Nyx, the Not-So-Super Krewe
For someone who boasts the Twitter handle “SisterhoodCr8ter,” the founder of the Mystic Krewe of Nyx has certainly been behaving less like a proponent of inclusion and more like a Mean Girls sorority pledge.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mardi Gras here in New Orleans, Nyx is an all-female super krewe. Beginning as a small upstart with a mission to “unite women of diverse backgrounds for fun, friendship, and the merriment of the Mardi Gras season,” Nyx is now the largest Mardi Gras krewe in the city, with one of the largest parades in all of Carnival.
Or at least it was, up until a few weeks ago. On June 1st, amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, Nyx founder and unusurpable captain Julie Lea posted an image of a Black child and a white child embracing each other on the krewe’s official Instagram account. Plastered over the image was the hashtag, #alllivesmatter. This “colorblind” post prompted hundreds of Nyx members to sign a letter condemning her post and asking Lea to formally acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement. Float lieutenants also requested that Lea promote Black members of the krewe to the board of directors, citing the krewe’s mission to unite women of diverse backgrounds. Lea refused all of their requests, including a call for her resignation.
For context on the systemic issues of racial inequality in this country, I defer to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s phenomenal essay in the New Yorker, or gladly offer up Kim Jones’s impassioned speech. The only summation I’ll give here regarding the phrase “all lives matter” is this: of course all lives matter, but historically, Black lives haven’t. Until they do, saying all lives matter in response to Black lives matter is an intentional effort to undermine and devalue a movement that aims to make all lives matter.
Lea can claim innocence about not knowing the subversive nature of the phrase she so haphazardly used, but it’s gained popularity as a counter to the phrase, “Black lives matter.” Moreover, Lea’s refusal to stand with her krewe sisters and members demanding change is proof positive that she either doesn’t care about or acknowledge their struggles. “Here we are, divided,” Lea said in a statement, brushing aside the requests of her members as trivial hurt feelings over a social media post. “Not because we disagree over current issues, but because of a phrase and photograph.” Lea’s statement also included three proposals. She offered to hold a listening event for members and to form a diversity committee, which may be difficult to do since the people she should be listening to and appoint to a diversity committee are no longer members. After all, hundreds of her members, many of them Black members, resigned in protest. She then added a “Step three,” which was really more of a statement than a proposal: “Acknowledge that while our organization may be smaller, we will continue to be a Krewe of sisterhood.” But since the krewe now consists only of women who are complicit in Lea’s ideology and actions, that’s not going to be a very diverse or open-minded committee.
A half-hearted apology letter and video are unequivocally undercut by an impersonal, cowardly statement, issued from Lea’s lawyer, stating, “If you are unhappy with the Mystic Krewe of Nyx, please resign your membership.” A statement that essentially boils down to saying, “Girl, Bye.” And as she watches dancing troupes like the Pussyfooters and Krewe de Lune, marching bands like St. Katharine Drexel Prep, and a wave of her sister members leave her parade, Lea still fails to see the problem: herself. You would think a professional life coach would be more adept at self-examination. (As an aside: who do you get to life-coach a life coach?)
Lea refers to herself as a “former law enforcement professional,” which is certainly an interesting way to describe getting fired twice from the police. The first time from the NOPD internal affairs office for neglect of duty. You know, the office that investigates cases of police abuse, brutality, and misconduct. She was then fired as Delgado’s chief of police following an internal investigation that revealed improper conduct. Regardless, Lea’s experience in law enforcement should put her in a position to know better than most what disparities, struggles, and death Black people face when dealing with the criminal justice system. Then again, since she was fired twice for failing to do her job correctly, maybe she missed it.
In any event, she’s not alone. Julie Lea is now a part of a long history of racism in Mardi Gras. Nyx joins the ranks of ancient krewes with storied pasts. Like Comus, which in 1873 boasted the theme, “Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species” with floats, costumes, and throws that were aimed to derogate and insult Black people. An atrocious and appalling response to another pivotal moment for Black people in American history: the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments, which granted them citizenship and the right to vote.
For most of Mardi Gras history, nearly every krewe was for whites only, with notable exceptions like Zulu and NOMTOC. Indeed, Mardi Gras itself wasn’t formally desegregated until 1992, when the city passed an ordinance banning segregated krewes from participating in Carnival. In keeping with tradition, the first year after its passage, Comus and Momus threw hissy fits and chose not to parade at all rather than integrate. It’s amazing to think that you could listen to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on the radio as you drove to the first desegregated Mardi Gras. Again, it’s not like that changed everything, it just made it illegal to do it openly. I mean, there were Confederate flag throws at the 2019 Nyx parade. I guess when you think about it, maybe Nyx fits right in with the bunch.
But in this moment lies an opportunity. You, sisters of Nyx, Mardi Gras revelers, New Orleanians who may be asking yourselves, “what can I do?” Look! You’ve got something direct and actionable right in front of you. If you’re in Nyx, take the advice of your dear leader (or dictator, whichever you prefer) and leave. Take your purse somewhere else. To quote Julie Lea’s Let’s Get Purse-onal Podcast episode on “Removing Toxic People from Your Life,” “We all have the need to connect to other women and build bonds of friendship and sisterhood……..without the drama.” (Editor’s Note: In the interest of journalistic integrity, I have left the author’s wanton and egregious use of ellipses intact). If you’re not in Nyx, you can still stand in solidarity, by standing somewhere else. When their parade rolls down the street, walk away. You don’t even have to give up any part of Mardi Gras. Once Druids wraps up, just start the process of finding your car and sitting in traffic.
Mardi Gras has become a much more inclusive experience. With the blossoming of local walking parades like Krewe du Vieux, the wacky sci-fi themed Chewbacchus, and the quirky ‘tit Rex, which exists in opposition to the giant super krewes like Bacchus both metaphorically and physically, Mardi Gras has transformed into a magical cluster of revelry. An aggregate of merriment with something to offer everyone. And the best part is we can continue to make it better. Just look at how quickly Nyx rose from a fun idea of sistership, to the first all-female super krewe, and then to its decline under despotic rule. It took Rome thousands of years to rise to the top and then fall due to inept leadership and internal division. Nyx did it in only nine. Right now, people across the country, and in this city, are trying to enact systemic changes to make this a better place for everyone. If you want to make Mardi Gras and New Orleans better, put your purse where your mouth is and nix Nyx out of your Carnival.