Texas, we have a problem

Texas, we have a problem with our image. Our "Lone Star" icon has gotten a little tarnished as people around the world seem persuaded that Texans are a belligerent intolerant breed of shoot-from-the-hipsters. Our image hasn't been this low since 1963 when half-witted folks in Dallas cheered after they heard that President Kennedy had been shot.

During the 80's and 90's it seemed that the entire world was in love with the image of Texas and couldn't get enough of Texas qualities like courtesy and friendliness, fierce loyalty, straightforwardness, and optimism. Newcomers to the state were quick to tell their friends the popular refrain: "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."

Now we are saddled with the burden of having a Texas-led administration that boasts with "muy-macho" bravado and revels in ignorance of foreign affairs. While the Bush, Delay, and Rove troika swaggers around the nation's capital, Texas has become the butt of negative editorials and jokes the world over.

It's not that Texans are thin skinned - we are used to humorous jokes that play on our mythic pride - but the attacks have become much more vicious since entering the war in Iraq. Phrases like "Texans are from Mars, Parisians from Venus" (the Age, Australia) and antiwar slogans, "somewhere in Texas there's a village missing an idiot," are only the tip of the iceberg of distrust of Texas and those who claim to represent the state.

Last week I received an email from a young woman in Canada who has been invited by a friend in Corpus Christi to visit their family during Christmas. She wrote, "…but I have a question I did not dare ask them. I always wanted to visit Texas but the fear of being attacked or mistreated because of the color of my skin is always present. My friend is white and her parents raised her the right way, she doesn't discriminate. (However,) I hear things about the KKK down there and that scares me."

I replied to her that while there is racism in Texas it isn't any more than she would find in New York or Chicago, cities that she was already familiar with. I mentioned that her fear is understandable since many Texans also seem to fear the residents of countries where they have never visited. I also added, as I frequently do to non-Texans that the Texas State Motto is "friendship" and welcomed her visit to us soon.

My peace activities have taken me to many places around the world during times of conflict that I would indeed consider dangerous (Bosnia, Iraq, etc.) but I've never felt unsafe "where the stars at night, shine big and bright." But, it's no wonder that folks outside of the state might have a negative image.

This week the Parish High School Band gave us all a black-eye, and challenged our senses by waving a Nazi flag while playing Adolf Hitler's anthem "Deutschland Uber Alles" during a football game against Dallas' Hillcrest High. And if this wasn't intolerable enough, it occurred on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and start of the High Holy Days.

Maybe we don't have a problem with our image….maybe it's something deeper and more insidious.

According to the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Texas is home to over 37 identified and organized hate groups. Even liberal Austin isn't immune. It is home to groups ranging from black separatist to racist skinheads. Plenty of Texans can tell you real and prevalent stories; Arabs and Muslims, Vietnamese shrimpers, the African-American community of Tulia, and immigrants in every part of the state have felt too often the sting of outright and subtle racism.

Yes, Texas has a problem. We've forgotten our roots and the challenges of the past that brought Texans together to help one another during times of need and adversity. We ignore that fact that we are part of the international community and have had many flags fly over this rich land including those of France, Spain, and Mexico. We have let "Don't Mess With Texas!" supercede "Drive Friendly" in our minds. And, we have let a relative few tell us that we should replace our ol' fashioned qualities of honesty, integrity, and helping one another with up-by-your-bootstraps -trickle-down-greed.

Let's get back to what made Texas such a great state 'cause we ain't done yet.

Peace, Charlie

Charlie Jackson, is a sixth-generation Texas bid'nessman and founder of Texans for Peace www.texansforpeace.org


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