Plano, an affluent suburb of Dallas maligned decades ago by finger-wagging liberals (me) as an all-white busing flight enclave, is at the forefront of a whole new kind of struggle for diversity, inclusiveness and enlightenment.
Black poverty-cursed South Dallas — the scene a half-century ago of a civil rights struggle that I wrote a book about — now sees its entrenched black leaders fighting to preserve a patronage fiefdom based on racial segregation.
The world goes ’round and ’round, does it not?
On Monday, the Plano city secretary certified enough of the 4,400 signatures on a petition to require a special election to recall (or not) Plano City Council Member Tom Harrison, accused of making multiple public Islamophobic statements online. Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere called Harrison’s actions “an utter embarrassment to our city.”
Plano 40 years ago was typical of the little burned-out cotton towns north of Dallas that were still occupied mostly by old-time small-town and country white folks. People in Plano back then were uncomfortable with anybody who wasn’t a cousin, let alone not of the same color.
LaRosiliere is the perfect emblem for the way decades of raging growth and development have changed the human face of Plano. A successful wealth management adviser, LaRosiliere was born in Haiti. He is the product of Catholic schools in Harlem and is a graduate of City College in New York with postgraduate degrees from Bryn Mawr and the University of Chicago.
Plano is twice as white as Dallas — 57.6 percent versus 29.3 percent. It is more affluent, with an average personal income of $43,296 and an average home value of $291,100 versus an average income of $30,739 and home value of $157,100 in Dallas. At 19.9 percent, Dallas’ poverty rate is almost three times Plano’s rate of 6.7 percent.
From there, old paradigms begin to erode and fracture. Dallas may be diverse in whole numbers, but its residents remain harshly segregated. (See Stephen Young’s story yesterday on the new study from the Communities Foundation of Texas and the Center for Public Policy Priorities.)
Plano, on the other hand, is home to an ethnic diversity that is moderated by economic parity — people of different ethnic and national origins who share a fairly narrow economic band at the upper-middle to upper end of the scale. Plano’s nonwhite population is heavily influenced by upwardly mobile immigrants. Its second-largest ethnic group is Asian, at 18.2 percent, made up mainly of Asian Indians and Chinese people.
Council member Harrison, target of the recall election, reposted a video showing girls in school wearing hijab head-coverings. A caption in the video said, “Share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.” When people objected to his repost, he deleted the video from his Facebook page.
I’m not really here to mediate the issues of racism and Islamophobia in Harrison’s repost, even though bigotry clearly is the core question. But I think the good people of Plano are going to be able to figure out the bigotry thing just fine on their own without pointers from a guy in Dallas. And please forgive me if you think my focus is a little arcane, if not maybe even dilettantish.
What intrigues me personally is the economic and geographical migration of the quest for tolerance. Forty years ago, the assumption of liberals and conservatives alike was that tolerance and assimilation were going to be black and brown inner-city causes, and that the exurbs were destined to become fortified plague castles harboring white people seeking refuge from those causes. But that world, even if it existed only in fever dreams, has been turned topsy-turvy.
Look at Dallas. A new regime in the professional staff at Dallas City Hall, most recruited fairly recently from around the country by a new city manager, is offering the City Council a housing policy designed to achieve true racial and economic integration. At a meeting at City Hall last week, some of the Dallas black community’s most tenured and respected leaders harshly denounced that plan.
The new plan devised under City Manager T.C. Broadnax seeks to reverse a longstanding city policy of funneling public housing dollars into already segregated neighborhoods, for two main reasons. That policy, heavily funded by federal grants, conflicts with federal law and court rulings saying that putting more public housing into already segregated areas does not accomplish the goal of decreasing segregation.
More pointedly, the new policy observes that the old one never got much done. Even if the only criterion were counting the number of houses built for the money, the old scheme produced pitifully few housing units and a great wealth of excuses.
The old scheme did, however, provide a steady income stream for community housing nonprofits run by the old minority leadership. In the name of social justice, the new plan contemplates cutting off that gravy train and redirecting federal grant money to larger, more efficient entities.
Then there is the real knife in the back, as far as traditional black leadership in southern Dallas is concerned. The new housing plan intends to locate new housing in so-called “areas of opportunity,” in keeping with federal law and the courts. The South Dallas community leaders, not inaccurately, are reading that term, area of opportunity, as meaning white and north.
Whether city officials ever will be able to overcome NIMBY resistance enough to carry off that goal, southern Dallas leaders view it as an assault on their community and political base, not to mention the patronage money.
Everybody is welcome to jump on that one with both boots according to everybody’s personal predilections. I assume lots of white folks and maybe some upwardly mobile black people will start cranking away about poverty pimps. And, sure, I get that.
But the kind of southern Dallas leaders I heard at the City Hall meeting last week included people like former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale, who has poured her entire life since high school into her community. She is in the crosshairs of a federal probe right now for activities of the housing nonprofit she runs, including giving away a federally funded house for free. That’s not cool. But the investigation is going on that one, and we need to know more before judging.
In the meantime, I think it’s fair to assume that when Ragsdale speaks, she channels the sincere and heartfelt sentiment of the community she has represented all these long decades. I tried to crane and see but was blocked at the last minute from observing the facial expression of the city staffer most responsible for the new housing policy, herself a minority recently arrived from another city, when Ragsdale spoke.
Ragsdale delivered the head-spinning argument that desegregation is the same thing, in the end, as segregation: “It’s important to realize that poor people should not have to move to upper-middle-class white neighborhoods in order to enjoy a decent standard of living,” she said. “So there is a responsibility to the neighborhoods where we have a concentration of poor people and minority people.”
Using the time-honored terminology of the civil rights movement, Ragsdale accused city staff of pushing the southern Dallas black community out of southern Dallas against its will to achieve a social goal that Ragsdale clearly does not consider valuable — not valuable enough to make people move.
“We have been victims of private redlining and public redlining,” she said. “We should not have to be force-moved once again to enjoy a decent standard of living.”
Of course, nobody will really have to move under the new policy. People in southern Dallas simply will have more opportunities to move north.
I don’t know if the new city staff saw that one coming. Any longtime observer could have warned them that integration has always been a dirty word in South Dallas. It’s one of the qualities that make Dallas unique, and who is to say that uniqueness is automatically a bad thing? It is what it is.
In the meantime, however, the entire direction of social change in the suburbs is almost 180 degrees from South Dallas. I first started seeing it three years ago during the "Clock Boy" blow-up in Irving.
Former Mayor Beth Van Duyne, an early Trump supporter, defended school officials for kicking a Muslim boy out of school. They assumed the kid’s science project, a clock, was some kind of improvised explosive device because, you know, Muslim.
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One of the people I spoke to in Irving who was most outspoken in defending tolerance and diversity was a way-back white-guy inhabitant, John Danish, a lawyer who had been on the Irving City Council for years and was a former chairman of the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Danish directed me to a new subdivision in Irving where all of the streets were named for famous places in the Middle East.
He went on and on about his Korean and Mexican clients who were hugely successful entrepreneurs. He was aghast that bigots like Van Duyne were insulting this new population of people, whom Danish considered so extremely valuable to his city.
That’s a big part of it. It’s easy for rich people to like rich people. Even the affluent people who pity the poor tend not to want them next door. Ragsdale knows that and doesn’t want her people to have to live next door to people who don’t want them there. That has always been a big part of South Dallas.
This fact remains: The most interesting fight for tolerance in our region right now is the recall campaign in Plano. The most outspoken champions of racial segregation right now are Ragsdale and the leadership of southern Dallas. Just sayin’.