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TLS Prof. Tania Tetlow on who owns Who Dat

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/tlscenters/iplc/images/red_blue_seats.pngWhatever the answer to the legal question of who owns “Who Dat,” the clear cultural answer is that the people of this city own it. It represents New Orleans in all of its glory — undaunted and ungrammatical, our language a meld of port city immigrants and African heritage.

We ask “Who Dat Gonna Beat Dem Saints” as a demand, an assertion, but also sometimes as a real question. We are used to losing, to having our hopes dashed. From the end of the cotton boom to the passing of the oil rush, we have never again found our economic feet. We are not very good at capitalism, not very good at striving to be the biggest or richest American city. Yet we know who we are. Who Dat?

We define ourselves by the fact that we value our culture so intensely, because we spend inordinate amounts of time wearing costumes to march in parades and cooking mysterious brews because our ancestors did. Who Dat expresses all of those things in shorthand. It symbolizes our unity, despite the absurd forces of race and class that drive us apart. Right now it expresses the transformative power of sport to make us hug strangers, to see each other as brothers and sisters. Even if we don’t look alike, we talk alike. We speak our own language. And no trademark symbol can ever change that or claim ownership of it.

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