The Mean, Racist Streets of Dallas

Our post on the Diversity & Justice seminar at Perkins School of Theology was picked up by the religious journal First Things. Their commenters had as much fun with the topic as ours did, including Ben who noted the absence of “Radical-Reactionary Scots-Irish-American Grumpy Young Bible-Thumping Good-Old-Boys like me…”

This drew a response from Sze-kar Wan, professor of New Testament at Perkins:

“Bible-thumping,” Ben? You got it! Sorry, not white or “good-ole-boy” enough for you, tho. You won’t let me, I am sure. Dallasites don’t let me forget that either. Everyday. The kinds of taunts I get on the streets of Dallas tell me we have a lot of work to do.

Really? The professors gets “taunts on the streets of Dallas”? Is his hair dyed blue? Does he wear smelly, uncured bear robes? Even if, I can’t quite envision taunts. In fact, I’ll go so far as to call it a lie.


  • BigJonDaniel

    I think Dallas white people are more overtly racist than ever. Not more racist, just more overtly. I’ve lived here on and off since 1978. In the past 18 months, I’ve had people drop the “N” word in conversations, use the phrase “Towel head” and “beaner” in conversation, and been called a “Jew Boy”. I even had a random woman call me a “Jewish Asshole” in the customs line at DFW when I told her not to cut in the line. There has always been a subterranean racism among Dallas people, but it seemed that it was considered “low class” to do anything but whisper it, or tell off color jokes in non-mixed company. But lately, it seems the stigma of ignorance has been removed, and whites of all socio-economic strata are saying what’s really in their hearts. My response is to look them in the eye, and say how offensive I find that language. Wick, you should ask some of the people you know (The ones who won’t give the typical Dallas boosterish BS answer) about the rising amount of overt racisms among their peer groups in Dallas. It’s there, and it is out in the open. Demographic changes are harsh, and people’s hearts take generations to change. But to think that this guy is not feeling the sting is is probably wrong, and he at least deserved a conversation with you before he was called a liar.

  • Instawinger

    Highland Park 2011 = Selma 1965. Oh, the humanity.

  • Cynthia

    So you will call a professor at Perkins Theological Seminary a liar without ever having met him or talked to him? I really thought better of you.

  • Tigerblood

    BigJonDaniel, Beware of the ones who won’t say it to your face, and believe me, there are plenty of them.

  • Daniel

    Okay, I confess. I did it. I taunted Sze-kar Wan. It was on the streets. I just didn’t want to let him forget.

    And he didn’t forget — the man knows he is Asian. Everyday. How come it’s okay to taunt a white man for being a drunken buffoon with rickets, buck teeth and a speech impediment, but if you’re Asian, oh boy, you’re sacrosanct??

  • Fruitdog

    Beware of the ones that broadly paint an entire population base with anecdotal evidence.

  • Clay

    BJD: Seriously, when have you heard white folks racially harassing people on the streets of Dallas?? Come now, that just doesn’t happen anymore. I’ve never, NEVER, seen that here.

    Also, if may point out, Dallas is one of the most diverse cities in the country. You’ll find that many of the more “liberal” cities in the north are much more horrendously segregated..

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Instawinger – HP is worse, because in Selma, no one pretended not to hate

  • Mike Engleman

    I have no idea where BigJohnDaniel hangs out, but I believe his life would be much more peaceful if he’d upgrade his lifestyle.

  • Grumpy Demo

    Shorter Wick:

    Still mad Perkins didn’t meet his quota of white males.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @MikeE – see, thanks for proving my point. These people who said all this were professional people, in professional settings, other than at DFW. Your point (I think) was that I am surrounded by low class people, because only low class people would be overtly racist. My point (I think) is that this is no longer true. Why don’t you ask around a little and see if what I say is true

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Clay. I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. Hell, D-Magazine does it. Candy Evans used to throw out tone deaf racist comments on her blog, and have you checked out the “hire a poor Mexican for the day” section of their 52 things to do to be a real Dallasite article?

  • Instawinger

    @bigjohndaniel — HP is worse than Selma 1965? In Selma, apartheid was the law. Blacks and non-black allies who peacefully challenged it were beaten, tear-gassed, fired, arrested en masse, etc. It is offensive to the memory of those civil rights marchers who put their lives on the line challenging American apartheid that you would say it’s worse in Highland Park today, because white people there keep their alleged racism to themselves. If you really believe that, then you exemplify why so few people outside the ivory tower of academia and the professionally diverse take these complaints seriously.

