What John Wiley Price's Supporters Are Really Saying About How Dallas Operates

Gromer Jeffers has a pay-walled column in today's Dallas Morning News trying to explain community support for embattled Southern Dallas leader John Wiley Price, now the target of a major FBI investigation for money laundering and other crimes.

I respect Jeffers for struggling with a very tough issue right at the heart of the city's old culture. But he may miss an important point about what's going on.

Jeffers's theory is based on two key concepts. One is that the city of Dallas is somehow racially fragile -- a phrase usually used to invoke the possibility of violent uprising.

The second is that this fragility is caused by "inequities" between the prosperous north and the poverty-stricken southern hemisphere of the city. That's about money, usually invoked to suggest that the north needs to deliver more money to the south.

Jeffers writes: "Dallas is left with a public relations fight that could shake a city that already has fragile racial and geographic relationships.

"If the city were truly united, the Price investigation would not be as jarring to those who view him as a fighter for social justice. But since the longtime inequities between the prosperous north and the struggling south have not been dealt with by city and community leaders, Price's accomplishments (he's known as 'Our Man Downtown') obscure any notion by many of his constituents that he could be engaged in illegal activity."

I'm not here to say Jeffers is wrong. The ideas he is expressing are ideas I myself have shared in the past. What I would like to suggest, however, is that these very ideas are what's really under fire in the current FBI investigation as well as the 2009 federal City Hall corruption trial.

Let's deal with fragile. I can look at this city and region now, compare it to what was here in the late 1970s, and I see incredibly robust upward mobility and economic success among African-Americans. Many but not all have moved to the 'burbs, which is the American way.

Success and upward mobility are not the makings of social fragility or volatility. Economic success and family success are the ingredients of stability. Let me put it another way: How many young African-American professionals and business people enjoying the first fruits of hard-won success are going to take to the streets for John Wiley Price, especially if the evidence makes Price out to be a grifter?

The second idea -- that North Dallas is supposed to deliver money to Southern Dallas -- is at the very heart of these recurring scandals. It is based on the notion that white people are inherently smarter and more capable than black people and the only way black people can get money is for white people to hand it to them in exchange for racial peace.

What people, white or black, who are under 50 years old actually believe that crap any more?

The entire mechanism of politically controlled minority set-aside contracting is based on notions of white superiority and black inferiority. I thought the Tea Party (Obama is not from this planet) had pretty well wiped out the last of the white superiority thing. And black success should have wiped out the other one by now.

The city's so-called racial problems may not even be north-south any more, in spite of the loyalty to that paradigm that you see in the city's only daily newspaper. By now the only real racial issue is much more a question of young versus old: Who still believes in all that set-aside junk that has cursed us with nothing but corruption and has never done a damn thing for Southern Dallas?

The Price situation is very important, given his role in the city's history -- some of it good, some bad. But the real struggle ahead probably will not take place in the streets. It will take place in our hearts -- all of our hearts. These are new times and better times, and that fact may be John Wiley Price's real problem.

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