Back in the days before computers and the Internet were as commonplace as they are now, I used to provide my students with instructions regarding the safe use of the then fairly new medium. I reminded them that not all sources are reliable or even true, and that they should check the veracity of statements before believing them. We tend to take the wide world web a bit more for granted that we did when we were still in awe of the information highway, and because of that we have become easier prey to charlatans who would fool us with stories and even photographs that are manufactured. We have also become victims of a constant barrage of opinions that may or may not be based on fact. In spite of my own warnings to beware, I sometimes fall for the shenanigans of imposters myself.
The recent tragedy wrought by hurricane Harvey has created a minefield of outright fabrications, and among them was a fake tweet that supposedly came from President Trump in which he displayed a cavalier attitude toward the victims of the storm. Someone with a creative mind had spliced together ideas from actual Trump tweets to make it appear that our Commander in Chief was almost giddy about the prospect of seeing such an historic tragedy and even more excited about a rally in Maryland afterward. I was incensed upon reading it and posted it on my Facebook wall with a snarky comment. When a couple of my friends insisted that the tweet was not from Trump I did the research that I should have already completed and learned that it was indeed a counterfeit. I deleted the post sheepishly knowing that I had already done damage.
There are far too many folks writing today who tell us what their followers want to hear without taking time to gather the facts before setting their words on paper. The current sport for some is to rain down their wrath on my city of Houston which is suffering mightily. They have written columns that range from insisting that our courage and kindness in this dark hour is a fleeting anomaly to the even more horrendous idea that karma has finally punished us for our political sins. I truly can’t imagine how anyone would think it appropriate to be so cruel, but I am coming to realize that fanaticism of any sort knows no bounds.
Because I was born and raised in Houston, Texas I think I know it as well as anyone. I’ve spent very close to sixty nine years watching it grow and change. I remember seeing the headline announcing that the population had risen to one million. Now there are over six and a half million souls in the metropolitan area. There was a time when the now booming suburbs that extend miles away from the center of town were sleepy farm villages. In the decades during which I followed my life dreams, raised a family and retired to a slower paced lifestyle I have witnessed remarkable changes. Among them is the amazing diversity of our population. We have welcomed people from all over the world. We work and play with them and hardly notice our differences, if anything we celebrate them. We have traveled a long way from being a sleepy segregated town.
My cul-de-sac in the suburb of Pearland which is part of the big metroplex is the perfect example of how culturally mature we have become. We have whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians all living happily together and watching out for one another. Our neighborhood was quite fortunate not to have any damage during the storm, but we still gathered during the small breaks in rain to be certain that everyone was doing well and to see if anyone needed anything. The little girls next door made cookies for everyone. The man across the street texted important news. We are a family in every sense of the word.
Most people do not understand the enormity of the Houston metropolitan area. It is literally the size of some states. It encompasses at least five counties and a host of smaller towns that are far too many to list. Suggesting for example that the floods were caused by a lack of zoning by the Houston city government is a bit ridiculous because the vast majority of the flooded areas lie within the jurisdiction of other municipalities, all of which think of themselves as being independent but also satellites of the big city of Houston. Most of us live in areas that are a short drive to downtown Houston but which have nothing to do with the government of the city. I, for example, live in Pearland which lies about thirty minutes south of downtown Houston. I am in Brazoria County rather than Harris County, but my area was still heavily featured in television coverage because everyone in the metropolitan region understands that we are an integral part of the bigger picture. Still, we do our own thing here as fare as government, and thus it is in the many places that ring the actual Houston city limits.
The most hateful comments about Houston have alluded to our politics. The irony is that even the satirists at “Charlie Hebdo” created a cover that was shocking both for its outright cruelty and its total lack of factual evidence. The cartoon featured drowning bodies and floating Nazi flags with the headline, “God Exists. He drowned all the neo-Nazis of Texas.” While I’m as willing as anyone to enjoy satire, I’d like to explain to whomever created this cartoon the reality of the situation. The facts may shock them.
There are most certainly a few white supremacists and Nazis in the Houston area. We have people of every other stripe, so it stands to reason that we also have some bigots, but these fringe groups do not in any way represent the vast majority. Houston has a black mayor, an Hispanic police chief and an Hispanic fire chief. It is a city that leans left and votes democrat. In the last presidential election it went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. Admittedly some of the suburban areas are more Republican, but again we are talking about a diversity of philosophies and cultures that are not easily described by generalities. I think of a photo of my eldest grandson in kindergarten that explains the true nature of the Houston area better than satire. He and his buddies are arm in arm with huge grins on their faces. Among them is a boy from Pakistan, a Black, a Chinese, and my little white grandchild. That crew of young men has grown up together in this place that is so misunderstood and thought to be a haven for racial animus. As they attend college and turn twenty one years of age they are still as strongly bonded with one another as they were back when they were five or six years old.
As for questions of whether or not we Houstonians are really courageous and generous in spirit or if our good actions are only a passing phenomenon, my only comment regarding that is that the impression that is playing out on the screen for all the world to see is one hundred percent real. If you don’t believe it, just come live here for a time. You will fall in love with this city and its people. Our kindness is not a fleeting thing. It is our way of life. We are exactly what we appear to be, a loving and giving group of people. Houston is strong and compassionate not just in its darkest days but 24/7, 365 days a year. We are the real deal! That is a fact!