    Highland Park 2011 is worse than Selma 1965? Are you sure it’s not worse than the Holocaust? Worse than the gulag? Maybe you aren’t being sensitive enough, hoss.

  • Glenn Hunter

    @BigJonDaniel: Since you asked Wick to ask people he knows about this, here’s my testimony. I’ve only lived in Dallas since 1997, but since then have met or befriended people here in a wide variety of settings, from the everyday (grocery stores, dry cleaners, etc.) to country-music honky-tonks, “multi-racial” pickup joints (before I was married!) and neighborhood meetings and festivals to business events of every imaginable stripe and private social gatherings of the wealthiest Park Cities elite. Only one time in 14 years–one time–have I heard anyone use the “N” word or refer disparagingly to any ethnic minorities. (The “N” word came from an elderly Deep South white guy who was talking about someone he knew very well and professed to admire; old habits die hard, I guess.) I think John Kennedy said you can’t grow up in America and not be racist, but I think people are evolving in the right direction and, in any event, it’s how we treat others face-to-face that counts most. On that score I believe Dallas acquits itself about as well as anywhere.

  • Parker

    I’m glad to see that for the most part fear of being accused of racism like this has gone the way of fear of being accused by pubescent girls of not dressing fashionably. These are the sorts of weenie power plays that terrify you if you’re 12 and your voice is breaking or if you’re a Liberal or a Democrat but which otherwise you laugh at, as you do with all the antics of the young or those congenitally arrested in their development, before dismissing them and moving on.

  • Arec Barrwin

    Racism exists in every continent, every country, and every city. It is part of the human condition.

  • Tigerblood

    I love how blacks can call each other the “N” word, but no one else can. You can’t have it both ways.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Instawinger 1)Did you miss this part of my post “in Selma, no one pretended not to hate”. Do I need to help you understand what “subterranean racism” 2) You lose credibility using Beckian phrases like “ivory tower of academia and the professionally diverse”.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Tigerblood No, it doesn’t work that way, sorry

  • Emily

    @ BigJon I was with you until you said it was racist to print ‘hire a Mexican’. The word Mexican is a nationality, not a slur. Was the piece classist? Yep. In poor taste, completely. Racist, not so much.

    @ TigerBlood you have problems if this is something you sit around and think about. Your comment does nothing to further this conversation. You need to get over it.

  • TC

    I’d love to know the spatial location of the incidents this professor refers to. They are obviously not in any part of *Dallas* (not Plano, not Prosper, not the Park Cities, nor Southlake or Denton or Garland) that I’ve been in. I’ve been in an interracial relationship for years and haven’t had one taunt of that nature or any other.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Emily – Really? You think that piece was not racist? I never said the word Mexican” was racist. Telling someone to trade in their “lazy” Mexican day worker for a new one is down right shocking

  • Instawinger

    @BigJon — so, racism that’s so subtle it’s hard to detect is worse than racism that actually beats up, tear-gasses, and arrests people, and deprives an entire class of citizens of their rights, solely based on the color of their skin?

    I think Glenn Beck is a complete clown, and I’m thrilled to see him depart from the scene. But there is a such thing as an ivory tower, and there are such people as the professionally diverse. The professionally diverse are people whose job it is to dwell on and exacerbate the differences, racial and otherwise, among people, because it gives them work to do. In my last job, near as I can tell the diversity committee and its initiatives made it harder for us to get along, because all of a sudden everybody was worried about saying the wrong thing and being accused of racism (sexism, homophobia, etc.) because of it. So it was better, and safer, not to say anything at all to someone who was not just like yourself, because you never knew when and if somebody different was going to take it the wrong way, and report you to Human Resources or the Diversity Committee. Thus were fears and suspicions among a diverse staff heightened by the Diversity Committee. But this guaranteed that there was a lot more work for them to do, because boy oh boy, was there a lot of new tension in the office.

    Hey BigJon, why don’t you call Congressman John Lewis up and ask him if he’d feel more threatened walking through Highland Park today, or in Selma in 1965, when a cop cracked his civil-rights-demonstrating skull with a nightstick and knocked him to his knees on the Edmund Pettis Bridge?

