Houston, we have a problem.
Jack Edward Urquhart July 22, 2013
“We’re racist and proud of it!, says a poster shared on Facebook. The post claims the photo was taken in Houston, Texas this weekend during competing Trayvon Martin demonstrations.
Maybe the photo is a hoax. But the words ring true.
Houston is my home. It feels and smells like home. I enjoy it.
But I know a bit about its flaws. Racism is alive and well here. Racism did not disappear in the 1960’s when grocery store water fountains no longer read for “White” and “Colored.” Racism is alive in my hometown, and, like a mutated virus, it is enjoying a renewed vigor.
I was born into a fully and overtly segregated Houston. Like many, my mom and dad joined the late 50’s exodus to one of the newly created For White’s Only suburbs.
The Civil Rights movement kind of whispered over Houston. Required adjustments were made, and, arguably, Houston accepted change pretty well.
illiustrations of Houston’s tolerance are easily found and hard to discredit.
However, tolerance and racism can and do coexist. Tolerance is a Houston strength. Racism is not.
Houston has a unique way of smoothing over its racism. I cannot recall or count the number of times I have heard the mantra, “I’m not a racist.” Why the need for this oft-repeated denial?
The demonstrator’s poster on Facebook has an honesty that would refresh if the message was not so sad.
Yet, there is reason to hope. Houston was built and has been sustained by a hodge-podge of extraordinarily complicated (and flawed) men and women. Above the mob of the successful and the callous who have made their fortunes here, a precious few have found a way to keep Houston’s civic path reasonable–more or less.
Walking past the old Houston Chronicle Building I noticed a bronzed quotation from the late Jesse H. Jones. I must have passed it hundreds of times without noticing. The quotation reads:
The publication of a newspaper is a distinct public trust and one not to be treated lightly or abused for selfish purposes or to gratify selfish whims. A great daily newspaper can remain a power for good only so long as it is uninfluenced by unworthy motives and unbought by desire for gain.
Jesse H. Jones was an architect of this city. Before he reaped his full fortune, Jones “doled” out billions and billions of federal dollars as head of the depression era RFC. I am not nominating Jesse Jones for sainthood or even dubbing him with the terribly overused word “hero.”
But I sense Mr. Jones really understood high-toned concepts like “public trust” and really appreciated the danger of “unworthy motives,” and “selfish whims.” Maybe he was simply a brilliant pragmatist. My hunch, though, is that he had a heart large enough to roughly balance his ego.
Regardless, Houston, my home, must adjust its current course or risk losing one its abiding strengths–tolerance. Fortunately, our history gives us the voices of a diverse group of civic leaders–none perfect–that can help us refind our better path.