emily was subjected to. Besides, the distinction her mother makes was clearly lost on the college-age man who after being asked to watch it with his beer and his cigarette, after being asked if he could move a step or two so the girl could see the floats, shouted, "This retard is making watching the parade a challenge."
Not surprisingly, the girl had no desire to see Muses or any other parade after that. Her mother told her they could move. They could find a spot where the people were nicer. Despite her having concluded last year that Mardi Gras made her seem more normal, her encounter with the bully unraveled all of that, convinced her that she would forever be noticed -- and shunned.
As for that place her mother suggested they find? "People there will probably think I'm a retard, too. People don't want people like me at parades. They won't let us in to watch the parade. I just know it."
She cried. Her mother said there'd be more parades.
"No, Mama. I don't think I want to do Mardi Gras anymore. Not ever again."
New Orleans learned of Emily's awful Carnival experience after Amy Mueller described it in heart-breaking detail on the blog NOLAFemmes. Thanks in part to Twitter and Facebook, Emily's story quickly morphed into a cause. Everybody wanted to do something for her, give her the Muses shoes they got as throws, give her the throws they got from other krewes, invite her to their parade-watching spot next year.
Previously, the most popular piece on NOLAFemmes had gotten 1,509 views, said Charlotte Hamrick, the blog's creator and administrator. By Friday night, "Lit up like a parade," written by Amy Mueller, had been viewed 92,103 times.
More important than people showing cyber support for Emily, though, was the real-world display of love the little girl got Friday morning. The Krewe of Muses responded beautifully, inviting the girl to its den at Claiborne and Clio streets where she was entertained not only by the members of the all-female krewe, but also the 610 Stompers, the Rolling Elvi and the Pussyfooters. People on Twitter began referring to it as Emilygras. But she wasn't the only one watching the show. Almost 100 other people showed up, too. There was king cake. Snowballs, too.
Emily pronounced it all "overwhelming."
That strikes me as exactly the right word. The abuse she took on the parade needed to be overwhelmed. Thanks to New Orleanians who lobbied to her aid, it was.
Emily got so much parade loot Friday she now wants to give some of it to other children who don't have as much as she does. Where should she direct it, readers? Let me know, and I'll pass your recommendations to her.
According to Hamrick, she said Friday, "I am so lucky and feel so special. Other kids should get to be happy and feel special, too."
Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3355. Follow him at http://connect.nola.com/user/jdeberry/index.html and at twitter.com/jarvisdeberrytp.
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