  • Dubious Brother

    @BigJon – It seems that discussions of racism by liberals always centers on how racist white Americans are which is amazing to me since the United States is the most racially diverse country in the world and it is still predominately white. Big Jon can do us all a favor with a little experiment. Since he seems to be a white liberal (probably Jewish) he surely has a close friend that is black. This Saturday night between 9 and 10 pm, BigJon’s black friend should walk the streets of Highland Park alone and see what happens. At the same time, BigJon should walk the streets of South Dallas alone and see what happens. They can then report back to us on the state of racism in Dallas.

  • Tigerblood

    Dubious Brother nailed it. Well said.

  • Ewhit

    I’m sorry, but if you’re “white” you can’t possibly understand what it’s like to hear off-the-cuff comments about Asian people. I’m half Asian and have to listen to my co-worker say something several times a week about “slow Asian drivers” or how she was waiting in line at the dry cleaners and this “Chinese lady” was taking forever (and of course, calling her Chinese was just a guess, as that’s what all Asians are, right?). Also making fun of how the Chinese women talk when she’s getting her nails done. I also recall mentioning how dirty the first floor bathroom is and she mentioned, “You know what it is? It’s those Chinese people.” I mean, seriously? I have told her on several occasions that my mother is Vietnamese, but this doesn’t seem to stop her rants. So I think it’s fair to say that I hear racial rants on Asian people far more than I would like to. Yes, I’m more sensitive to it because it is a part of me, but I don’t think professor Wan is too far off he gets a taunt or even two everyday. I get it a few times a week in my own office. I’ve also heard several of my in-laws make fun of “Asian” or “Chinese” people at almost every family gathering that I just shrug off. Not to mention people assuming I’m good at math. These are just personal experiences, but I can’t imagine I’m alone in this…

  • @Dubious Brother: Zac and I just spent far too long running a thought experiment on your proposal. I was thinking it might actually be something we could do in the magazine. Two guys dressed identically (jeans, button-down shirt). One guy is black. The other, white. Black guy walks through HP. White guy does the same in the appropriate part of South Dallas. We have them each write 600 words on their experience.

    Here’s why it doesn’t work. Hypothetically, the worst-case scenario in HP is the black guy will get picked up by the cops. I don’t think it will happen. But it’s possible.

    Hypothetically, the worst-case scenario in South Dallas is the white guy gets beaten up. Don’t think it will happen. But, again, it’s possible.

    They aren’t parallel scenarios, though. The HP worst case would say something about racism. But the South Dallas worst case would have almost nothing to do with skin color. It would only say something about poverty.

    Okay, then. Send the white guy through a part of town that’s predominantly black and well off. Pick the appropriate neighborhood in Cedar Hill. It’s hard for me to imagine a worst-case scenario. White guy gets lost?

  • Doug

    But the South Dallas worst case would have almost nothing to do with skin color. It would only say something about poverty.

    Just keep telling yourself that.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @dubiousbrother -that’s like proving gravity by boiling water

  • Daniel

    Pick the appropriate neighborhood in Cedar Hill. It’s hard for me to imagine a worst-case scenario. White guy gets lost?

    Or, maybe, white guy gets scared. If the white guy’s name is Doug, anyway.

  • Asher

    The blurb about day laborers never uses the word “lazy.” That’s your term. The way I read it, it’s telling people to take a hardline with guys that are payed by the hour. For you, apparently, it was convoluted into some heinous remark because of a stereotype about lazy Mexicans that you fished from the confines of your brain meat. Yet, oddly, the piece never uses the word “lazy” or “Mexican.”

    I’m a liberal, and even I think you’re trying too hard to be outraged.

  • Doug

    Aww, poor Daniel always gets his panties in a twist if someone dare suggests whitey isn’t the only person capable of racism.There there, Daniel, whitey is bad m’kay? Feel better? Sure you do.

  • Jerome Weeks

    Actually, Tim, the odds are good that the black guy WILL be stopped and questioned. When the Broadway actor Andre de Shields (Tony Award, The Fully Monty) was a distinguished visiting professor at SMU — this was in the early ’90s, if memory serves — he used to jog through the Park Cities. He was stopped and because he had no ID with him in his running shorts (pre-9/11 and all), he was taken in. He had, of course, committed no crime — just a black man running through the Park Cities.

