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Southlake Community Must Not Continue to Avoid Conversations About Race



SOUTHLAKE, TX – In response to racist behavior from several students in 2018, Carroll ISD sought to create a diversity plan in hopes of preventing this type of conduct from its students and employees. The creation of this plan was overdue, considering that students of color in the school district in northwest Tarrant County increased from only 10% in 2008 to approximately 33% in 2018. As is often the case in education, the district was reactive instead of proactive in responding to an increasingly diverse student population.

Perhaps the microaggressions and bias experienced by students of color in Southlake were overlooked because their excellent test scores and graduation rates were equal to those of their white peers. There are no significant “achievement gaps” between students of color and white students in Carroll. But, as this case illustrates, test scores and graduation rates alone provide little insight into the day-to-day experiences of students of color in majority white schools. Since the 2018 incident, Asian-American, Black, and Latinx students and families have given the broader community a glimpse into their reality, leading those of us who are witnesses to their stories to conclude the obvious — the district desperately needs a plan to ensure equity for racially minoritized students and families.

Fortunately, district leaders responded to this need by designing a plan to make Carroll ISD more respectful of cultural diversity. However, actualizing this plan has been met with resistance by parents and community members who formed the Carroll ISD PAC-Southlake Families. These parents and community members have villainized the district’s equity and diversity work, mischaracterized its goals, and distorted its purpose. The powerful PAC punctuated their opposition in the May 2021 school board election as the two candidates they supported handily won their seats.

It comes as no surprise that mostly white, affluent parents oppose initiatives aimed at racial parity. Whiteness always tries to protect its position at the top of the racial hierarchy, and the primary tool of protection is avoidance. They sidestep dealing with race-related issues by feigning colorblindness, but the truth is that they do see race. In simple terms, their avoidance is a way to keep things the way they are, to maintain the existing system because this system works for them.

Parents and community leaders blatantly refuse to engage in dialogue about how to improve experiences of racially minoritized students. Instead, they attempt to distort racial equity efforts by labeling them as “divisive” and “reverse racism.” By minimizing the impact of race, or ignoring it altogether, educators and school leaders in Carroll ISD are relieved of their responsibility to tend to students’ intellectual and socio-emotional development when the district should be addressing the distinct racialized experiences of students of color; creating curricula that are inclusive of diverse cultures; ensuring that students of color have appropriate resources and support; and critically examining themselves and how they as white citizens have benefitted from (and people of color have been disenfranchised by) a society that privileges whiteness.

This last point lies at the heart of what the much-maligned Critical Race Theory (CRT) in education does. Although many of those who denounce CRT don’t understand its tenets or purpose, they do recognize that it requires a critical examination of race and racism. Even after the “summer of reckoning” following the murder of George Floyd by white police officer in 2020, opponents of CRT still choose to see race as a moot identity and racism as a convenient playing card. They decry that “woke” approaches cause students of color to embrace a victim mentality and lead white students to carry guilt and shame. When facilitated properly, neither of these is true of woke teaching and learning.

Significantly, the Cultural Competence Plan that’s been halted by a judge after pressure from Southlake Families is not an anti-racism plan and is not a critique of institutional racism. In the plan’s 34 pages, the word “racism” occurs only once, and CRT isn’t found at all. The plan’s aim is simply to improve cultural competence, as stated in four of its five overarching goals. Still, cultural competence is too lofty a goal for this community. At last week’s school board meeting, someone stood outside with a U.S. flag with the words, “Offended? I can help you pack.” Instead of learning to treat members of their community with respect, they’d rather remove their neighbors of color all together.

The irony in this battle against CRT, which we see in states across the nation, is that it only reinforces why this education is so necessary. By educating our young people on how racism continues to deny people of color full humanity, we can begin to pinpoint, eradicate, and heal from both the extreme and quotidian terrors of white supremacy as a society.

But no. This is too big of an ask of the affluent white citizens of Southlake, who’d rather protect their own interests than work toward creating a culturally competent community.

Dr. Altheria Caldera is a teacher educator and racial equity advocate. She earned a Ph.D. in Education Studies from TCU and lives in Tarrant County. Follow her work on Twitter @altheriacaldera.