Monday, November 03, 2008

In Defense of the OC

First item of the evening is a short-form rant by myself on the biases within Dallas over which side of the Trinity River one lives on. See, originally the city was formed on the original course of the Trinity. Near the iconic Reunion tower (the shiny phallic ball on a stick) there is not only the place where Kennedy was shot but the cabin of the original settler. The river once ran closer to the cabin than it does today. However, flooding problems forced a course correction for the river, moving the Trinity about less than a mile west. Further flooding problems caused the building of massive earthen levees and any subsequent crossing of the river required a long bridge. Essentially the river and its levees divide the city in half with South Dallas and Oak Cliff existing on the western side while downtown, uptown and generally most things interesting lie on the eastern side.
Strangely though, I've noticed a certain bias against such places as South Dallas and Oak Cliff, with few people willing to escape from the bubble of East and North Dallas. Part of the stigma comes from the larger minority population on the west side of the river. That belief has tumbled into a larger belief that crime is more frequent on the other side of the bridge. Particularly within the bubble of the Park Cities there's a fear of those who come from any place west of the river. I still remember an elderly lady complaining about the new light rail line that ran from Oak Cliff to the swanky Northpark Mall and the subsequent arrival of "all those people from Oak Cliff".
So it's hard to claim that someone living on the eastern side of the river doesn't have a problem with Oak Cliff or South Dallas. While one may live among the many minorities who have spread across all of Dallas, there still exists a stigma against what lies to the west of downtown. It's too black, too Latino, too run down and...dangerous, if you didn't know. Of course, the person saying this will also claim they lack any racism or bias against Oak Cliff, latent or otherwise. I find such claims insulting in a deep sense. This is where I live, born and raised, as my parents before me and my grandparents before them.
My paternal grandfather came to Dallas in the mid '20s and settled in Oak Cliff. He took the tram to work in downtown every day, back when there was a tram, before the levees were built. Even though he is a native son of a Tennessee farm, the life blood of Oak Cliff runs deep within him. No matter how rich he became, the idea of moving out of Oak Cliff was always out of the question. It's a matter of pride, something passed down through the generations to me. I am proud of my heritage and despite the extra ten minutes living here tacks on to any drive I make to see my friends, I consider it the burden of continuing the Oak Cliff heritage.
Those who live east of the river have never dealt with the nuances of where they live. Certainly they believe in a community of East Dallas, Lakewood, the Park Cites or Uptown. Yet those communities are distinctly different from that of Oak Cliff specifically. Oak Cliff is more than a community, it's a state of mind, a way of life and a badge of honor. And the unwillingness of many on the 'proper' side of the river to venture into Oak Cliff is more than slightly irritating.
I worry about Oak Cliff becoming too insular, too self-satisfied with itself to make the effort to extend a hand of friendship across the bridges. At the same time, I see few reasons to do so as Oak Cliff has continually been ignored by the city government as well as the population at large. Oak Cliff is treated as a backwater when Dallas would not exist without it. While it will take those in Oak Cliff to make the first gestures of friendship, I still see a city divided by bias, racism and outright bigotry based on ignorance of their own communities and a belief that interest in Oak Cliff isn't worth the effort. And all of this, I believe, derives from an unwillingness of those on the east to travel into the unknown west. In other words, I believe the existence of a river that distinctly demarks one's travel from one Dallas to another keeps Dallas from becoming a whole and complete city.