This country is experiencing a long overdue reckoning. George Floyd’s murder seemed a tipping point, inspiring people around the world to say in unequivocal tone, “Black Lives Matter.” Racism has no place here. Except in “The Bubble” of Southlake, Texas, where Carroll ISD’s school board would rather put a pause on progress and the protection of its BIPOC students.
When racist video footage surfaced in October of 2018 and February of 2019 with Southlake Carroll students’ use of the n-word, many seemed shocked at the level of racism still present in schools. As a 2004 graduate from the district, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Nothing has changed.”
I felt cautiously optimistic when Mayor Laura Hill told parents, “We had better wake the heck up,” and the school district announced the formation of a Diversity Council. However, any faint hope was dashed last night as the board of trustees convened to vote on aforementioned council’s 34-page Cultural Competency Action Plan (CCAP).
Knowing I was a former Carroll Dragon, a friend sent me a link to watch the meeting via live stream. Hours of public comments left me in tears. I recognized the pain in students’ voices as they shared their experiences of racism within school walls. The trauma I thought well-healed, having graduated and moved out of the suburb more than a decade ago, resurfaced as I remembered similar occurrences.
A teacher referring to me as “yellow” or a fellow student taunting me with repeated chants of “chink, chink, chink” from across the computer lab. Incidents I didn’t even realize at the time were unacceptable, because no one had ever taught me differently. When people would tell me, “Go back to China,” I hated my Korean features. I wished I could blend in—with the other White students, with my White parents and brother. And if I couldn’t, I just wanted to be invisible.
If only the student-led Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition had existed during my time at Carroll… although I can’t help feeling a heavy dose of guilt for not speaking up myself back then. Had their list of demands been actualized those years ago, my life might have looked completely different.
Carroll ISD could take a cue from their neighbors in Richardson, who had a similar incident, but faced the racism with accountability and action. Their students also demanded change, and in response, Richardson ISD’s Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion partnered with Young Leaders, Strong City to host a Teen Summit where “students convened for a day-long summit with a team of national and local justice advocacy leaders, teachers, and artists to engage in pivotal dialogue and inquiry about racial justice and equity.”
In June, Richardson ISD’s school board voted 7-0 to approve a resolution supporting the formation of a new Racial Equity Committee, which has been tasked with directly confronting, addressing, and dismantling systemic racism within the district. Superintendent Jeannie Stone said the committee will “put action behind the words of our Equity Policy – to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.”
Meanwhile, Carroll ISD’s board of trustees barely voted to acknowledge that it “received” the CCAP.
The CCAP’s contents are not revolutionary. The plan’s strategies are basic things like “develop students’ cultural competence to embrace diversity at all CISD campuses, and enable a culturally safe and respectful environment for students to value and practice inclusion.”
Wouldn’t this be something any parent wants for their child(ren)? Especially after hearing the gut-wrenching stories of the hate and bigotry young students of color had faced.
But instead, after bearing witness to these painful testimonies, some trustees (White men) laughed at their own incomprehension, trivializing the trauma and expressing confusion over terms like “micro-aggressions.”
It didn’t even seem like they understood what they were voting on, let alone the contents of the plan itself. They were grossly ill-prepared and—despite having had access to the document for at least 2 weeks—did not read it in its entirety.
Many student supporters of the plan, on the other hand, read it line by line. If last night taught us anything, it’s that the young people who spoke in support of the CCAP are more capable than the majority of trustees and should be empowered to lead themselves.
Trustee Matt Bryant—who joked that because he didn’t know what he was voting on, his vote was no—kept referencing the slow march to progress in defense of their inaction. “Tapping the brakes,” as he said. I would argue instead that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
But urgency in addressing racism is often difficult for White people in power (especially those lacking empathy) to grasp, as they do not feel its gravity so personally. It becomes even more so when others would deny its existence.
When I shared my own experience with racism as a former Carroll student on Twitter, I was asked, “If our system is so racist, how is it you and I both have jobs—where we get published I might add—and Carroll ISD has continued growth of minority students?”
First of all, an increasing number of BIPOC students in a racist system does not equal less racism. At best, it’s tokenism, but it likely means more young people are being exposed to said racism. But to address his question about my career and writing opportunities, I would offer this for clarity:
As a transracial adoptee, I benefited from my family’s White privilege and ability to afford a house in Southlake—a community designed to be exclusive (read: White)— whose mantra, Protect the Tradition, is nothing more than a euphemism for maintaining the status quo.
Years of micro-aggressions and racist experiences growing up in “The Bubble” led me to choose a college in Chicago, so I could escape. While studying at DePaul University, I learned Asian American history like the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment, and Vincent Chin’s murder in depth—from teachers who looked like me—for the first time.
They taught me about Yellow Peril, the Model Minority Myth, and most importantly—that racism is systemic, pervasive, and so much more than being called a “chink” by a classmate who didn’t know any better.
After healing from my own internalized racism and dedicating my time to activism and advocacy, I am now employed by Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, whose mission is to create a radically inclusive city by addressing race and racism through narrative change, relationship building, and equitable policies and practices.
I created VISIBLE Magazine, because I was tired of not seeing myself reflected or stories I could relate to in traditional media outlets. The idea came to me after a Public Voices session last year with The OpEd Project where an editor from our local paper implied that we would have no shot of getting our Op-Eds published unless we could appeal to her middle-class White male subscribers.
I am who I am and do what I do BECAUSE the system is racist. That doesn’t make it right.
Stephanie Drenka is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of VISIBLE Magazine and Communications Director for Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation. She is a 2020 Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.