Posted on January 31, 2021

A Viral Video Forced a Wealthy Texas Suburb to Confront Racism. A ‘Silent Majority’ Fought Back.

Mike Hixenbaugh, NBC News, January 22, 2021

Robin Cornish was at work in the fall of 2018 when she got a text message from another parent. It was a link to a video showing several white high school students laughing as they filmed themselves shouting the N-word at a party.

One of the students in the video had shared it on Snapchat, and now it was going viral.

Cornish, a 51-year-old Black mother of five, recognized the girl leading the chant as the younger sibling of one of her son’s former friends. Cornish was upset as she watched the 8-second clip, she said, but she wasn’t surprised.

This was Southlake, Texas, after all.

The elite, mostly white suburb 30 miles northwest of Dallas has a reputation as one of the best places in the country to raise a family, thanks in large part to its highly ranked public school system: The Carroll Independent School District, home of the Dragons, where the median home costs $650,000 and average SAT scores are good enough to get students into top-tier universities.

But the video of Carroll high schoolers shouting the N-word was about to expose another side of the fast-growing and quickly diversifying community, one that Cornish and other Black parents quietly referred to as Southlake’s “dirty secret.”


The district hosted listening sessions with parents and students, gathering numerous accounts of racist, xenophobic and anti-gay comments like those described by Cornish’s children. Afterward, the school board created a diversity council of more than 60 parents, teachers and students to come up with a plan to make Carroll more welcoming and inclusive.


Then came the backlash. {snip}

This past summer — nearly two years after the viral video — the school board unveiled a plan that would require diversity and inclusion training for all students as part of the K-12 curriculum, while amending the student code of conduct to specifically prohibit acts of discrimination, referred to in the document as “microaggressions.”

Within days, outraged parents — most of them white — formed a political action committee and began packing school board meetings to voice their strong opposition. Some denounced the diversity plan as “Marxist” and “leftist indoctrination” designed to “fix a problem that doesn’t exist.” The opponents said they, too, wanted all students to feel safe at Carroll, but they argued that the district’s plan would instead create “diversity police” and amounted to “reverse racism” against white children.

The dispute grew so heated that parents on both sides pulled children out of the school system, while others made plans to move out of town. One mother sued the district, successfully putting the diversity plan on hold.

As the fight intensified, Cornish, whose youngest child graduated in 2018, began to think differently about Carroll’s official motto, stamped on T-shirts and yard signs across Southlake.

“Protect the Tradition.”

She started to wonder: What was the tradition her neighbors were fighting to protect?


Robin and Frank Cornish moved to Southlake in 1993, shortly after Frank was signed as an offensive lineman by the Dallas Cowboys. {snip}


Like many small towns in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area in the early 1990s, Southlake was on the cusp of explosive population growth. In the nearly three decades since the Cornishes arrived, Southlake’s population has tripled to more than 31,000 residents, driven in part by a surge of immigrants from South Asia. Hundreds more Black people also moved in, though they still make up less than 2 percent of the population in a city where 74 percent of residents are white.

With its proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and the headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies, the city became a magnet for wealthy professionals, with the median household income now topping $230,000.

As it grew, Southlake gained a reputation in the Dallas area as a sort of suburban utopia, with master-planned neighborhoods and dominant high school sports programs. {snip}


But when Frank died of a heart attack in 2008 at the age of 40, Robin Cornish faced a difficult decision. She thought seriously about moving her five children to Chicago, where she’d grown up. Despite Southlake’s many accolades, she’d grown troubled by the steady drumbeat of racially insensitive remarks — some subtle, some overt — that Black people often endure in affluent communities where the vast majority of residents don’t look like them.

One example: Every year when Cornish’s children were small, Carroll fifth graders were required to participate in Colonial Day, an educational celebration in which students dress up like characters from the 1600s. But little thought seemed to go into what that meant for Black children, Cornish said, an oversight that became all too clear when a classmate told one of her daughters that she couldn’t dress up like a nurse; she would have been a slave.


