In the late 1990’s the marketing motto of Houston was “Houston: The Real Texas.” Based on what I have been reading lately I hope that’s wrong.
At the risk of seeming like a voyeur of Texas hate speech I’m going to point out the reader comments on Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg’s column titled Has Houston pulled in its welcome mat?
Falkenberg interviews Katrina evacuees about the reception they have received in Houston. The evacuees she talks to are a married school teacher and a broker. Middle class evacuees such as these have certainly suffered unfairly from the spill over anger directed at the poor. There is little discussion of their fate of low-income evacuees in the community. Several months back Chronicle reporter Mike Snyder wrote a story success story about a lower-income Houston Katrina survivor who built a home through Habitat for Humanity. It engendered an outpouring of anger from Chronicle readers.
Falkenberg’s column this week has drawn almost 500 comments from readers in reaction. Overwhelmingly they are extremely negative and often angry and hate filled. If you want to see the ugly side of Houston it is on display in these reader comments.
What is incredible is the that this level of angry can be elicited by stories of middle class successes and self help accomplishments. Given this climate it is understandable that no one has been willing to attempt a reasoned and in-depth discussion of the challenges facing long-term, low-income families displaced to Houston.
Falkenberg and Snyder at the Chronicle are lonely voices in Houston leadership circles as far as challenging hated-based attitudes toward at least some Katrina evacuees. Mayor Bill White has read the polls and does not so much stand up to public anger as try to temper it. His comments in in the Falkenberg column are about as far as he goes these days.
There was “a tiny percentage,” White says, “of evacuees that didn’t respect the laws in Houston and we arrested them.”
The estimated 60,000-80,000 Katrina evacuees who chose to stay in the Houston area include people working jobs at all income levels, including business owners and large employers, White says. Yes, they brought more traffic, but also more purchasing power to the local economy.
And yes, there are those who continue to commit crimes and have yet to find jobs, but, he says, “None of us here in Houston would want to be judged by the actions of those who are lawless if all of Houston had to evacuate.”
I am left to wonder where is the forum for thoughtful and intelligent discussion and education regarding how to lift up and eventually integrate extremely poor Kartina survivors in Houston into the society at large. Traditionally, the daily newspaper plays this educational role in a community. But a newspaper cannot do this alone if religious, political and educational leaders remain silent. That seems what is happening. The loudest voices are those filled with ignorance, anger and hate. Those voices are holding us back from moving on to this important business.
In my ideal the “Real Texas” does not cower from problems by letting bullies scare them.