    Regardless of whether actual racial epithets get hurled on the streets, Highland Park has — I believe — only one (fairly recent) black resident family. In fact, historically, HP is what’s known as a “Sundown Town”: Blacks were not allowed to stay there after dark, and if you think I’m exaggerating, you can check historian James W. Loewen’s 2005 book, “Sundown Towns,” which has quite a few pages devoted to HP and how its sundown status was created and maintained. Basically, even now, hundreds of Hispanics and blacks commute every day into the Park Cities — as maids, gardeners, cooks, nannies, etc. — and then they have to get out.

    So I suggest that if you go through with your experiment, you try it at night.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Tim – There is no need to prove that anyone who doesn’t look like they belong in the Park Cities will he hassled. There is no need to prove that walking through a bad neighborhood at night is a risk. There is no need to prove Dallas is a racist town.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @instawing my point was, in Selma, John Lewis knew who hated him. He didn’t have to wait for someone to show their ignorance and hatred in a social situation to figure it out. “..because you never knew when and if somebody different was going to take it the wrong way” – “what, in your judgment, is the “wring way”???? Yes, I know it is hard for you have to self-moderate what’s in your heart, and that it is a burden for you. I imagine it’s uncomfortable knowing that you can get in “trouble” for saying something that’s hurtful and ignorant.

  • BigJonDaniel

    @Asher “If a guy is a loafer, pay him, take him back to the lot, and pick up another one.” So loafer isn’t “lazy”? And you think it’s OK to think of a poor day laborer as a power tool, be my guest.

    loaf·er (lfr)
    One who is habitually idle

  • Dubious Brother

    @BigJonDaniel – My original point with the experiment was that it seems that all talk of racism is of white people being racists and no one else. If you were to go through with the experiment, you would probably find that your friend would meet the Highland Park police and he would be treated with respect. You on the other hand when “walking through a bad neighborhood at night” (your words) would probably wish that the police were nearby. All black neighborhoods are not bad and believe it or not, people actually choose to live in black neighborhoods. It might be that the police in one situation would be acting to protect the neighborhood from outsiders and in the other situation, protecting an outsider from the neighborhood.
    You seem to think that wealthy whites are capable of racism but poor blacks are not, they just live in a bad neighborhood. Change the time to 10 am if you think it will make it safer but if you really want to experience racism visit Korea, Japan or Saudi Arabia.

  • Hannah

    @Dubious Brother – The existence of racism is other countries does not justify racism in Dallas. We can’t pat ourselves on the back and say “It is worse elsewhere.” We must hold ourselves and our country to a higher standard.

  • Dubious Brother

    @Hannah – I never said that racism is good or doesn’t exist. The point that I was making is that the discussion about racism in Dallas or anywhere else in America always focuses on white people when at the same time America is the most racially diverse country in the world. Visit Japan or Korea and see just how diverse their population is and you may redefine what racism is to you. We have put a hair trigger on the concept of racism which has stifled the discussion as well as one’s sense of humor.

  • Dallas is by far the most overtly racist city I’ve ever lived in. It’s embeded in the layout of the city. Everything new is on the northside, park cities, plano. Downtown is a joke. Deep Ellum abandoned. Why do you think the Cowboys play in arlington and not fair park. The ghettos in south dallas make south central LA “look” like paradise. Dallas is where George Bush lives now for heavens sake. I remember the hatred for TO back when he was on the cowboys when romo drops the ball. Mavs star gets arrested right after they win the championship. Dorrough’s downtown apartment raided etc

  • Tammy

    I moved to Dallas in 2008 and yes I have witnessed racism. More racism than I have ever witnessed in my life and I was born and raised as a black woman in Mississippi. I worked in retail in Richardson and many of the white people would come in and drop racist comments about blacks all day. One old white man told me “You speak well for a black”. He then went on to tell me of a time when he was in the military and he met a black man and he stated “he looked like a big silverback gorilla”.. Honestly. I even told my bosses about this and my mom. My mom who still lives in Mississippi was shocked. Several of my coworkers at this same retail store off of Coit Road in Richardson were called the N word before and the mexicans fared no better. They also recieved hateful comments.

    The racism was really bad at work though. After I left the retail job and got a professional job in my field I started to see just how slanted it is against blacks here in Dallas. I worked at one company where the white kids were all becoming permanent and being given their choice of assignments and blacks we were all left with no choices and we were all making LESS money even though the company made it mandatory WE came in with a degree AND experience. I have seen a lot of racism in Dallas. The whites here don’t want blacks to make good money so many highly educated blacks settle for government jobs with security and a steady income as the white people mess with them to bad in corporate america.