After the 2018 viral video, the Carroll school board called a special meeting and invited members of the community to share their thoughts on how to move forward.

Cornish was the first to step up to the microphone. Reading from prepared remarks, she rattled off a few of the racist comments she said her children had endured.

“The scars are there, the wounds are permanent,” she told the board, as some in the audience wiped away tears, according to people who attended. “You all have to take a stand. You’ve got to change this curriculum. You’ve got to change the tone in this town.”

The audience of mostly white parents clapped as Cornish stepped away from the lectern. More parents followed, each sharing stories of racist bullying that traumatized their children, with little or no consequences for the offending students.

Michelle Moore, a school board trustee, remembered feeling a mix of anger and shame as she listened. She had no idea so many children felt like they’d been bullied at Carroll based on their race. How could she have been so oblivious?


It was the beginning of a nearly two-year effort to change the way the school district of 8,500 students handles diversity and inclusion. The initiative gained momentum in February 2019 when a second video surfaced of Carroll students yelling the N-word, and again a year later when three teens spray-painted racist slurs at Carroll High School. The school system put out a call for volunteers and appointed 63 community members to a diversity council that would study possible solutions.

The school board recruited Russell Maryland, Frank Cornish’s friend and a former Cowboys teammate, to lend his celebrity as a former No. 1 NFL draft pick to the committee’s work.

The result of the effort — a 34-page document known as the Cultural Competence Action Plan — was made public in July. It called for mandatory cultural sensitivity training for all Carroll students and teachers, a formal process for reporting and tracking incidents of racist bullying, and changes to the code of conduct to hold students accountable for acts of discrimination. The plan also proposed creating a new position at Carroll, director of equity and inclusion, to oversee the district’s efforts.


The opposition to the diversity plan was fierce, immediate and well organized.

Moore and other board members were flooded with angry emails from parents. Some formed a political action committee, Southlake Families PAC, and started a website demanding that the board “focus on fall classes, not setting up a district diversity police!” The group quickly raised more than $100,000 from dozens of residents, including from some of the high-powered executives and leading conservatives who’ve settled in Southlake. {snip}

For months last summer and into the fall, the public comment section of Carroll’s school board meetings became a spectacle, as dozens of parents showed up each week to speak against the plan.

A white father said he supported introducing children to different cultures but argued that the district’s plan would instead teach students “how to be a victim” and force them to adopt “a liberal ideology” in a city where more than two-thirds of voters cast ballots for President Donald Trump in 2020.

{snip} Others warned that the board had awoken Southlake’s “silent majority.”

Opposition to the diversity plan coalesced around two central points: that the district’s student code of conduct already prohibited bullying in all forms, and the belief among some conservatives that any instruction that emphasizes racial differences can only perpetuate rather than heal divisions. Some opponents flatly denied that systemic racism exists and argued that children should be taught not to see race.


As in-person classes resumed in the fall, Moore and other Carroll board members searched for a compromise. The board agreed to appoint seven new volunteers to the diversity committee, including some who’d been critical of the plan, and asked the group to propose revisions based on community feedback.

But that work was halted after one parent, Kristin Garcia, sued the district over the way the diversity plan was developed, alleging that board members had violated the Texas open meetings law. Although the district has disputed that claim in court filings, a judge issued a temporary restraining order in December prohibiting the school board from working on the plan while the litigation is pending.


With two school board seats coming open in May, the fight is entering the next round. The Southlake Families PAC is backing candidates who oppose the diversity plan, including Hannah Smith, a prominent Southlake lawyer who once clerked for Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. {snip}


Despite the acrimony of the past six months, several Southlake parents who helped craft the district’s diversity plan said they haven’t given up on their city. A group of the plan’s supporters — many of them white — have formed their own advocacy group, Dignity for All Texas Students. Maryland, the ex-Cowboys lineman, said he planned to keep fighting to make Carroll welcoming for all students.