To start off with some perspective, let's put this shoe on another foot. Try to imagine a white man, a leader in the business community, lashing out against white women who marry black men. Imagine that he accuses them of "sleeping with the enemy."
Imagine that he lumps these women in with all people who criticize him, calling them "roaches," and says, "Eventually we are going to have to exterminate them intelligently."
I am familiar with the maxim that you can't equate white anti-black sentiment with black anti-white sentiment, because centuries of history and social and economic grievances render the two feelings distinct, even when the words sound the same. I even agree with that maxim.
But death threats are death threats. There isn't any difference racially in the meaning of "exterminate"--a word with some especially ugly historical connections. If somebody used that word on me, I would look for a hole to jump in first and then maybe ponder the complexities of ethnic politics later when I was on vacation.
This story is not about a white man. This is about Dwaine Richard Caraway, who is black. Caraway is president of Profile Group, an advertising agency and political consulting firm. He is a member of the Dallas Park Board and is married to Dallas City Council member Barbara Mallory Caraway. Caraway is prominent in the black business community and is also well traveled in the larger multi-ethnic business and political realms of the city.
Addressing a black business group recently, Caraway did not name Jeannette Brantley-Wango, a columnist for a black newspaper, The Weekly, who is married to a white man, but it was obvious from the context of his remarks that he was talking about her. Caraway included her in a group he called "These little no-working, ain't-got-nothing-else-to-do back-biting people that continue to get with the other side of the fence and continue to keep our community divided.
"You got some of these folk that's married to white people that's black. They understand that, because their house is already divided. Let's be real clear with that. Their house is already divided. They already got two sides of the deal, of the issue."
Saying he did not "have a problem with interracial relationships," Caraway nevertheless went on to describe in detail a recent column Brantley-Wango had written for The Weekly that was critical of Caraway and his wife: "But then the reality of it is, if you're going to come and you're going to write in the newspaper and you're going to put falsehoods out there in a black newspaper perspectively and you're going to talk about all the black leaders we have, and then in the final portion of your column in the black newspaper you are going to glorify the white folks, then, to me, I might as well be reading The Dallas Morning News."
In the final paragraph of Brantley-Wango's July 5 column, she wrote favorably of council members Laura Miller, Donna Blumer, and Sandy Greyson, all of whom are white and all of whom had fought for a stronger city ethics code, which Caraway, his wife, Mayor Ron Kirk, and the Dallas Citizens Council all had vigorously opposed.
In his racial rant at the July 11 meeting of the Pylon Club, a black salesmanship organization, Caraway went on to complain bitterly about community activist Sharon Boyd, who is white. He did not name Boyd, but he waved what he said was a copy of her Web page while he spoke. Boyd's Web page, dallasarena.com, often contains accusations of shady dealings involving Caraway and his wife.
"What makes this white woman and gives her the authority to try to regulate black folks?" Caraway asked his audience. "She is not anybody I need to be afraid of."
Caraway said, "It is not the white woman's fault. It's the other little black women that's talking to her on a daily basis, telling her what's going on. She don't know what the heck is happening on Martin Luther the King or Malcolm the X [MLK and Malcolm X boulevards]. She's too afraid to come and find out, but she's got a couple little roaches that's running around here that's talking to her on a daily basis and disseminating information."
Caraway compared black people who share secrets outside the race with drug dealers who prey on black children. He concluded by saying, "Eventually we are going to have to exterminate them intelligently and move our community forward."
The particular burr under Caraway's saddle these last several weeks is a lawsuit filed June 20 in local district court accusing him of using his wife's position on the city council to squeeze money out of a municipal airport operator, and then having the operator put out of business by the city when he wouldn't keep paying off. The basic situation, which has to do with Redbird Airport in southern Dallas, involves so much possible skullduggery on all sides that a seasoned political pro like Caraway might normally be expected to shrug it off, at least in public.
But in this case there is evidence--one piece in particular--that smells unequivocally bad for Caraway, no matter what anybody else may or may not have been up to. Filed with the suit is a letter that Caraway sent on his own letterhead in September 1999 to the former operator of Redbird Airport, Tennell Atkins.
