The city of Southlake, near Dallas is one of the most affluent in Texas. And it’s beautiful: if you search for it online, you’ll find images of stately homes with manicured lawns by the lake.
But there’s another image that captures a much darker side of Southlake – one from video that went viral in 2018 in which a group of local white students chant a vulgar racial slur.
A new, six-episode podcast from reporters Antonia Hylton and Mike Hixenbaugh at NBC, documents what followed after that video gained national attention. They looked at fights that erupted at local schools, and subsequent lawsuits, as well as the efforts by some community members to heal the racial divide. The city has also become a blueprint for a national conservative movement to stop diversity and inclusion programs in public schools.
Hylton told Texas Standard that, at first, the story of Southlake seemed local. But she soon realized it had “national implications.” The feedback both reporters received from their earlier reporting that spawned the podcast, helped them realize that these local battles were happening all over the country.
“The kind of racial challenges, the kind of community conversations and the backlash to attempts to introduce diversity and inclusion programs, they were starting to see [similar dynamics],” she said.
In the podcast, one question they try to answer is why so many parents, especially white parents, have been so opposed to the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts of the local school district, Carroll Independent School District. Hylton says they found some parents feared the perceived restrictions on their children that might go along with it. Some were uncomfortable with the concept of micro-aggressions, for example.
“And then you start to hear parents [in school board meetings] say that this is going to be like diversity police, you know, that the implementation of this plan is going to shame white students, that it’s going to amount to reverse racism,” Hylton said.
That criticism caught some members of the school board diversity task force off guard. They tend to share the same conservative values as the parents, but were being labeled as “leftist” because of their plan.
“Parents are worried that this diversity plan is going to make their white students feel as though they are assumed oppressors, that they are meant to feel guilty about white people’s role in history. And that fear becomes really emotional,” Hylton said.
That tension has frayed relationships in Southlake. Hylton says many neighbors and friends aren’t friends anymore. Some Black families have even moved out.
Despite so much hurt and animosity there, Hixenbaugh says some people hope the new district superintendent, Lane Ledbetter, can turn things around.
“He’s a Southlake native who came in and was hired to lead this school district right as it was going to war with itself over these issues earlier this year,” he said.
But Ledbetter will have to walk a tightrope when it comes to pursuing diversity initiatives and pleasing parents, especially because he is limited, legally speaking, when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts.
“The school district can’t implement any kind of diversity and inclusion educational program for teachers or students because there’s a lawsuit against the district and a restraining order that blocks that from happening,” Hixenbaugh said. “And the town just voted by overwhelming margins to install two conservative school board members who are opposed to any of these initiatives.”
The first two episodes of “Southlake” are available for streaming Aug. 30.