Posted on August 30, 2004

Racial Politics: City Council Outburst Was Over The Top, Aug. 28

Racial politics in Dallas can get rough, but rarely do they break out in the kind of ugly attack City Council member Maxine Thornton-Reese launched during Wednesday’s meeting. Her target: Mayor Laura Miller, to whom she devoted an eight-minute, racially charged sermon worthy of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The tempest in a teapot had to do with a proposal that the city subsidize the annual Grambling-Prairie View game at the Cotton Bowl. If the council votes to help fund the Texas-OU contest, council member Leo Chaney said, as a matter of fairness, it ought to give a financial boost to the match-up between the two historically black colleges.

Sounds fair to us, and we hope the council will approve the plan. But because it wasn’t listed on the agenda, the council couldn’t take a vote on the Grambling-Prairie View funding until next week. So Mr. Chaney asked for a delay in the scheduled Texas-OU vote, “to send the right message to the African-American community.”

Mayor Miller objected, saying there was no good reason to delay the Texas-OU vote. Right or wrong, it’s a legitimate point to discuss. That’s when Dr. Thornton-Reese found her cue to throw a temper tantrum, ranting about the mayor pursuing “the white agenda,” whatever that is, and portraying Ms. Miller as dedicated to keeping black folks down.

It’s no secret that the mayor is no favorite of the black community, but Dr. Thornton-Reese’s shameless demagoguery is another example of the racialized politics of personal destruction some vocal African-Americans practice against the mayor. When the incompetent Terrell Bolton was fired, the public was treated to the appalling sight of black protesters carrying signs denouncing the Jewish mayor in anti-Semitic terms.

Perhaps the protesters struck an outrageous posture to compensate for their paltry numbers. If so, they only succeeded in drawing more attention to the lack of broad community support for their ill-chosen tactics. Shrill and isolated is not a good combination – as we trust Dr. Thornton-Reese will also come to realize. Given the real, substantive racial issues this town still faces, those who hold themselves out as leaders cannot afford to marginalize themselves over trivial matters.

In the end, the council voted against the mayor on the Texas-OU issue, 12-2. Not bad for eight minutes’ work. The council should be aware, though, that what you reward, you encourage.

We all know that Dallas has a disgraceful legacy of racism. It’s also true that the city has worked hard to overcome it and has a ways yet to go. Nevertheless, the urgent cause of racial reconciliation and community progress is not served by thin-skinned politicians turning a minor procedural issue into a showdown at the Selma bridge.