9 April 2016
Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 6:33am
Yesterday I stumbled across Joppa, founded in 1872 by slaves freed in Dallas by the emancipation proclamation. It is one of the last remaining freedman’s towns still in existence. The settlement is wedged between the trinity river, a freeway and an unforgiving rail line, difficult to access and uninviting to the outside. “Inside” is a town where the southern blackness of freed slaves has been allowed to mind its own damn business for almost 150 years, free from the ever encroaching march of “Dallas Progress” that tears down and erases history in favor of erecting facades of southern music, art, flavors, and religion while pushing the authentic voices off the land and into oblivion, AKA “further south”.
I drove through not even really understanding what the place was at the time, I was a wayward queer white girl lost in south Dallas, but I understood enough to know that I should at the very least carry love and respect in my heart as I searched for the road out. I found one of the three unmarked roads out under an imposing freeway, and looking in my rearview mirror as I passed under the overpass, I saw churches and shotgun houses and horses and muddy banks and chickens, a town bordered by train tracks, bayou and freeways, shaded by rust, textured by peeling paint and tinted by minty marshland grasses.
I bid farewell and pulled out onto the freeway. Milo looked at me and asked me what the place was and I decided it was time to explain to him what whiteness and blackness are, how our histories violently came together and violently diverged, how that violence cleaved south Dallas from north Dallas and how government policies create multi- generational classes that are divided by race, with white landowners still the winners and freed black women and men still working to raise their children against this tide, and how the land we were driving through is land that the people in this area have worked hard to keep, and if anything, that ought to be respected and not something white people think we can just own, that no, this is black culture in this place, that yes we are all one race under the colors of our skin, but how we live and who we are is not something that can be bought and sold on a commercial market defined by the white man’s rule, that how we all live should be held in our hearts as good and true and sometimes we should just know when to leave well enough alone without our ideas of what a place could be or should be, and instead just let a place be.
And by that point we were in Pleasant Grove, on a bearing towards Casa View where I was raised. I realized as we approached the intersection at Gus Thomason and Ferguson roads that I am, at my core, a southern reformation Protestant girl, that I can’t ever deny that no matter how worldly an air I may try to put on to cover that up; that my business ain’t in Joppa and their business has the right to remain their own business if that’s how they prefer it, that blackness is their blackness and is not here to serve me knowing my whiteness, but I already let it and in that moment of momentary regret, because I had stolen from the black people as a way of understanding more completely my whiteness, said a prayer for that place I had seen and asked the God I was raised with to forgive me for stealing their voice to know my own and to help me love better the city that gave me who I am while I waited for the arrow to give me a sign.