For most of this Carnival season the whispering had been that Bacchus still had not found a monarch. True, the task has gotten increasingly difficult each year, but even by recent standards the timeframe was getting tight. When Bacchus made an announcement last Friday, the race to find a King was no longer an issue. The real story was the King’s race.
Until the selection of New Orleans actor Anthony Mackie, there had never been a black Bacchus. To be fair the reason, I think, had nothing to do with prejudices, but circumstances. There have been several rumors through the years of attempts to land national A-list black celebrities, but for various reasons the efforts never worked out. (Since the rumors are unconfirmed I won’t mention the names other than to stay that one was a prominent comedian and one, possibly two, were major athletes. There were probably more.) The difficulty in getting big name blacks is similar to why star quality entertainers of any race are getting harder to get: legalities, safety and uncertain job schedules. A bad bump could ruin someone’s career.
Bacchus also seemed to prefer national-level talent over local entertainers, although there are many hometown black celebrities that could excite a crowd. A lost opportunity was Alan Toussaint, who would have looked quite regal wearing a crown. Ernie K-Doe could have shown up to reign, already having his own crown and cape. Imagine Kermit Ruffins wearing a gold fedora and waving his trumpet as a scepter. Aaron Neville would look imposing in the kingly regalia. Though shy, in his day Fats Domino would have been a crowd-pleaser. Just as Drew Brees was once a Bacchus, the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis could toss plastic basketballs to the crowd.
Which race should sit on which throne is a sometimes sticky question with several answers. If any krewe denies another race because it feels superior, that’s racism and should not be tolerated, but there could be less sinister reasons that are more historic. There has, for example, never been a white Zulu king, nor should there be. That group’s origins traces back to historic links among black social aid groups. Also, I would hate to see some white dude as the big chief of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, or any other Mardi Gras Indian tribes where the roots go back to black longshoremen’s groups and their neighborhoods. By contrast, society groups of any race with inter-family connections, including the all-black Illinois Club, are within their rights to keep it within the family circle.
For other krewes though, where the announced purpose is to find a star, the search should span the spectrum. The crowd just wants to boogie with whomever can boogie best.
Congratulations to King Mackie. May his reign be pure gold.