Fire and Ire: So Much To Overcome

By the time this magazine is printed, the “long, hot summer” predicted back in June by County Commissioner John Wiley Price may be in full blaze. There will have been more protests, more impassioned speeches, more choruses of “We Shall Overcome.” Perhaps even “the Fire next time’-author James Baldwin’s famed prophecy of violent protest-will have made Dallas, two decades late, a seat of civil rights unrest.

The outcome of the August 12 election to change how Dallas is governed-the first voluntary rewriting of the city charter in more than fifty years-is uncertain at this writing. But however it goes, it’s hard to imagine feeling good about it. A process that began in an effort to bring Dallas together in an unprecedented atmosphere of hope and healing has ended in an environment of sickening divisiveness and racial mistrust. As a member of Dallas Together and a participant on the committee that studied ways to enhance political representation among minorities, I have never felt less hopeful about Dallas’s ability to move out of this morass and toward a brighter future.

Who is to blame? That’s a tough one. Certainly tensions are fueled when the likes of a Domingo Garcia, locking arms with other protestors, dares security guards in City Council chambers to “Kill us, shoot us, shoot us.” But then again, to Domingo Garcia and his band of activists, the easing of tensions is hardly the point.

On the other hand, the image of Mayor Pro Tern John Evans, sitting at the council dais, sipping soup and idly reading in flagrant disregard for the protestors in front of him, is hardly a gesture of good will either.

Many will blame Mayor Annette Strauss, who at that same meeting seemed to be trying to act tough and maintain order, but was visibly shaken. But Strauss’s demeanor on that bleak day is hardly the point either. Many people harbor a belief that an underlying cause of the current turmoil is the mayor’s chronic wishy-washiness. It’s ironic that at this point Strauss is mistrusted by the two extremes in local politics-Anglos who fear that she has opened the door too wide to minorities, and minorities who believe that she is the Citizens Council’s pawn.

Then there is Ray Hutchison to blame, a man who has given up a year of his life and some long-held beliefs in the name of fairer representation for minorities. To what end? To be chastised for being “arrogant” (he is, but it is arrogance born of an uncommonly bright mind) and for having arrived at a solution too early in the process, fueling knee-jerk fears that the 10-4-1 plan was “a done deal” and “railroaded” through.

Similarly, we could blame Diane Ragsdale and Al Lipscomb for their intractability. (Did they not arrive at their 12-1 solution some time back? Or were they open and “listening” to all those who came before the Citizens Charter Review Committee?)

What’s new about the fact that power is rarely shared without a fight? When you cut through the rhetoric and the lectures on logic and the threats of violence, what it all boils down to is a struggle for control. The minorities who opposed the 10-4-1 system did so for a basic reason: yes, it enhances minority representation, but it adds Anglo seats as well. And while five to six minority seats is better than their current two, five out of fifteen is still fewer than half. “If demographic projections put Anglos at 47 percent of the population,” says John Wiley Price, “why should we be willing to make do with five or six seats out of fifteen?”

No one knows exactly what will happen when the lines are redrawn and the census is complete and the City Council elections of 1991-92 are held. But I suspect that there are many of us hoping for a new breed of council member who can work us out of the corner we’re in. I personally would beseech black leaders from the business and professional communities, like Hugh Robinson and Zan Holmes and Pettis Norman and Billy Allen and Alphonso Jackson (read his views in ” ’Action’ Jackson?” page 34), to step out of the shadows of those who would perpetuate ill will and chaos and become true leaders for all of Dallas. Likewise, progressive Anglos like Lee Simpson and John Fullinwider and Tom Dunning and Diane Scovell and Sam Coats, and Hispanics like Rene Martinez and Delia Reyes and Lupe and Yolanda Garcia, need to press on with their vision of a Dallas that is fair and just, a city moving into the future rather than lamenting the past.

I was a student at Hillcrest High School during the mid-Sixties, when Dallas was myopic and segregated and run by an autocratic few. I grew up in a middle-class Anglo neighborhood, knowing little of the rest of the city. Like most of my generation, the Seventies swept me up in a tide of questioning and challenging the status quo. Some of that fire and ire never left me, and I’m glad. When I was asked to join Dallas Together, I did so because I believed that Dallas needed to deal openly with its legacy of racial injustice.

As I have recorded on this page previously, the process yielded many positive results. I am growing more comfortable with debating painful issues with my new sounding boards-people like Helen Giddings, Jim Washington, Eric Moyé and John Wiley Price. I don’t hesitate now to pick up the telephone and seek any of their perspectives on any topic. At times, these discussions have been heated and emotional. But for me at least, Dallas Together ushered in a new era of openness.

But that is the bright side. The darker reality is that in an effort to pull together we have discovered that we are farther apart than we thought. The wounds that fester-especially in the black community-are infectious and deep. As their histrionic protests so plainly proclaim, they are tired of being shut out of the game.

But I am tired of being labeled a racist because my skin is white. I am tired of watching political posturing that sweeps ignorant and innocent citizens along in its wake. I am tired of good people being chewed up and spit out for having the audacity to try and push forward. I am tired of going to bed with a knot in my stomach after watching the 10 o’clock news.

And I suspect that I’m not alone.


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