Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I've Been Called Out!

Tod Robberson, editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News' gapblog, called me out on yesterday's post regarding Star Parker's defense (or rant if you prefer), on the moral decline in our society represented by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's affair and pursuant scandal.
My frustration (irritation really), is with what I consider the logic she uses in analysing the source of the moral declension of which Sanford is guilty somehow reaching back to the Kennedy presidency and his sexual indiscretions. It doesn't take into account patterns of immorality and unethical behavior that have nothing to do with sex and cyloes the 'upholding family values' argument by suggesting that sexual purity is proof positive one's integrity. At least that, as I see it, is implication of her argument. I see it that way because she, along with countless other conservatives have the habit of explaining away other morally and ethically transgressions in public policy initiatives and sometimes indictable, if not criminal activities, that have little and in most cases nothing to do with sex. These too, eat away and the fabric of our culture and constitute public 'sin' for which there also needs to be accountability and atonement.

This is the larger reason why Tod calls me out.

Don Hill, one of Dallas' former city councilmen is caught up in an ethics scandal allegedly involving bribery of wealthy developers of low income properties throughout the poorest sections of our city. It is a complex and controversial case and it is fraught with implications regarding racial politics and the integrity of African-American politicians.

Tod says in reaction to my post, "I would like to hear Gerald Britt specifically address the many ethical issues raised by elected officials in southern Dallas using race-baiting tactics to stir up anti-white sentiment while lining their own pockets under the guise of creating business opportunities for minorities and ensuring that "rich whites" don't come in to exploit the community. I raise this because of all of the revelations from the Don Hill trial, as well as the recent controversy surrounding the alleged "shakedown" of developer Richard Allen as he worked to build his sprawling inland port facility in southern Dallas County."

And Tod is right. There are many ethical issues raised when a sensitive and explosive issue like race is used gratuitously and self-servingly. The fact is, not every politician who races the spectre of race is trying to fan the flames of racial pride, or sound a critical alarm. There are some who indeed use race as a cover for their own incompetence and negligence, or a cloak for their own ambition.

Race prejudice provides too easy an excuse for some in our community to refuse to commit themselves to the hard work of taking control of our own communities. And when race is used as a clarion call for a fight that doesn't exist, it is the worst kind malfeasance. And this is especially true when it appears that such leaders derive personal benefit and gain from scare tactics and bullying that result.

But, as someone has said, 'Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean that no one is following you.' And if there were no distress in minority communities directly attributable to racial injustice, there would be nothing to which either unscrupulous or sincere leaders could appeal. What is clear, when it comes to dealing with race issues in this city and this country, is that there are some people who believe that minorities are just making this all up.

Tod implication is right on point; its despicable for race to be used to forestall opportunity and personal enrichment. But it is equally short sighted to not understand that racial injustice is a serious and substantive problem in this country - the 'age of Obama' notwithstanding. In the past - the recent past - naivete on the part of blacks and other minorities regarding this point didn't just mean the loss of property, or employment, it could mean the loss of life.

Can African-Americans hyper-sensitive around this issue? There are times when that is true. Is the black community vulnerable to exploitation when it comes to this issue? The answer is also yes, some indeed are. This is why we have to hold our leaders accountable for producing real results and not use race as a means of fulfilling their ambitions or not fulfilling their obligations.

But it is also true, that we must continue to remind the broader society that there are severe inequities that exist that are directly attributable to the issue of race. The fact that it makes those who hear that message uncomfortable, is not the issue. The fact that it is something for which they do not 'feel responsible' is again, not the issue. It is a fact and no real justice can ever be achieved by ignoring it.

Tod couches his challenge in a very interesting hypothetical, which touches on something I've been thinking about recently. He says, 'Let's dream a little bit. If City Hall and private investors were to devote one-tenth of the financial resources we think they need to invest to raise southern Dallas to a developmental level of parity with the north, then unquestionably there would be billions of dollars in projects flooding into the area. That means lots of opportunities for minority owned businesses as well as for white-owned companies. Everyone should get a piece of the pie. This should be a city-wide effort. But it is destined to fail if an attitude prevails in Dallas 1) that corrupt politicians and their cronies will insist on getting their own special payments for "services" rendered; and 2) if the public continues to be convinced that nothing happens in southern Dallas without someone getting a payoff for it.'

