It’s A Mad, Mad City

Since I seem to have become mired in the Identity Blogging issue, I’ve been trying to figure out what my identity is, and the old questions of how much environment can skew the views of a normally rational hip guy like your humble narrator, when Jim Schutze comes along and asks Who says the mayor is a racist? You’ll be surprised by the answer. Dallas is where I am from. Intellectually, I know that there is a big, wide wide world out there, but down at a visceral level, Dallas is the World to me. I’ve been to a lot of other places, but when I think of “Black Folks” the first image that comes up is “Dallas Black Folks” and when people say “Black Leaders” I think “(Phony) Dallas Black Leaders”. I’m a product of my environment, and oh what a screwed up environment it is.

Is Laura Miller a racist?
Last month, two days after the city manager fired Dallas’ first black police chief, Terrell Bolton, an overflow crowd of African-Americans thronged the council chamber to say she was. They hooted Miller, jeered her and accused her of racial perfidy and divisiveness.

She’s the anti-establishment mayor, the youngish wife of an influential Democrat, a former muckraker from Connecticut. Five years ago when she first entered local politics, the big take was, “way too liberal for Dallas.” Back when Dallas mayors were old white Texas guys, black people didn’t throng the council to call them racists.

So why Miller? Why now?

And what does that word, racist, really mean, anyway, in Dallas in 2003? Why is a Yankee liberal carpetbagger more likely to run afoul of it than an old-style segregationist? And why is it the black people who have really done battle with Miller–up close and for stakes–won’t use that word, even when they attack her?

First of all, I think we all have to agree at the top that this is a weird city on ethnic and racial issues. And we proceed from there, OK?

Why does she run afoul of it? Because it is a weapon, and a political tool. Pure and simple.

At the city council after Bolton was fired, the Reverend Stephen C. Nash, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a black Protestant political group with roots deep in the city’s political past, said: “We are troubled because you, madam mayor, have labored to divide this city even more than what it has been.” He blamed her for “the split between the southern and northern sectors of the city.”

Joyce Foreman, owner of Foreman Office Products, a member of the State Fair of Texas Chairman’s Task Force and the Dallas Independent School District bond construction program advisory committee, shouted: “I am angry at all of you, particularly at you, madam mayor, because you have conspired, you have coerced, and you got the chief out, not even with the dignity, madam mayor, of resigning.”

Two facts that casual followers of the story might not know: in the Dallas city system, the Mayor has no power to hire or fire the police chief. The City Manager (another civil servant) is the only one who can do that. Second, Bolton was offered a chance to resign, and refused it, convinced that his political ties would protect him.

Foreman singled out Latino council members by color for a tongue-lashing: “The brown people sitting here, you helped, madam mayor, to put a wedge between us. We have worked too hard on too many boards and commissions to try to work with our brown brothers and sisters. I’ve been through that coalition deal. Well, to hell with that.”

On that same day another group of African-American protesters called the mayor a racist and the city manager a wetback, more or less in one breath.

And was on the evening news holding up signs calling the city manager a wetback. A wonderfully enlightened crowd.

None of that was especially surprising to those of us who live here, black, white, Latino, Indian, Asian and other. Everybody who knows Dallas knows something went wrong a long time ago. Apparently the city got dropped on its head as a baby, and now even when we mean well on ethnic issues (not often), we still never quite make sense. Any of us. It’s how it is here. We are ethnically challenged.

But people elsewhere don’t know that about us. They are always going to try to make sense of us according to their own frames of reference.

And I fall into the corollary, sometimes, or trying to make sense of the rest of the word from the Dallas frame of reference. (I started to say Cest la Vie but I’m boycotting all things French.) Skipping way ahead (read the rest, guys, when you get done here)

I went to City Hall and caught Councilman Leo Chaney hurrying down the corridor to a meeting. Chaney represents the council district where Earnestine’s Beauty Salon is located and where Miller was most trounced by the voters.

If you haven’t been to Chaney’s district recently, you should make the drive. Sure, there is poverty, but there also are big things happening–new apartment construction, new major retail, infrastructure, serious signs of serious change–and Chaney has been a broker in much of it. Love him or hate him, Chaney’s in the game, unlike Stephen Nash.

Chaney definitely was trying to dodge me in the hallway until he heard my question: Is Laura Miller a racist? He stopped dead, came back, looked around to see who was near, then got up close to my face: “Oh, Jim, come on.”

I tried not to blink.

“Is she a racist?” he repeated. “Come on. You know, I don’t think she is personally, no more than all of us who are embedded with the issue of institutional racism. But other than that, I think she’s just an impulsive person. She’s a seasoned politician who lives with a politician, and she has goals just like all of us do.”

Jim Schutze isn’t exactly diametrically opposed to me politically, but if I was the type to line political opposition up against the wall, he’d do good to carry a pack of cigarettes and a blindfold around with him. But I always read his column, because even if I don’t agree with him, I enjoy the read.

Also, for those who aren’t familiar with Dallas, Laura Miller, our mayor, is a former investigative reporter with the Dallas Observer and at one time was a close personal friend of Jim Schutze. She is the wife is Rep. Steve Wolens.

2 Comments

  1. Scott Chaffin says:

    Schutze gets hyperbolic and over-reaches sometimes. “Dropped on it’s head”? “Old-style segregationists”? Yeah, he’s a good read, but he’s a Jim Hightower Populist Schtick Starter Kit who gets away with saying goofy things because he’s writing for the Men Seeking Women “paper”.

    This city gets what it deserves, and they’ve got Laura Wolens, ex-muckraker and DO “journalist”, running a city built on and by Business, so they can feel good about their Enlightened International City status. Idiots.

  2. Phelps says:

    Hey, we don’t call it the “Dallas Absurder” for nothing. He’s the Laura Miller protege. Er, wunderkind. No, wait, that doesn’t work. There has to be a word that I can use that isn’t French. You know what I mean. Just don’t think it in French.

    The best part is that she isn’t really running the city, because the Mayor doesn’t have that power. She has chairman privleges for the Council, and that is about it.