UNDERSTANDING THE RACIAL HOC-WALLOW of the Dallas school board requires what scientists call a paradigm shift. It’s all baffling as long as you hold to the old-fashioned notion that the board’s actions should have some bearing on education and helping kids. Once you accept that the real purpose of the DISD board is racial nose-counting and the pursuit of perfect power-sharing among all ethnic groups, then it makes perfect sense:
The African-Americans wanted to share power with the Anglos, who were represented, many seemed to feel, by board president Bill Keever, a white person. A numerically almost nonexistent but apparently quite influential but hitherto unheard of but still pretty scary group called the New Black Panthers had guns and said they would bring those guns to school board meetings and be scary there unless African-Americans were given more power.
The power they wanted apparently was held by white person Keever, who despite all his power did not have enough power to stop the numerically almost nonexistent Panthers from disrupting his meeting without calling on the cops, who did not want to be called on and whose chief later told the powerful but oddly powerless white board president that he should get out into the community and form alliances and have dialogue with people whose idea of dialogue is parading around with scary guns and talking about the fire next time or maybe the time after that.
Powerful white person Keever then exercised power by calling off the next school board meeting, thus showing that he had the power to postpone important school business in order to prevent scary Panthers with guns from having a meeting to show up at. Next came a power-sharing retreat by school board members, during which the idea of an African-American second vice president was floated. The idea pleased the Panthers, who promised not to be scary, at least at the next meeting, and sort of pleased county commissioner John Wiley Price, though he still dropped one of his Ominous Hints (he remains our best Ominous Hinter) that there could certainly be other fires at other times.
Things were looking rosy until, doggone it, the Hispanics bollixed it all up by saying that if the blacks shared power by getting a second vice president, they wanted to share power by getting a third vice president who would be Hispanic. Now any veteran race-watcher knew this would raise the question nobody really wanted to answer: Did school board vice president Kathleen Leos count as a Hispanic, or not?
This was a prickly one. The way a lot of people were keeping score, Leos counted as a Hispanic even though, in the strictest biological or ethnological terms, she isn’t. She had been allowed to count as a Hispanic up to that point because she has Hispanic children, speaks Spanish, and besides, she represents a largely Hispanic district and one might think that those voters had chosen the person they wanted. But even those who had been counting her as a Hispanic for power-sharing purposes and felt good about her being the sort-of Hispanic vice president knew that, when you really got down to it, Leos was in fact a white person.
In her defense, Leos had never denied being a white person but was understandably confused about the biracial nature of her role on the board. Back at the power-sharing retreat, she had pleaded with her fellow board members to “define me as an Anglo or Hispanic. ” Trying to keep the definitional ball rolling, Lee Alcorn, head of the National Association of People Who Show Up At Meetings Claiming to Represent People, said that Leos did represent Hispanics. But René Castilla, the former DISD board president who often speaks for Hispanics, said that Leos, despite her Hispanic children and Hispanic district, just didn’t fill the bill. Castilla’s Hispanics wanted Jose Plata, a real Hispanic board member, to be the Hispanic third vice president if the African-Americans got a second vice president. To which some racial mathematicians retorted that if Leos was already functioning as a nominal Hispanic for the purposes of racial nose-counting, then making Plata the third veep would in effect give the Hispanics two veeps-Leos and Plata.
Forget those angels dancing on the head of a pin. This was an ethno-metaphysical quandary of the first order, because if Leos was being counted as white by Hispanics like Castilla and Adelfa Callejo, while being counted as Hispanic by blacks like Lee Alcorn, then it was at least possible that Leos was sharing power with herself, with the “white” Leos doling out power over to the “Hispanic” Leos, who then, mentally at least, would go to the other side of the table and accept the power. The mind boggled and reached absolute breakdown when veteran demagogue and lawsuit-bringer Marvin Crenshaw, of all people, suddenly piped up as a voice of reason to point out that the whole argument about second and third ethnic vice presidents was absurd because there wasn’t any real power in any of these token, largely ceremonial positions.
Anyway, you know how it ended. At a board meeting attended by Panthers without guns but still looking scary, the vote was 8-1 to make Hollis Brashear the new second vice president representing African-American interests.
The lesson for the kids ( remember them ? ) was that if you wave guns around, you can force people to treat race and ethnicity as the overarching and defining reality for all human beings-a belief that has led to mankind’s bloodiest tragedies. Only new board member Lois Parrott, who hasn’t been around long enough to get the swing of things, voted against the new veep. But give her time. She’ll learn.