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Mixed Bag

April 23, 2011

Yesterday, I was sitting with my friends at the new IHOP on 75 and Southwestern when in walked about 30 guys in matching black warmup suits that said DC United.

“Jackpot” I said as they walked in the door, even before I had a chance to read their warmup uniforms. I know professional athletic teams don’t recruit based on looks but it they did, the team would look like DC United. Those guys were hotcakes.

I was with a large group of friends, women, who were, for the most part, not FIFA fans.

“Who are they?”

“They must be a team.”

“Are they from a college?”

“You all fail for sports,” I said in a whisper just loud enough to be overheard. “What is it with the Texas football-football-football? That’s the best soccer team in the country!! It’s like the Lakers just walked in here, only shorter.”

“What are they doing in IHOP?” asked one friend.

“Having breakfast,” said another.

“Well,” I said. “It’s not like they can go to Denny’s.” It was one of those times when I was the person who put into words the uncomfortable truth that everyone knows but no one wants to speak.  In addition to being all kinds of handsome, the players on DC United having breakfast right next to us were all kinds of brown.

It’s not like my friends are uniformly white. The group having breakfast that day included a woman from Guatemala, a woman from Mexico City, a Mexican-American, and me, part Cuban-American. My friend who was sitting next to me recounted how, when she was a Division I athlete in college, when her team was on the road, her coach only took them to buffets. “Part of it was that it was the only way he could afford to feed us,” said my friend. She didn’t say the other part, that her coach did not want his players to have to deal with what, I hear, often happens when people of color try to go out to eat.

As a white person, it is extremely difficult for me to write about race. I know that my appearance, my fair skin, my pale green eyes, my WASPyness, has benefitted me through no action of my own. It’s called white privilege, and I know it benefits me in a thousand ways I recognize and a thousand thousand ways I don’t. I don’t feel guilty about it, because I know it’s not something I did, but I am aware, and I continually strive to become more aware.

It’s hard not to when just this week, the Dallas Morning News reported a study conducted by the North Texas Fair Housing Center proving what I had long suspected, that African-Americans and Mexicans are subject to rampant discrimination when they look for places to live — either told that there were no available apartments when, in fact, there were, or quoted higher rents and security deposits than were white people looking at the same apartment complexes.

It’s hard not to be aware of white privilege every time I hear people in Dallas say racist things, about African-Americans, or about Mexicans, and I think, but do not often say, “How on earth can you say something like that,” and I remember that I have light brown hair and fair skin and green eyes, and people assume, because I look like them, that I share their racist attitudes, and I realize that I am “privileged” to hear exactly how racist many people are in this city, and I wish I had the courage, when I drop out of something I thought I had wanted to become involved with, to say, “No, I’m sorry this [whatever] is too racist for me. I’m moving on.” But I don’t have the courage, or, more likely, I don’t have the compassion, time, or energy to stay and try and make change happen from the inside, so I move on to a place where I don’t have to hear racist comments. I, too, am part of the problem.

It’s hard not to be aware of white privilege when I look at the Highland Park schools and see that, in a city that is 43% Hispanic and 22% Black, the best public school in the city is white. People who live here can kid themselves all they want about why it just works out that way, but my nonagenarian friend confided in me that her nonagenarian friends told her, “We set up Highland Park schools to keep the blacks out, but we know that times are changing and we have to let some Mexicans in.”

I don’t talk about white privilege with my African-American friends, much, because we have better things to talk about, and because, I assume, they are sick of thinking and talking about race and racism.

I don’t talk about white privilege with my white friends here in Dallas, much, because they don’t get it and I don’t want to beat them over the head with it, because they say, rightly, “It’s always been that way and I can’t do anything about it.” They say, “Dallas has a race problem, but I don’t see a solution.” They say, “I know it’s a problem, but it doesn’t affect me. It’s not my problem.”

But it is.

The numbers are shocking. Graduation rates. Employment opportunities. Crime rates. Housing opportunities. Every time I have looked for the numbers, I’ve been shocked at what I have found, and yet we allow it to go on, because life is pretty good for the 30% of us who are white, and who have the best houses and the best schools and the best jobs. Our children are growing up in a city where racism is rampant, where it is built into the law of the land, and they think it’s normal.

Dallas doesn’t have a race problem. Dallas has a racism problem.

It’s not a new problem, and it seems to be improving, even the short six and a half years I’ve lived here. I didn’t ask the players on DC United for their autographs, and I didn’t take their pictures, but a couple of kids in the restaurant did, and those kids were as brown as the players. As I live my life around the city, I see Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, African-Americans, Asians, Indians — people from all different backgrounds, living and working and shopping and going to school side-by-side, but finding a place where all these groups actually come together is called the checkout line at Costco. It’s a start.

There are a lot of wonderful things about living in Dallas. We have emerging world-class arts. We have beautiful parks. We have a welcoming business environment. But until white people — city and civic leaders, clergy, as well regular folks like me, stand up and say, “No more,” we will never be anything more than a backwater with some nice museums, a good symphony, and a few lovely parks.

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  1. Mary Knapp permalink

    Wow! This is a radically honest appraisal, and i salute you. Just by being aware, you are part of the solution. I sat and chatted last weekend with a grizzled old black man weaving crosses out of palms and selling them in a park in Savannah. I acknowledged to him that I am aware that the beauty and wealth around us were built with labor stolen from his ancestors, and that just realizing it is not enough. He thanked me with tears in his eyes and said, “it helps.” Then I paid him a big bill for a palm cross with a rose in the center.

  2. Platt Arnold permalink

    well said, beth!!

  3. joel permalink

    To be fair to the Highland Park ISD, in which I was educated, my mother taught, and my father served as an elementary school principal: Only people who live in the town of Highland Park (97.27% white in 2000 census) or the town of University Park (94.33% white in 2000 census) may attend HPISD schools. HPISD excludes people based only on their geography, not their demographics.

  4. The beauty of the players enhances my love of soccer. There’s a reason they call it “The Beautiful Game”!

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