<\body> Stories in America: Highland Park: The African-American Perspective

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Highland Park: The African-American Perspective

Two years ago, The Park Cities News, a local paper serving Highland Park and North Dallas, ran an article called, "Area's first black family welcomed." The first line of the article read, "Guess who's coming to dinner -- and staying awhile?" That's a reference to a movie about the daughter of a wealthy white family who brings her African-American boyfriend home for dinner. I learned about this article during an interview with B.W., a 23-year-old student who is preparing to graduate from Southern Methodist University, a private school in Highland Park.

It's not difficult to notice the class and race disparities in Highland Park. I spent a few afternoons interviewing people in the area and saw very few African-Americans. With the exception of B.W., the other African-Americans I saw all work in Highland Park stores. Out of nine checkers and baggers at the main grocery store in the area, seven are African-American. In addition to B.W., In addition to B.W., I interviewed a deli clerk at that store and a young man who serves coffee at a local store. Here are excerpts from those interviews:

Brent Welch, 23, preparing to graduate from Southern Methodist University

Tell me about your school.

It started out as a religious school, but it's no longer religious. It costs $40,000 a year to go here. Most of the kids drive BMWs and Range Rovers. It's kind of intimidating when you don't have a lot of money, but I'm used to it by now. This is my last year.

Do you like it here?

Yeah, but I feel like I don't fit in. I don't do a lot of school activities.

Why do you feel like you don't fit in?

For one, I don't have a car. I also don't have money to spend on dinner and other things. I don't drink and SMU has a bad drinking problem. I really don't do the same things as my classmates.

What about this area? What's it like?

We're in North Dallas now, which is the rich white area. Highland Park is full of old money. If there are any billionaires around, they live in Highland Park. If you go further north, you'll find the homes of Ross Perot and Mark Cuban. If you go immediately below downtown, it's the worst area in the whole county. People literally do drugs out on the street in the open. It looks like the stereotypical poor black neighborhood. They have bad schools and bad libraries. It's sad. Dallas is divided by socio economic status and race.

Tell me more about Highland Park specifically.

Highland Park used to have what they call restrictive covenants. Basically, you had to promise that you wouldn't sell your property to a black person. If you didn't leave your job as a gardener before dark and you were black, you would be stopped by the cops. That still happens sometimes. I've been stopped before. The first black family moved here about two years ago and they had a big spread in the paper. No blacks had ever lived in Highland Park before then. That restricted covenant is no longer a law; it's more of an unwritten law.

What was it like when you first moved here? I've been interviewing people here for about three days and see very few blacks.

The only blacks that you're going to see here either work here or go to this school. When I first came here, it was culture shock. I hated it. I just felt out of place. During spring break, people would ask, where are you summering? Summering, what is that? I'm going home. I knew it was a rich school, but I didn't realize it was this rich. They have two names for this school: the Harvard of the South and Southern Millionaires University. For the most part, I still feel out of place.

Are politics a big deal at this school?

Yes. Laura Bush went to this school. This school will also most likely get the presidential library. It's a big Bush school. Very few people here don't support Bush. Most of the professors don't like Bush. It's funny. I don't think the kids really even like Bush, but their parents do.

What is your opinion of Bush?

I don't care for Bush. I don't think he's done a good job. He's all about going it alone. He does what he wants to do regardless of what anyone else thinks. He's kind of arrogant, but tries to play it down by acting like a country boy.

Did you vote?

Yes, I voted for...I forgot his name.


I can't believe I forgot his name!

He clearly made an impression on you.

Right. (Laughs) I just voted for Kerry because I didn't want Bush to win.

Do you talk about politics in class?

A few professors ask questions about politics. I was in class and the teacher asked how many were planning to vote for Bush. It was a class full of people. I was the only black and everybody raised their hand except me. He said, how many are voting for Kerry? I was the only one. It never went anywhere from there.

Are you a Democrat?


What do you think of the Democratic party right now?

They lost the black vote when they stopped helping and talking to black people. The black voters were fooled by Republicans because they know a lot of religious black people don't believe in gay marriage and abortion. I think Bush took advantage of that. I feel like he flirted with blacks. Vote for me, we feel the same way. They had a great strategy and it worked. The Democrats didn't reach out enough.

A lot of Bush supporters say they voted for him because he's a "good Christian man."

(Laughs) I can't sit here and say Bush isn't a Christian. But since Christianity is about your personal relationship with Christ, it would seem like at one point, God would find his way to your heart to say killing a person is wrong. It makes no sense. Capital punishment is murder. Murder means taking another person's life. Then there's gay marriage. Where does the love come in? That's what Christianity is about. It's about love for people no matter what. The Republicans have never been about helping people and community and love. Christ's last commission was, feed your brother, take care of the elderly and the sick and the widowed. I don't see that coming from Bush or the Republican party.

