Yesterday, Councilman Dwaine Caraway issued a call for a formal, citywide discussion on race. It isn't scheduled to take place until September 21, probably at City Hall, but it got a head start in the The Dallas Morning News' comments section.
It's easy to be cynical about Caraway's intentions. He's prone to grandstanding and has a weakness for the grand but quixotic crusades, like his interminable anti-sagging initiative.
This is different. Caraway's concern is sincere, and he's not offering any ready-made solutions, merely trying to spur a frank and honest dialogue.
"First off, I want to make it real clear," Caraway told Unfair Park on Tuesday. "This is not a Trayvon Martin-driven subject. This is something that has been long needed in the city of Dallas. ... This is strictly about trying to gain a better understanding with the different races in this city and giving us the opportunity to talk about it without being accused of playing the race card."
This suggestion isn't particularly new or groundbreaking; calls for a grand discussion on race have become an almost-tired refrain in America. But there's clearly something toxic in the way we talk about race. Blog commenters are a case in point, he said.
"Some people, some of the racist comments that they make hid[ing] behind fake names --- it tells you that Dallas still has a long way to go," he said. That, Caraway said, is symptomatic of how many people feel. It's just that they're too scared to say it when they step from behind the anonymity of the Internet.
The details of the September 21 are still being hammered out. It's not going to be a lecture or a series of speeches. It's going to be a forum where community leaders -- he's sending invitations to the various chambers of commerce, the Dallas Citizens Council, black, Hispanic, and Asian groups -- can come together to talk honestly without being shouted down. Grievances will be aired, but that won't be the focus.
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"There are things that happened in our past that we can forgive," he said, "but do understand that those things that happened in our past we'll never forget." Because unless Dallas' toxic racial history is understood, we're doomed to repeat it. To illustrate, he cited a modern example.
"Prince Charles and Kate's new baby today had nothing to do with the past, so you can't hold this baby today for what happened in the past -- unless this baby is taught that," he said. "This baby is taught the same things of the past and is practicing those things in today's 2013. That's a problem."
The problem (racial division, not the royal baby) can't be solved just by talking, of course. Bridging Dallas' gaping racial chasms will require undoing the intense geographic segregation, both racial and economic, that characterizes Dallas. That's a mind-bogglingly complex proposition.
Conversation is the logical place to start, but it's only a start. Caraway said he'll make sure it won't end there. He plans to charge participants in the September gathering with going out in the city and making things happen. What? "Well, who knows," he said. "They will leave with homework."