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Discrimination in Houston: An interview with Phyll Butler

sharper fences
[sharper fences
Derk Dicke]

'Reverse discrimination' seems a more appropriate term for subject of this interview---Phyll Butler.

Mr. Butler is not your typical Houstonian. He maintains a low public profile, imparting his social-political and spiritual views in the setting of group discussions as opposed to one-sided sermons. The focus of the discussions he leads center primarily upon the development of our city’s African-American community—discussions that contemplate the variables of discrimination opposing equal prosperity.

Foremost, Mr. Butler spoke of the city’s selective spread of community renovation and business development. "During the past decade areas such as the Galleria, downtown, mid-town, and the Heights have undergone much renovation, while areas such as Southeast Houston have remained virtually untouched."

However, Mr. Butler did not place all the blame in the hands of city officials and spoke of the polarization within his own community—internal conflicts of how to move forward—conflicting ideas and personal agendas—the rigid nature of individual pride. Further, he drew a parallel between the political tangles of his local community and the division of our government leaders—who also seem stuck unwilling to look beyond the narrow scope of their stone-set views. "Our will for self-preservation is ubiquitous. Many of us still do not see that blood is all red. We tend to look only so far forward toward the future and only so far back into the past. Perhaps this is the limitation that obstructs our advancement on the local as well as on the national level."

Moreover, Mr. Butler acknowledged other debilitating factors at play upon our national canvas: partisan politics, corporate corruption—the collapse of Houston’s Enron Corporation—the home mortgage crisis—the meltdown of the US auto industry—all of which have caused an 'after-shock' of panic felt on all levels of social reform. "Fear is in the air. And it is an air that sinks and settles instead of rising away. Who could argue our national problems are not tied to our local short-comings? It no longer seems practical to speak of our local issues without taking into account those unfolding on our national level."

But he imparted a sense of hope as well. "Who could deny we have made progress mending our cultural relations over the past fifty years? Who could deny there is a greater spirit of equality now than there was then? Yet, who could deny we still have far to go?"

"Those of African-American descent may have finally been made equal under the law, but we still need time to learn to walk freely. Take for instance a man who has spent the majority of his life moving about shackled in chains. When such a man is finally set free, then would he instantly move forward as a free man, or would he merely stand—as though a free man. The walls and fences of an incarcerated mind are higher and thicker than those of any man-made prison."

Mr. Butler considered the meaning of the former example a crucial snare in the concept of equality. "Freedom was a process that took more than fifty years and countless generations—a process still ongoing. We should learn to prosper from one another’s diversity, for to unite within our cultural paradigm is not enough to create general prosperity. First we need the tools and recourses to build within our own community—solidify the foundations of our local schools, our homes, our streets, our neighborhoods, and our businesses. Only then would it seem fair to judge the quality of our people. Only then it would seem possible to share our richness according to its greatest strength."


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