Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chapter 14 - Bricks, Mortar and Coalition Building

In 1998 the city of Houston, Texas witnessed the election of its first black mayor, an event that was viewed as “a symbol of newfound strength” for the black community. This chapter is mostly concerned with the power dynamics among political candidates and how alliances with supporters of different ethnic groups formed or dissolved in an increasingly multi-ethnic city. Certain ethnic groups within the city of Houston occupied separate worlds that briefly intersected during this inaugural event, and this is evident in the lives of the three business owners: Smith, Castaneda, and Lewis who all came from starkly different backgrounds. For instance, Lewis had a strong conservative background and yet he supported Brown and affirmative action. Affirmative action was opposed by conservatives due to its racially exclusionary nature as a social program. Despite this, Lewis still supported Brown who viewed affirmative action as an equalizer of sorts, or the “glue” that held the minorities together. Many agreed that affirmative action provides economically disadvantaged minorities with more opportunities, whereas others deemed it unconstitutional. Lewis even commented that the days of the Conservative are long gone. So if you can’t beat them, why not join them? Despite Lewis’s contradictory views, he supported Brown simply because it was the most pragmatic thing to do. Lewis made the smart business decision by latching onto the political success of Brown for the sake of ensuring financial stability for him and his business. This reflects the different approaches and practical considerations that business owners took for reasons of self-interest. Much of the election process was underpinned by race relations, but Smith frankly points out that socio-economics is an equally important issue that directs the shifts in political support by minorities. Access, influence, and money seem to be the driving forces motivating these practical considerations and the coalition forming of different ethnic groups. 

In the second to last section, Lewis, Castaneda, and Smith detail personal events of their lives and their relationship with their communities. Smith was adamant about instilling a sense of black identity into his sons. Lewis, despite his conservative background, understood that through fostering tolerance one could alleviate racial tension. Castaneda, however, felt like the middle man in a game of tug of war. With blacks and whites at polar opposites, Castaneda claimed he had “cross racial dexterity.” Also, he brought up the difficulty in assuming an American identity while still retaining certain aspects of his own cultural heritage. This is exactly what W.E.B. DuBois captured in his concept of “double consciousness.”  To sum, the city of Houston is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, and a shift in the demographics of the city might change the representative power of minorities in the political arena and in the government. 


  1. While much of this story is about an intersection of racial identities and some of the biproducts of that intersection have to do with greater racial understanding, I think much of this story has to do with differing agendas regarding the mixing of race and business. For the "anglos," represented by Lewis, the agenda is political influence and financial stability. For Smith and Castaneda the agenda is also that, but high on the list of priorities is racial solidarity. Making sure they and their fellow minority businessmen weren't cut out of the loop in future contracting by a white business establishment, as well as maintaining Affirmative Action in their community. For the whites like Lewis, racial solidarity wasn't something in the forefront because it wasn't needed in the same way as with the other communities, in spite of the contrary opinion of his constituency. Lewis' motivations struck me as particularly Machiavellian and painfully short sighted. He could see which way the wind was blowing but kept insisting on the fact that he was only doing this because the Republican candidate couldn't win. This seemed, to me, a huge missed opportunity for bridge building between whites, blacks, and hispanics which would ultimately make good business sense in terms of over-all city growth and prosperity.

    1. I agree that for Smith and Castaneda it was very much about racial solidarity. Something that struck me while reading this chapter was when Castaneda was speaking about the treatment he often receives for being Mexican-American. He says that people often ask him, "when did your family come to this country?" Even though his family has probably technically been in Texas longer than most of the people who ask him this question. For me this is reminiscent of what many other Native American groups have had to experience. I am constantly blown away by the way Americans today seem to see "white" as the original American people, when in many ways Europeans and other peoples of white skin color were the first outsiders in this country. For people like Castaneda and Smith this attitude has a direct effect on how they raise their kids. I think it was interesting to see the opposing views of this, with Castaneda trying to suppress his children's Mexican heritage and Smith wanting to enhance his children's racial identity.


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