The Byron Nelson golf game — golf match? no, golf tournament, that’s it! — starts tomorrow at Trinity Forest Golf Club, and, as you can tell, I’m not up to speed. But I might at least get interested.
This will be the most rich white people in southern Dallas ever — and golf fans, at that! The whitest of white. This has to be a good story, although that’s according to a newspaper person’s definition of good story. And by the way, of course I know that not all golf fans are rich or white. It’s just that I think the rich white ones are the story here.
I remember around 2002 when the rich white people started getting interested in the floodway zone along the Trinity River in southern Dallas. Most of it was undeveloped farmland taken by the city long ago for back taxes, now wild from neglect.
The late Ned Fritz, a pioneer environmentalist, named the area The Great Trinity Forest as a political ploy to hold back the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It wanted to turn the whole area into a giant concrete causeway to vacate floodwater from downtown.
Saving downtown was never an especially evil motivation — it’s the Corps' job, after all — but Ned liked trees better, and so do I. I have always preferred trees to people. Trees are somebody you can talk to.
But when rich white people get involved, a certain metastasis takes place — the fabulizing of things. At first the plans for the forest included a no-frills horse park and pasture at a cost of $3.3 million. In no time at all, the tab for the proposed horse park was up to $100 million for a 100-acre cross-country course (I didn’t even know horses ran cross-country), a half-mile race track, horse party barns and I don’t even remember what all.
The rich people said they’d pay for most of it. The guy in charge of collecting the money from them was former Dallas City Council member Craig Holcomb. Later, Holcomb said the rich white people would pay for only half of it. And then even later he said they weren’t going to pay for any of it.
But Holcomb said we still had to have it. In fact, now we do have a thing down there called the horse park, paid for by the taxpayers, and I know that City Council members find it very useful for community meetings. I don’t know if the horses have cross-country meets down there or not.
While it was being developed, the big line from City Hall was always that the horse park was going to bind rich white North Dallas together with poor black southern Dallas. People associated with the horse park said they were going to teach black people how to ride horses.
Some black people in southern Dallas who were not poor and who had been riding horses all their lives took umbrage at that. Robert Petrie owns a beautiful horse ranch in southern Dallas where for years he has maintained a riding program for kids in trouble.
I remember Petrie telling me that he didn’t think the rich white people would board their horses at the horse park overnight with horses owned by people in southern Dallas. I asked him why. He said, “A lot of our horses are black.”
And there you have it. When the city announced it was going to build a high-dollar private golf course for AT&T on land within Ned Fritz’s Great Trinity Forest, the line from City Hall was that lots of white people would “discover” — the word was always “discover” — southern Dallas when they went to the new fancy golf course.
Like what? Discover, like Christopher Columbus? Here are the white golf fans standing on the hoods of their Benzes with telescopes, crying out, “Golf course, ho!” They can’t wait to throw it in the faces of all those rich white naysayers who told them if they drove south of the I-30 expressway they’d fall off the edge of the planet.
Seriously. Everybody in North Dallas always knew that South Dallas was there. C’mon. The reason they never went there was not that they didn’t know it existed. They didn’t go because they were scared shitless.
Petrie was right. The rich white people weren’t just afraid of being around that many black people. They were even afraid of having their horses around that many black horses. Sometimes white fearfulness makes you wonder what’s so supreme about white supremacy.
I hope you don’t think I’m posing here as the white boy who ain’t afraid of nobody. Believe me, white people, you and I all come off the same farm. Whatever things I may have learned, I didn’t think any of them up myself. They all came from very simple experiences — seeing people, talking to people and even before that, going to the places where people are, just being there. For the deeply destructive disease it is, racism is amazingly susceptible to very simple antidotes.
The New York Times had a wonderful story last Sunday about an 11-year-old black girl in London who has become obsessed with the upcoming wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, an African-American actress. Tshego Lengolo, 11, lives in New Cross, a part of London that has seen racial tension and where people of color tend to dismiss the royal family as anachronous appendages of white privilege. But now that one of the royals is going to be black, Tshego (pronounced SEH-ho) is all in. Suddenly the glamor and pageantry of the royals belong to her, too, and she can’t get enough. She is nagging her mother to let her change her name to Tiffany.
It’s really that simple, and it’s not about anybody giving up anything or becoming anything they were not already. It’s simply about being in or out, here or there, included or excluded, one of or not one of. And it has everything to do with physical presence and proximity. Human beings who accept and trust each other rub elbows. People who don’t rub elbows don’t accept each other’s full humanity. It’s so simple. It’s just elbows.
I don’t envision large numbers of rich white golf fans pouring out of the confines of the new Trinity Forest Golf Club seeking social oneness with the neighbors. Last time I ticked through the census data by ZIP code, the per capita income in the ZIP codes from which most of the rich golf fans will be coming was 6.7 times the per capita income in the ZIP code surrounding the new golf course. That’s a lot of social distance, no matter what color people may be.
We’re really just talking here about the simple business of driving from one part of the city to another, crossing that invisible border that has always separated people here more effectively than any wall the president ever could hope to build along the Mexican border. Just going across it.
Nobody has to get out of his car and ask anybody to dance. In fact, I guess I wouldn’t suggest that. I’ve still got enough of the old scaredy-cat white man going in my makeup to think a more cautious demeanor might be appropriate. The long history of the black-white border in the city has created a certain sense of hegemony on both sides. It’s always a good idea to keep yourself in check when you’re visiting in somebody else’s country, isn’t it?
It’s the simple act of being in the same place. Even if not one person talks. Even if the rich white golf fans huddle inside the golf club all weekend like chickens dodging a hungry hawk. They’re still there. They’re over the line. It’s the first step — a huge accomplishment. Columbus still had problems ahead, but think how great he must have felt when he didn’t fall off the planet.
Of course people can share the same streets and still be enormously distant from each other socially. But even that concept of social distance doesn’t quite capture the separation that has existed between this city’s two racial hemispheres. On both sides of that mean border, it’s common to meet people who have never even once glimpsed the other side.
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That’s a whole different order of separation, a different magnitude, as if we really do live on different planets and really might fall off the edge. On that extreme polar scale of separateness, a journey from one zone to the other becomes truly significant in a way it wouldn’t be in a less divided realm, even if it’s just for a golf match. Game. Tournament.
And it’s wonderful that the event is named for Byron Nelson because he ... he invented the golf club or something, didn’t he? Golf balls? The little hats? He was a very important man, that’s for sure.
Logically, if this thing works out, there should be some kind of reciprocity by which the city builds a large new public golf course and holds big golf meets in the rich white sector of the city. Then transportation could be provided so that lots of golf fans from southern Dallas would be able to go up and see how the other half shoots golf.
It should be a two-way street, but we won’t hold our breath for that, will we? We need to take the steps that are before us, and the Byron Nelson golf contest at Trinity Forest Golf Club this weekend is the right step for right now. It’s going to be a good thing — a big, simple good thing, just like the royal wedding. As long as I don’t have to watch either one.