One Step Forward, Ten Steps Backward
On her blog yesterday, former Dallas Area Rapid Transit board member and political activist Joyce Foreman posted an item in which she called Dallas city council member Dwaine Caraway “[Mayor] Leppert's head Negro watcher at Dallas city hall.” There has been some tittering about it already today over on Frontburner.
I have been writing about that word -- Negro -- in recent weeks because of my astonishment to discover that it is still a term used in some white quarters in Dallas, notably the Dallas Citizens Council. The Citizens Council just published a hagiographic history of itself in which that word was used, not in quotes, but as a contemporary reference to black people.
All of this reminds me of something of which I should not need reminding: Never underestimate how out-of-it white people can be.
We had dinner recently with someone who suggested that Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice would be a better choice for the nation’s first black president “because they’re more Oreo.” When I pointed out that Oreo is a bad word, this person said, “No, it’s not. It means they’re more white.”
So … uh ... back to "Negro." I think nowadays it means about the same thing as Oreo. Well, of course it means black, literally, but socially and politically it means “sucks up to white people and sells own people down river.”
Does Dwaine Caraway deserve that? Let me defer that question a second and just explain why it comes up.
Foreman was accusing Caraway of siding with Leppert in a campaign to oust Ann Lott, the now-former CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority. There is a great sense in some parts of the black community (and in me) that Tom Leppert’s campaign against Lott is cover for the old game in Dallas -- real estate, and probably real estate along the Trinity River. Private developers want to bite off big hunks of the land the DHA owns, and Lott has resisted those efforts.
Were there accounting problems at DHA? Yup. But ponder this: Last year we learned that Dallas Area Rapid Transit was suddenly and unexpectedly a billion dollars short on its construction budget. That’s with a "B." A billion bucks. It was 100-percent budget error.
Not a word from Leppert. His political supporters in the black community, meanwhile, were over at DART carving off big chunks of the budget for themselves as subcontractors. Just when it looked like the cat might fall out of the bag, Lynn Flint Shaw, chairman of Leppert’s main political fund-raising entity, was murdered by her husband Rufus last March.
(Hey, did we ever hear how that came out? What really happened? Seems like the cops and everybody kind of forgot about that one. Got busy, I guess.)
Leppert goes after Lott because rent subsidies were paid for people who had died. But how could that not happen? I mean, some level of that kind of error is inevitable. Do we think DHA knocks on the door of every client every month and says, “Anybody dead in there?”
Darren Reagan, a figure in the City Hall corruption case, was convicted in June of stealing $45,000 in DHA dough. But that only happened because there was a woman scorned in his life. That’s the case that proves my point: It takes a lot to catch people at stuff like this.
What about the school system? Their own audit says they haven’t kept books good enough for anybody to know what in the hell they’ve done with their money. DHA’s way better than that. But not a word from Leppert about DISD.
Hey, what about Leppert’s own house -- City Hall? The city’s own auditor says City Hall can’t balance its own checkbooks. That sounds way worse than DHA to me. Why doesn’t Leppert concentrate on his own mess?
I’ll tell you why. Because the whole mobilization to get Ann Lott is about blasting open a path so those same guys who still use the word Negro in their good-ol'-boys club history can get their claws into a bunch of DHA-owned real estate.
The difference between this raid on the cupboard and the last time it happened, under Mayor Laura Miller, is that back then Lott was defended by every black leader in the city, from State Sen. Royce West to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. This time? Not so much, for the most part.
Why? It’s all about the “inner circle,” the mechanism Lynn Flint Shaw helped Leppert and the Citizens Council put together to buy off black power with juicy contracts for a few. That’s why Joyce Foreman is calling Caraway a “Negro watcher.” She believes he’s part and parcel of the inner circle deal.
Would I call him that? No, I would not. I don’t think the aid and comfort that Caraway provides the Citizens Council is a good thing for the city. But I wouldn’t use that word, because I don’t use that word. Some things are within the race. Some aren’t.
But I also wouldn’t giggle about it. None of this is very damn funny, if you ask me. --Jim Schutze
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.