What does being Christian mean to you?

There's a verse in the Bible that says, which of the Commandments is the greatest? Love your God and love your neighbor and to me, that's all it means. It doesn't mean hate Muslims. It doesn't mean you're allowed to beat people over the head because they sin. It just means love people the way you believe Christ loved you.

How can politicians get more college students to vote?

When I think of politicians, I think of old boring men. Charisma is something they can work on. If they want to get their loyal voters back, the minorities, they should help minorities. That's a huge segment of the population. It seemed like they used to focus more on people. The Democrats need to get back to their roots and talk about things that actually matter.

How do you feel about the war?

It's chaos. People are dying for a baseless war. The war is ridiculous. I can be patriotic and still be against the war. I can be patriotic and say, God bless the troops, but it's a baseless war.

What does being Democrat mean to you?

It sounds goofy and corny, but to me it means caring about people. It means charity, helping those who are less fortunate and changing America for the better.

What does Republican mean to you?

I think of Republicans like a business. I think of Democrats like a non-profit. The Democrats used to care about people. The whole reason for getting elected was to help people. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case. I think Republicans are inflexible and unwilling to listen to logic. I don't understand things like giving tax cuts to the rich so it will create jobs for the poor. Where has that worked?

Where do you get most of your news?

Nightly News and CNN. I've recently begun watching Fox because one my friends is a staunch Republican and he watches it. I don't believe in watching just one source of news. My favorite is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

I interviewed a guy who works at the bookstore yesterday and he said he experiences racism on a regular basis here. Do you?

I wouldn't say racism, but I do experience stereotyping and profiling. A lot of students live in a bubble and don't realize what they're saying. They don't think racism exists. We can drink out of the same fountains so everything is fine. You're at SMU just like I am, so everything is equal. I hear that a lot. The thing is, their parents will get them jobs when they graduate. I've always had roommates whose parents owned a business or had lots of connections. People in my family have good jobs, but no one owns businesses or has connections.

What are you majoring in?

I'm doing a double major in psychology and African American studies.

Are there a lot of African American majors at your school?

No. In fact, I've had to substitute a lot of my classes because there aren't enough in my department.

What do you want to do?

I want to get my master's of education and eventually become a principal in Denton. They have a terrible school system and I want to do what I can to change it. I was a product of it and I succeeded, but I want to help those who are having problems.

Was your school predominantly black?


Did a lot of your friends from high school go on to college?

I can count on both hands who are in school or have finished school. Not a lot of people go to college. That's why I want to get into education.

How have you personally changed after going to a predominantly white, upper-class school?

I've learned a lot. I've learned how my potential future employees think. When I get out in the corporate world, it won't be mostly black, it'll be mostly white. I've learned how to be quiet. I know it sounds weird. After reading a book about slavery, the teacher asked us how we felt. One girl said, I think it's kind of harsh. My teacher said, well, yeah, slavery was pretty harsh. He was one of the few black professors at the school. I've learned that a lot of these people don't really understand racism the way I understand it. They've heard about it, but I can ask my mother about it and hear first hand accounts. My mother was born before the Civil Rights Act. In their world, there's no more racism. I've learned when it's appropriate to talk about these kinds of issues and when it's not.

Female, 33, Works at local grocery store

Tell me about this area.

It's a very expensive area.

Do you live around here?

No, I'm from South Dallas.

What do you think about politics?

Well, we never win. The Democrats never win.

Why are you a Democrat?

Cause I'm poor. I make just over minimum wage.

Did you hear about the bill that would have raised minimum wage to $7.50 an hour? Democrats voted for it; Republicans voted against it.


Do you keep up with current events and the news?

Not since I've been working. I try to read, but I usually get news from other people.

Are you able to make ends meet?

No, I'm still trying to catch up. If they pass that bill, I might be able to catch up.

Do you always vote?

Oh, yeah. My mom wouldn't let me sleep if I didn't vote, but I feel like it's fixed. I vote anyway.

What issues do you care about?

Minimum wage. Jobs.

When I interview a lot of Bush supporters, they say they don't like paying for handouts. You can make something of yourself if you just try. How do you feel about that?

That's not true. We have people in my part of town who sell purses and CDs on the corner. You see them one week and the next week they're not there. The cops come and tell them it's not allowed, but that's how they live. I don't feel like there's equal opportunity.

What message would you send to Democrats?

Campaign better. Say what you're gonna do and do it. Tell the truth. We always hear promises and they never follow through. We need to get more people to vote. Young people don't vote. A lot of people have been locked up and they can't vote. That's what brings the Democrats down. They served their time, they're paying taxes, why can't they vote?

What are your plans over the next few years?

I finished high school and took three trades. I'm thinking about going to another trade school.

