Spreading the Blame
Wilonsky's piece on South (not "Southern") Dallas in this week's paper version of Unfair Park is full of hope and commitment. It gives me the idea that things can and will get better. I feel better. But then I read this very depressing stuff about former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young and the slurs he's been hurling at Jewish, Korean and Arab merchants in black communities. And I go back where I came from and where I belong: depression.
Wilonsky asks if Don Williams, founder of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, is the "savior" of South Dallas. Williams is probably embarrassed by the word. I don't think too many people in the city's traditional black neighborhoods think of the savior as a rich white guy. You know, like, "Here comes Jesus, and he's got his golf clubs."
But as Wilonsky points out, Williams has been smart enough to bring in really smart effective people with grassroots community organizing experience--Yvonne Sparks from St. Louis, Paul Yelder from Maryland and others--who should be able to get traction in the real fight.
The real fight is not real estate. It's not better buildings. It's morality.
White people brought Africans here and used the cat o' nine tails to flay off their skin and tear away with it their culture. Culture is where you get your morals.
It didn't work all the way, because innocent human beings are grander and stronger than the beasts who oppress them. In church black people held the core of Africa to their hearts. That core has blossomed into a fantastic success story since black people achieved citizenship with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965--amazing upward mobility that we see all around us in the Dallas area.
But the humanicide of slavery did achieve some success: It persuaded some black people that they can't do what white people do. Or what Korean people do, Arab people do, Haitian people do. Some of South Dallas, where it is the land of the left-behind, is sick with the poison of can't-do.
Then we get Andrew Young. Young, a paid shill for Wal-Mart till he announced his resignation yesterday, recently told the Los Angeles Sentinel, a black paper, that he thinks it would be a good thing for the immigrants who operate small stores in black neighborhoods to get the hell out of Wal-Mart's way:
"Well, I think they should; they ran the 'mom and pop' stores out of my neighborhood. But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores."
The kernel of that idea is that people who come in and achieve competitive success in a black neighborhood are doing it through some kind of dark conspiratorial magic. On the other hand, you could look, watch and see how they actually do it: work all day and night, live in the back of the store, eat the leftover produce for dinner, wear rags, spend nothing, put the money back in the business. Scapegoating their success is so dangerous because it elicits jealousy, which was a big part of what brought us the Holocaust.
Another irony is that Jewish and immigrant merchants in Texas were run out of small towns by the Klan in the 1920s, leaving behind a kind of redneck economic oligopoly in many places. You actually can argue that Wal-Mart infuses competition back into those local economies, breaks up the all-cousin stalemate and gets local economies cooking again. Young may have been close to a truth.
But what he said was horribly deformed by what I think he believes in his heart: that black Americans in poor neighborhoods can't succeed the way Jews, Koreans, Arabs and, by the way, Haitians can. So they need a bunch of rich white folks from Wal-Mart to come in and protect them.
It's a tangled web out there. What's your plan for all that, Don? --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.