Look Now, Morning News, Dallas's Problems Aren't Detroit's. Get It?

Colleen McCain Nelson debuts a new political column today on the op-ed page of The Dallas Morning News in which she holds up my former hometown, Detroit, as the arch example of what Dallas needs not to be. She's writing about Mayor Dave Bing's initiative to withdraw scarce city services from some abandoned neighborhoods in order to concentrate the city's efforts in parts of town that still have a chance at survival.

Nelson, who has been the main author of The News's Pulitzer prize-winning editorials on beleaguered southern Dallas neighborhoods, writes: "Dallas still has a chance to revive its teetering neighborhoods. The objectives are two-fold: Improve the quality of life for residents still there, and attract new people to these parts of town.

"To accomplish that, our city leaders should study the Detroit model -- and do the opposite."

You expect me to disagree violently with her on this, right? And then go stand outside The News and shout names at her? Eh. I don't know. I might get around to that later in the day, depending on the heat.

But for now, let me borrow a line from an editorial also in today's News (about how people ought to be nicer, of course) and say, "I hear what you're saying, but here's where we differ."

Detroit had a war. The term "race riot" applied to what happened there in '67 is basically what you get when history is written by the defeated. What happened in Detroit was an uprising. White people were driven off their turf, forced suddenly and violently to flee the city.

The bitterness left behind by those events is probably difficult for a lot of people here even to imagine. I lived downtown in the '70s. My parents were out in a white-flight mecca called Rochester, sort of the Plano of Detroit. Whenever I went out there to visit, white friends of my parents would verbally assault me, excoriating me for living downtown with "them."

The N-word was used loudly, angrily and with an edge of violent aggression I have never heard in Dallas. White people out in those flight areas talked about Detroit the way Cuban refugees in Miami talk about Castro. You tried not to let the topic even come up, especially after people had consumed a few beers.

Meanwhile, black people in the city viewed white flight with something just short of glee. The most common expression of sentiment was don't let the door hit you in the ass. There was a sense of building a new kind of city, a black city where whites would be the minority for a change, and frankly a lot of black people loved it.

But the white people took the money with them. The withdrawal of investment in Detroit was even faster than the withdrawal of people. Detroit became a siege city. Until fairly recently when people stopped buying SUVs, the area all around Detroit was booming and prosperous.

That prosperity will come back as the domestic auto industry recovers, but Detroit proper was left to starve behind its own medieval wall of undying enmity.

What happened there was a war. Both sides engaged in evil in the course of the war and both were to blame for the outcome.

Dallas has never suffered that kind of damage. Nelson is right. We have much more to build on here.

What is so troubling to me, however, about the mentality of Nelson in particular and The News in general is the idea that the solution to the problem of inequality between our own city's northern and southern hemispheres will be driven by City Hall.

How did this happen? How did I, a total libtard, wind up on the side that believes in private-sector solutions, and The News, which was always the voice of mossback conservatism, become a propaganda machine for government intervention? I really ... I'm sorry. I really can't figure it out.

Nelson's writings on this topic, even the stuff that won the Pulitzer, seem to be based on a notion that southern Dallas will get better when it's tidier. All the city needs to do is get in there and enforce code requirements better, improve the curbs and gutters, get things dressed up to look more like middle-class parts of town, and the people who live there will be magically transformed into members of the middle class.

I wish it worked that way. It would be so easy. But meanwhile, we're in the midst of a major FBI political corruption investigation that is pointing us toward the real answer: Southern Dallas will get better when the old white power structure of the city, very much including the editorial page of The Dallas Morning News, stops conspiring with corrupt self-dealing political hacks in southern Dallas to run off outside investment.

I refer, of course, to the Inland Port scandal in which Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, with support from The News, sabotaged a California investor in ways that severely damaged southern Dallas but may have aided major money interests in North Dallas.

Look, if Nelson wants to make this a less unequal city, there's only one way to do it and really make a difference: Go straight at the corrupt partnership between old white and old black Dallas leadership. Hit them head-on. Take a damn shovel to their heads.

But we're not going to see that at The News any time soon, are we? Instead we're going to get this Florence Nightingale stuff, paint-up fix-up -- feel-good without risk. By the way, don't write off Detroit. Fascinating things are happening there, especially the number of artists flocking to the city, drawn by the wonderful and perplexing Heidelberg Project -- an exploration and celebration of decay and rebirth. Remember that Detroit occupies a beautiful corner of the planet, nestled between the Great Lakes. Detroit will not go unoccupied. People there are plumbing new depths of meaning in concepts of self-reliance, rebirth and community.

We are a very different place. We are lucky. We do have major advantages. But it's seriously bad karma to gloat over another city's wounds. Maybe that's not what Nelson meant. Maybe I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on that. I am trying.

Nelson recites some campaign promises by our new mayor, Mike Rawlings, who said he was going to fix southern Dallas. She concludes: "I will hold him and the City Council to these promises."

Sheesh. That does stick a bit, Colleen. Tad self-important. But I'm trying to do this benefit-of-the-doubt thing for you. Perhaps it's only a matter of tone.

Look: Forget about damn Detroit. Don't look anywhere else. Look in the mirror for a change. Ask yourself if you're aiming at the heart of the matter or off to the right and high a notch. Think about the FBI investigation. Start telling me about the role of Hillwood and the Dallas Citizens Council. Remember that Rawlings was elected by the very same machinery that the FBI is going after now.

Do that and you're in the hunt. I won't hold my breath. In fact, I give up on the benefit-of-the-doubt thing. I'm headed downtown to stand outside the News and shout some crazy shit. We all have to live out our natures, I guess.

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