I've been interviewing people here for the past few days and I haven't seen many black people.

Nope. The ones you see work here or work for the people who live here. Housecleaners, drivers, that kind of thing. The few blacks you see are TV newscasters.

Are people generally friendly to you?

Yeah, but what I don't understand is some of these people don't know how to buy chicken.

What do you mean?

They say, I'll have a chicken. And I say, do you want white meat or dark meat? A leg or a thigh? And they don't know what to say. It's weird. Some people won't answer me when you say hi, how are you? But it doesn't affect me. I try to be nice to everyone.

Male, 21, serves coffee at a local store

Tell me about this area.

There's a lot of money in this area. Dallas is an easy place if you have a good job. We have a lot of issues with racism here. During my first week, I made the wrong drink and my customer threw it back at me. But that's what we deal with here in the south. If you're in a car with a few other people around here, you'll get stopped.

Have you ever been stopped?

Yeah, I get stopped all the time when I'm with my friends. They take us out of the car and ask questions. But that's just life. I'm sure it's the same everywhere else.

What would you say to people around here who say racism doesn't exist?

I would say, open your eyes. If you walk into a restaurant, you'll see the Mexicans working in the back washing dishes. They'll have two or three blacks, but the white folks are the ones doing the cash registering or seating people. Open your eyes and you'll realize what's going on. We see it all the time.

Do you plan on going to college?

I graduated from Job Corps last year. I haven't decided if I'm going to college.

Do you like your job?

Yeah, but the pay is bad.

Do you vote?

Yes...at least I thought I voted. I sent my registration card in, but they never sent it back. I tried to go vote, but they wouldn't let me. I went to a school and voted, but I'm not sure if it got counted. I don't know how it works.

Did you vote for Kerry?

Yeah, for sure, for sure.

Why did you vote for Kerry?

Cause the only thing Bush was concerned about was giving the rich more tax cuts. We have so many other issues to deal with.

What issues do you care about?

Making it. What are we gonna do about the homeless people you see on the street? So many people can't make it. We need help.

I interview a lot of Republicans who say the government shouldn't help people. People have the opportunity to make it on their own.

Everybody is different. Everybody needs help.

What kind of help?

Some guidance. In the hoods, we need someone to help us and motivate us and show us that they care. The parking lot here just got fixed, but out there we got potholes everywhere. The system doesn't care about us.

Have things changed for you and your friends and family over the past four years?

Things have gotten worse. Everybody is struggling to make ends meet. It's not easy finding work and the pay is $6.50. It's hard to make ends meet. Things have gotten worse since Bush took office. Things were a lot better under Bill Clinton.

What was better under Clinton?

Freedom, man. Freedom. Life was better. We weren't stressing about finding work. Friends have lost jobs. It's tough. It has to get better.

How do you feel about the war?

It's terrible. I ain't sayin that Bush shouldn't have gone after bin Laden, but there's no need for the war. I'm not willing to die for Bush. I'll die for my country, but not Bush.

Where do you get your news?

Local news and CNN.

What are your plans over the next couple years?

I want to keep steady and have a good attitude.


At 6/12/2005 2:37 PM, Blogger JoieDe said...

Rose - I'm going to print out some of Brent's remarks and bring them to my next Dem. party meeting.

Saturday I attended the monthly meeting of my legislative district. As I look around the room at these Dem meetings I see a lot of older folks who have been party faithfuls for eons and who keep doing whatever it is that they've always done. I'm grateful for all they've done, but they seem very tired.

I think the Dems need new blood - young blood especially. Also moneyed blood. I may be "older" but at least I'm fresh to the game. (Would be great to qualify as moneyed but that has to wait till my sugar daddy arrives.)

At 6/15/2005 12:23 AM, Blogger Art said...

this whole project is absolutely amazing. keep up the fantastic work!

At 6/18/2005 8:52 PM, Anonymous coffeeguzzler said...

Reading this is addictive... I can't stop!

At 6/19/2005 3:27 PM, Blogger storiesinamerica said...

Thanks! Feel free to send it around.

At 10/28/2005 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog- I live in Dallas/Ft. Worth and can relate to the discussion of "the bubble" that is Highland Park. It's refreshing to see this alternative view. Highland Park has been in the news recently on the basis of racial insensitivity:

(hopefully that is accessible)

At 5/15/2007 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this piece, good job! I work in the service industry too in Portland, Oregon, so I can relate to the issues raised by the people you interviewed.

I have often been snubbed by most white and asian customers; they wouldnt reply me whenever I said "Hi, how are you?" Whenever they talk to me, they do so in a derrogatory manner.

I have also had some throw their money at me or on the table instead of handing it to me or putting it in my extended hand!

True, racism still exists in America, and sadly so.

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