By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's a little after 8 a.m. on February 14, and already Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro Tem/District 4 City Council Representative Dwaine Caraway is knee-deep in saggy pants and homophobia. Another day in the life.
Outside, a chilly drizzle slides down the glass walls of the WFAA television studios. The downtown office park called "Victory" is a depopulated bone yard.
Caraway, wearing his trademark dark pinstripe suit, is in the green room, watching a monitor while Dooney da Priest, a rap artist whose real name is Duwayne Brown, wraps up his song, "Pull yo pants up."
"Yo pants" has become the unofficial anthem of Councilman Caraway's campaign against sagging, the youth fashion in which men expose their buttocks in public. The progressive liberal take on exposing one's buttocks, I believe, would be that it is a reaction against centuries of cultural oppression, though some say the fashion trend came to the streets from prison where belts are banned and pants droop as a result. Caraway's take is that it looks like hell.
"It's disrespectful of women," he tells me. "How can you even respect yourself with your butt hanging out?"
I try to imagine it. For me, he would have a point. But I am not a youth.
Caraway has gained national attention—he was the subject of an entire segment of the Dr. Phil show January 28—for his anti-sagging crusade in Dallas. But he also has been pilloried. Some guests on Dr. Phil suggested he was a traitor to black culture.
On January 1, National Public Radio aired an interview with a professor of black culture at Duke University to discuss whether or not the anti-sagging campaign was homophobic—not because gay men sag but because of Dooney's lyrics:
"You walk the street with your pants way down low," he sang in the original version. "I dunno, looks to me you on the down low." The chorus originally included the line, "I think it's gay."
All of that was supposed to have been cleaned up after the NPR story. On Dr. Phil, the line in the lyrics, "I think it's gay" was changed to, "I think it's rude."
But this February morning, Dooney is lip-synching the anti-sagging lament for a morning show host on Channel 8, dancing and throwing gang signs around the studio like an animated stick man. And it's the wrong version—the original. All of the old anti-gay lines come rolling out.
"Oh, man," Caraway mutters to no one in particular. "Dooney's doing all the gay stuff again. Man!"
Half an hour later, Caraway is at his City Hall desk, fielding an unbroken barrage of phone calls, some about dead cats and city-sponsored home repairs, more of them about Dooney.
His assistant puts a note in front of him: a constituent named Bonnie wants him to call her back about Dooney. He heaves a sigh and dials the speaker phone. "This is Dwaine Caraway," he says. "How are you doing?"
"I was better until I was watching Channel 8," she says.
He gives her a complicated but useful explanation of lip-synching, the editing of CDs, confusion about which version was to be played by the engineer at WFAA. In the end, she is mollified.
It's interesting that Caraway winds up in complicated situations—it happens a lot—because he comes from a straightforward place. He is a product of the old, church-based, quite conservative culture of black South Dallas.
Of course, the old culture placed a high value on taciturn accommodation. Caraway, on the other hand, is a showboat and a stirrer of pots, a kind of modern crusader for old-fashioned values, starting with your pants. He is also often pointing at black people, not white people, as the source of his district's problems. That is part of what puts him in a pickle from time to time.
Depending on who talks about Caraway, he is either an important new force or a sideshow. Even though he works for a distinctly conservative agenda—economic development, neighborhood clean-up, crackdown on drugs—he has been opposed in campaigns by heavyweights in black politics, especially Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Price, speaking from seniority and power in black Dallas, is especially disparaging. Asked what he thinks of Caraway as a political leader, Price says, "I don't.
"It's the difference between dealing with props versus taking a position," Price says. "Give me one project of his that has significant impact in terms of the community, and I don't mean pulling your pants up or cracking down on garage sales."
There is something about Caraway that makes some of the city's longtime politics-watchers nervous. The Reverend Peter Johnson, Texas state coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says, "Dwaine occupies a position that is respected in our culture: hustler."
But Caraway argues he's not hustling. He's hurrying. He is pushing impatiently for the kind of big change that starts with small things. In the end, what must change, he says, is the community itself, and that's a matter of motivation.
"People are now beginning to see results, results that should have come years ago," he says. "Now that they see that hope and hard work will bring about a positive and more productive community, they will expect no less."