The letter, which Caraway unfathomably copied to the entire city council, is meant to denounce Atkins. But what the letter really conveys is that Caraway had been representing Atkins' business, was now mad at him, and wanted the city council to know that Atkins was officially out of favor.
The problem? The problem is that Dwaine Caraway's wife was chairwoman of the city council's transportation and telecommunications committee at the time, with immediate oversight of Redbird Airport. How much more bald can it get? No wonder the Caraways have been such committed opponents of ethics reform.
Caraway has angrily denied all of the allegations in Atkins' suit, including a claim that he accepted $3,000 in cash from Atkins for negotiating Atkins' lease with the city and helping arrange a loan. He told the Morning News that the claims of the suit were "a total, inflammatory slanderous lie."
In a conversation with me, Caraway did not deny the authenticity of the letter. In the letter, Caraway told Atkins, "I have given my time and effort to help you and Red Bird Development Corporation. I introduced you to business associates who were willing to help you, but your unprofessional actions and inability to cooperate have put these relationships in jeopardy."
I told Caraway I couldn't find a way to read the letter--backward, forward, or upside down--and not come away with the impression that Caraway had been fronting for Atkins and now wanted to screw him with the city council, city officials, and members of the black business community.
Given that Caraway's wife was the city council member with immediate control over Atkins' business fate, what on earth was Dwaine Caraway doing yanking him around by the collar? Does this sound like volunteer activity? The letter doesn't read like the note you send in to resign as coach of your kid's YMCA soccer team.
Caraway said on the telephone, "That letter speaks for itself. The son of a bitch was not fulfilling his obligations, and it took someone to tell the son of a bitch to get his act together."
He declined to comment on the letter in further detail.
Caraway denied that his remarks before the Pylon Club were specifically a reference to Jeannette Brantley-Wango. Brantley-Wango, a jazz singer with an international reputation, is the descendant of an old Dallas family, ran for city council two years ago, and now covers City Hall for The Weekly in a column.
Caraway said, "There are a lot of interracial couples. The reference was not specifically to Jeannette Brantley-Wango."
I told him I didn't believe him. There aren't a lot of interracial couples of whom one, the wife, is African-American and writes a column for a black newspaper that recently ended with favorable references to several white leaders.
He blew me off. That's OK. The very next week at the Pylon Club, whose meetings are broadcast on cable access television, Caraway talked about "trash-writing trash" and named both Brantley-Wango and Sharon Boyd.
I asked Caraway why I shouldn't regard his remarks about exterminating his critics as a veiled death threat.
He said, "Don't even do that with me. Come on. Would I be on TV being that stupid?"
I chose not to respond.
He hung up.
As terrible as this kind of talk may be, I don't think Jeannette Brantley-Wango is Dwaine Caraway's real target. Her coverage of the Caraways has been pretty balanced; her column is edited by Calvin Carter, one of the more respected journalists in the local African-American press. And The Weekly itself is a reasonably careful, though not timid, newspaper. Brantley-Wango's coverage never seems to range too far afield from well-known fact.
In all likelihood, what Caraway really wants to do is drive advertisers away from The Weekly and other black newspapers--or at least show that he has that power--to intimidate them from providing any coverage at all of his current legal and political difficulties. In fact, in the more recent meeting of the Pylon Club, he did ask black businessmen to pull their ads from black newspapers, on the ostensible grounds that they had failed to support a favorite charity of his.
Why would it be so important to him to beat up on the black press, if the same stuff appears anyway on TV and in the white press? Because he's mad, he can't beat up on the white media, and he wants to hurt somebody.
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He can hurt the black media. I called Jim Washington, publisher of The Weekly, three times, and left him voice messages. He didn't call back. He's in a tough position. The black newspapers have always operated on thin margins. An effective advertising boycott could pull them down.
Caraway bully-pulpits about how the black community must stick together. Behind him. He talks about exterminating his enemies. And he's willing to screw any black newspapers that defy him.
If Dwaine Caraway does go down, he probably will take some folks with him.
That's his version of racial unity.