Still another controversy brewing at Dallas Independent School District. This time it has to do with the proposal for the name of a new school.
It was a sad statement. I was incensed when I heard it. I was more incensed because I remember several years ago, when I was a part of the leadership of the Dallas branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, fighting for equal representation of blacks and Hispanics on the council, Ms. Callejo and her nephew Michael Gonzales were fervent supporters of the effort.
It has, of course, produced a range of reaction on the school board: a call for an apology before considering naming a school after her, by one African-American trustee; an outright refusal to consider her by another black trustee; a vague and benign acknowledgement of the unfortunate nature of the comment. Perhaps the most sophomoric response was by school board member Nancy Bingham who suggested that her statement resulted in ‘hurt feelings’.
Such an evaluation of her statement shows clearly no understanding of the tense and tenuous nature of relationships between African-Americans and Hispanics. Actually it shows little understanding of the race problem at all.
Ms. Callejo’s statement, was not just ‘hurtful’ and her comment was not just impolite. It was inflammatory, it was insensitive and it was unfair. In those struggles in which African-Americans have been at the forefront, the struggles to eradicate the vestiges of racism, bigotry and oppression, have yielded benefits for all people - including Hispanics.
Ultimately, this becomes another 'issue' which continues to drive a wedge between two communities, which need to be staunch allies. Breaches caused by comments such as those made by Ms. Callejo, not only help widen an unnecessary gulf between black and brown people, it creates a vacuum which will be filled by interests that don't have the benefit of these two communities at heart. And it would be the height of hypocrisy to suggest that there aren't African-American leaders who have not voiced similar (as a matter of fact, nearly identical resentment), without the benefit of a microphone. There are more than a few people, black, brown and white, who are willing to use those words to their own advantage.
But this controversy is particularly disappointing, because Adelfa Callejo has a history as an advocate for not only her people but as an ally for the rights of all people.
Did her statement last year reveal her true feelings? Was she caught up, as were many, in the hype of a bitterly contested historic campaign? Is she merely guilty of an impolitic reflection, as were many of us, during that time? Does she regret her words now? It seems like she might.
Here are my thoughts on the issue:
First of all, if we’re going to get serious about the names of schools, why don't we rename those schools, honoring those whose activities and affiliations were clearly not in the interests of minority children, their communities and families, but which serve predominantly minority children and their families. Schools such as those named for Confederate generals, – John B. Hood, Albert Sydney Johnston – and others who were even in the Ku Klux Klan, like Robert L. Thornton?
Secondly, we need to rethink the idea of naming school buildings after living persons. Perhaps this should be a posthumous honor, as with the images on our currency (imagine if we had decided to put Nixon’s picture on a dollar or a coin after his first term!).
Thirdly, what Ms. Callejo said was mean spirited, bitter, unfair and not true. But I don’t know when, or where she has said anything else like it. I don’t know if she regrets it. I do know she’s championed issues important to blacks and Hispanics. I have seen her fight with other prominent black leaders on issues that opened opportunity for all citizens of Dallas. In fighting for those issues, were her motives perfect? There's no such thing as a pristine motive.
Were I to advise Ron Price or Carla Ranger, I would say, take this opportunity to show that we will not fall prey to the prurient interests that would keep blacks and Hispanics divided. It’s a chance to talk about the need to overcome the divisions that do indeed exist between blacks and browns; divisions that are exploited by others for their own interests.
It’s a chance to make sure that Ms. Callejo, won't just be remembered for what some consider her worst words or deeds.
I’d ask Carla Ranger and Ron Price to forgive Adelfa Callejo, whether she asks for it or not. Make this a teachable moment for all of Dallas. Do it in a way that says, in no uncertain terms, that what was said was unacceptable, but also says, in equally emphatic terms, that we respect her and her community – and declare that we won’t obscure the weightier matters of education in Dallas.