Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What About Forgiveness?

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.

The name of Adelfa Callejo, longtime Hispanic attorney and activist has had her name recommended for a new school. The controversy? Ms. Callejo, a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries last year, said that Barack Obama would not be supported by the Hispanic community in Dallas because he is black. She suggested that the roots of such antipathy on the part of the Hispanic community lie in the fact that African-Americans didn’t support Hispanic issues when blacks were the majority of the population in the district, and those feelings couldn’t be set aside in the primary race.

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.


DISD Parent said...

Rev. Gerald Britt, everyone deserves forgiveness but you never reward racism. Why beat around the bush with this subject? Should trustees vote to name a school in Adelfa Callejo's honor? Absolutely Not! What Adelfa Callejo said was racist in nature and there is just no other way to describe it. All this conjecture about it being out of context is baloney. If my child in Pleasant Grove where this school is built has to attend this school named after Adelfa Callejo then how do I explain to her why it was OK to say racist comments about other people because of their ethnicity? Will Hispanic children at this school feel justified to make similar comments about their black school classmates?

In a Dallas Morning News article Leigh Ann Ellis states she is going to abstain from voting on this issue because reportedly Callejo herself called her to seek support for naming a school in her honor and because Callejo may be supporting another individual who may run against her this November. To begin with, most everybody knows Leigh Ann Ellis is probably talking about Bruce Parrott when she states she will ride the fence on the vote for or against naming a school for Adelfa Callejo. That is not good enough Leigh Ann Ellis. You should be saying you will not vote to name a school for Adelfa Callejo because of her racist comments made towards our President Obama. Who cares about Adelfa Callejo supporting someone who may or may not run against you? This is not about you Leigh Ann Ellis, this is about something much more important than you being re-elected as a DISD trustee. You are one self-serving sorry excuse for a DISD trustee if I have ever seen one. Bruce Parrott does not need Adelfa Callejo's support or money, Bruce will defeat you hands down at the ballot box on his own accord.

Real sad here folks, really sad because Edwin Flores just does not get it. This guy is supposed to be from the conservative ilk and he still wants to award racism. For the record, Edwin wanted to change and discard the rich pioneer history of the Ross on Ross Avenue and change it to Cesar Chavez Avenue too.

And where is that nincompoop Jerome Garza? Oh, I forgot he is probably still trying to find another Hispanic DISD employee who actually lives in DISD trustee Carla Ranger's district to run against trustee Ranger. What a better way to show the love fest between blacks and Hispanics in the DISD, right? Very dumb move Jerome. Dallas' black leadership will forever remember you for that stupid move.

Dallas’ black leadership got slapped in the face by Hispanic leaders Callejo and Garza and I don’t think they will turn the cheek on this one. Well, except for Ron Price who is just pathetic? There he is out in the public saying he’ll consider an apology from Callejo and then he might vote to name a school in her name. Ron wants to vote for her so bad he just needs an apology. Ron Price should be apologizing to voters in his district for trying to name schools in his district for the people who do not deserve to be recognized in his district. Another pathetic poor soul here folks. But Ron Price himself knows his days are numbered after the butt whooping he took from Dallas City councilmember Carolyn Davis. This November, Dr. Juanita Wallace will finally put the final nail in Ron Price's political career and Ron may find himself in a position where he may have to get a real job.

Anonymous said...

The Hispanics will soon control most of the political machine in Dallas,and perhaps nationally. Hopefully, their politics will not focus on civil rights or redevelopment of areas that the citizens do not maintain.
Like most citizens, I believe racism is not to be tolerated, but the political correctness of those whose predominate focus is on civil rights defines tunnel vision.Its unhealthy and will continue to promote division.

Gerald Britt said...

I didn't expect, or intend for this to be a popular post. Nor am I under any illusion that what I am calling for will actually happen.

The fact is, there is an opportunity with this to push back against the efforts to divide two communities which have much in common and much for which we should struggle together.

The issue of who 'controls' Dallas or national politics is a naive and simplistic notion of what democracy is about. No one will 'control' politics although a particular views and values may predominate. And a diatribe and invective against 'civil rights' is an equally naive call to forget the trauma afflicted on generations of oppressed people.

Civil Rights are quite simply the right to participate as equals in the political, cultural and economic structures of our country. Is there someone of any color who doesn't want that?

Forgiveness, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean forgetfulness. True forgiveness requires a clear understanding of wrongs inflicted and is not simply subject to desire of those who have inflicted those wrongs to not be inconvenienced with the aggrieved party's suffering.

The fact that there are those in America who want to play the amnesiac when it comes to hundreds of years of bigotry, oppression and violence, because we've had 40 or 50 years of legal statutes (which have constantly had to be clarified because of the intentional obtuseness of those who have been the offenders), and who wish to draw a line in the sand and say 'We're even', doesn't make such a desire legitimate.

The idea that someone will 'control' politics to the comfort of those who simply don't to deal with their guilt is a fantasy wish. One, that is not likely to come true in our lifetime - thank goodness.