When traveling the I-35 on the way to or from work, many Dallas residents may be unaware of the historical context that surrounds this seemingly ordinary commute.
However, beneath the surface lies a disturbing truth: a deliberate tool to destabilize Dallas’ Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community with the intentional construction of I-35 in the late 1950s, over a thriving Black Financial District.
This decision, signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower, overseen by the United States Federal Highway Administration, the Texas Department of Transportation and local Commissions, along with other discriminatory policies, such as redlining and disinvestment, continue to reverberate in Dallas’ communities of color today.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s recent announcement to improve parks in Dallas neighborhoods (including his native Oak Cliff) with a $333 million investment is a start, but not nearly enough to restore a legacy of disinvestment.
Similarly, the upcoming Oak Cliff Film Festival and the recent Juneteenth celebrations highlight the positives of the neighborhood, but the historic inequities remain.
It is urgent to acknowledge the legacy of civic neglect of many Dallas residents and explore the need for attention and support in preserving the community amidst upcoming infrastructure development plans. Dallas has initiated its procedure for their $1 Billion Bond Package, a financial proposal for upcoming public projects that will shape the city for decades to come.
It is crucial that this money is used in a way that uplifts the neglected community and not exacerbate instilled systemic issues, further damaging BIPOC communities for generations to come. It is possible to improve infrastructure while uplifting and protecting the most vulnerable demographics.
Oak Cliff, like many other historically BIPOC neighborhoods across the United States, is experiencing the detrimental effects of gentrification without the necessary support to withstand its impact.
In a new report from WalletHub measuring and ranking all 50 states plus the District of Columbia on racial equality, Texas ranks 12th. According to the report, “The median white person in their early thirties has $29,000 more wealth than the median Black person of the same age, and that gap increases to $251,000 for Americans in their late fifties.”
That gap plays out in housing.
Gentrification, a form of colonization, perpetuates systemic injustices and threatens the cultural fabric of marginalized communities.The repercussions of this phenomenon in Oak Cliff have left residents facing reduced access to resources and displacement from their homes and neighborhoods.
To truly understand the roots of gentrification in Oak Cliff, it is necessary to examine the broader picture of political manipulation. Redistricting and rezoning are powerful tools that have the potential to drastically change the composition of an area. During the peak of COVID, many cities including Dallas took advantage of these tools, with major redistricting changes and rezoning proposals. In 2020, Dallas’ city council adopted new district boundaries that left BIPOC communities rightfully concerned about the dampening of their power.
Gerrymandering, a practice that redraws district boundaries to favor a particular political party, has played a significant role in shaping the landscape of marginalized communities across the country.
During the peak of the pandemic, many witnessed North Texas’ congressional districts, including Congressional District 33, demonstrate the intensity of redistricting and how it can be a tool to hold on to political power.
By diluting the political power of BIPOC populations, gerrymandering has perpetuated systemic inequalities, contributing to the neglect and disinvestment experienced in neighborhoods like Oak Cliff. Today, the impact of these past policy decisions of exclusion are now status quo.
In the last redistricting process of 2021, little change was made to the composition of Oak Cliff’s boundaries, continuing to leave Black and Brown voter voices minimized.
The most recent Census in 2022 reveals the majority racial composition in Dallas is nearly 54% white, 24% Black, and 42% Latin. Oak Cliff, a historically BIPOC community, exhibits the following demographic breakdown: 15% White, almost 7% Black and 76% Latinx.
Oak Cliff District 1, has not elected an official who represents the majority of the population in over a decade because it includes a disproportionately affluent and resourced part of the city. Many see this as an intentional step for power.
Chad West, the incumbent councilman for Oak Cliff, secured his win in the most recent council race by receiving most of the votes from the northern part of the district, as has been the trend for the past decade. The stark contrasts in demographics, economics, and social dynamics between the northern part of the district and the rest are striking, underscoring the profound disparities that exist within the community.
To move forward, it is imperative to confront the past and address the historic policy choices that have led to today’s inequities. Gentrification requires a holistic approach to remediation that considers the experiences and needs of the affected community.
By acknowledging and celebrating the rich legacy of BIPOC solidarity throughout history, and understanding the deep connections between diverse communities, it is possible to lay the foundation for rebuilding and reimagining a future that is truly equitable.
It is crucial to foster a strong civic relationship that goes beyond mere rhetoric. This happens by implementing intersectional solutions that complement policy reforms.
Some key areas to focus on include intentional education and awareness, sustainable economic empowerment, and the development of youth leadership. These multifaceted approaches will pave the way for a more inclusive and just society that is community-oriented and a true representation of the city’s residents.