I can't argue with him there. It is clear that either actual or perceived corruption can make the prospect of doing business in southern Dallas distasteful. These reasons are used as excuses for not doing businesses in many of the business suites in Dallas. The prospect of crude, unsophisticated graft and unsavory personalities don't make for enticing business propositions.

But I'm wondering: does this mean every business deal being done in over developed North Dallas done in a pristine, above board atmosphere? No corners being cut? No side deals or kick backs? Why is the challenge to southern Dallas in particular and to minority communities in general, have a caveat associated with it?

Guaranteed profit...

No crime...

Excellent traffic patterns...

Why must the people in these communities be more moral, more industrious, less corrupt, less crime ridden than their North Dallas fellow citizens? Why must we debate the intrinsic 'worthiness' of the poor and the 'merit' of residents of poor communities before we do what we know works in schools and neighborhoods? I don't think Tod believes this, but implicit in his statement is the idea that there is no, or not as much corruption among politicians in the north as can be seen in politicians in the south. I challenge that. There may be politicians who are more sophisticated and business leaders who have know ways that are 'legal' to line their pockets, but I object to the concept of corruption that is the province of any particular group of people.

There is indeed, more than one way to be corrupt.

The argument goes back to something many African-American parents and educators have had to instill in children in their care: you have to be twice as good, to get half as much respect.

Tod says something else that calls for conversation.

"I'd actually like to hear someone speak out in support of the FBI investigation and, instead of condemning this as an attack on African Americans, call for more such investigations until this city's and county's governments are cleaned up."

"But by raising suspicions that the FBI is targeting minorities for prosecution, commentators (and the accused politicians) only help further undermine public confidence. We're left with a situation in which we don't know whom to trust. We can't trust the politicians, but we can't trust the FBI."

It is interesting to me that some people don't understand why blacks and whites view law enforcement differently. Whites tend to view law enforcement as preserving order and security. African-Americans view law enforcement and the legal system as suspicious and threatening. Its not that we don't know that they are necessary. The fact is, there is a history of the FBI having undermined public confidence in the black community on their own. There is a history of victimization that is not a figment of the collective imaginations of black people. And so, even when there is a suspicion that someone might be caught up in the legal system might be guilty, there is also the suspicion that although guilty they will not be treated as fairly or humanely as someone who is white and guilty. Leading to the sentiment at which some white people shake their heads: Hill, if guilty, is no more guilty than other white politicians, but that he is being 'singled out'.

The fact is, if Hill is guilty, there are wrongs that are just wrong;

There is greed that is greed;

There is unethical behavior that is just unethical behavior, the real question is what is the degree of devastation resulting from the consequences. The truth is public confidence is the first casualty of a politicians abuse of power and unethical behavior, no matter what his or her color is. And I don't mind saying it: if Don Hill is guilty he ought to be punished and punished severely. But there is still such a thing as innocence until guilt is proven, and I am more disappointed that there are still many people who aren't charitable enough to allow for that.

As for the persistent questions regarding African-American support or silence regarding Don Hill - if he is guilty no amount of black support can make it right. If Hill is innocent, no amount of black support can eradicate the damage done by his false prosecution.


Shawn Williams said...

Mr. Britt I thank you for your thorough analysis of this matter. Southern Dallas politics is Sesame Street stuff compared to corruption in places like Chicago or New York.

I think that the message is getting out, and that there are fewer people with their hands out for "value add" in attracting development. The days of having to "go through" certain individuals to make things happen in the South are not gone, but changing at least.

I think the "silence" you see from the Black Community is why talk radio has such a hard time sustaining in our community. Like you say, if Don Hill is wrong he's wrong. If he is innocent he innocent and likewise if he is guilty.

But being a blowhard about how wrong he is doesn't make Hill more wrong and doesn't make him more guilty. And going on and on about Mark Sanford isn't about Mark Sanford, it's mostly about the individual doing the judging (look how good I am).

Reminds me of friends who are quick to throw their hands up and say "I don't smoke...I don't drink..." Well you do something, we all have issues. Anyway, great job Gerald.

Gerald Britt said...


Thanks for this friend. I think that we (blacks and whites), are far too unwilling to acknowledge the complexity of racial issues in Dallas. And they are complex because for far too long, they have gone without substantive discussion that leads to significant resolution.

For those of us for whom Hill is a friend, he will be a friend no matter the outcome of the trial. For those of us who are engaged in politics, if we are serious, his problems won't dissuade us in the least.

There is real work to be done in every sector of our city and it is work that we can only do together. We just need to decide that togetherness, is what we actually want for our city.