And Now, the Hard Work of Righting Dallas’ Racial Wrongs Actually Begins

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The Little Rock Nine Monument (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

This may cost me some kind of journalistic cool kids card, but I’m not sure if I care. I mean, I’ve been known to refuse to move with the herd on other occasions as well. 

I agree with Bernadette Nutall.

“Until we start changing some policies that affect African-Americans and Latinos,” Nutall said at Thursday night’s Dallas ISD board of trustees meeting, where the board voted to begin the process of changing the names of four schools named after Confederate generals, “it’s just a name change.”

Nutall rightfully pointed out that historical failures by this city, by Dallas educational institutions, by the state legislature to address the injustices visited upon minorities within and without the schoolhouse walls have made people skeptical of this current effort.

Too many, I hear from friends, will think that Thursday’s vote and February’s decisions will be the end of the conversation about race and the sundry issues that come with it in Dallas.

I think for many, the current racial rhetoric and hate speech that seems to willingly and easily appear in even the most casual conversation these days comes as a surprise.

“We had a black president!” some say. “How did we move backward?”

Friends, we didn’t move backward. If anything, we haven’t been paying attention, and much like a person who falls asleep in a canoe and wakes up miles downstream facing unexpected rapids, we allowed ourselves to enjoy the beauty of being white and privileged to lull us into thinking the scenery, the gentle lap of the river against our boat, was experienced by everyone.

Some people have been riding the rapids we just happened upon now for their entire lives. No — scratch that — some have been riding these rapids for multiple generations, for the entire time their family has been on U.S. soil.

The truth is, the only people who actually lived in a “post-racial America” never really had to deal with race to begin with.

And Nutall knows that. I know that I rarely agree with her about policy, but I do agree with what I believe drives her. I’ve spent time in the schools in her district, and obviously, I’ve spent time in the schools in other Dallas ISD districts.

Some of those schools even have the same poverty rates. But poverty looks different in every school. And in many of the schools, the poverty is multi-generational and steeped in age-old policies like redlining.

If you want a real eye opener, I recommend this data-filled report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. The Dallas snapshot from this report reveals much about our city and race.

“In 1940, the city’s 50,407 Black residents lived in segregated neighborhoods that covered only 3.5 square miles of the city,” the snapshot reads. “Both Black and Latino students attended segregated and under-resourced schools. In the 1940s and 50s, housing and education policies and practices created a largely white middle class in Dallas.”

And those practices didn’t just involve housing. Families of color were denied business loans as well, and college admission, job-training programs and more.

“In the 1960s and 70s, tens of thousands of white Dallas residents continued to relocate to the suburbs, followed by major businesses, depleting the tax base in the urban center for services such as public safety, sanitation, transportation, parks and libraries, and requiring higher property taxes to make up the difference,” the snapshot explained.

But that’s in the past, right? Shouldn’t everyone have recovered from all that?

“These policies and practices may be from Dallas’ past, but they still have a profound effect on the present,” the snapshot continues. “Current policies and practices do not undo past injustices, and barriers in housing, employment and education contribute to far too many children living in poverty and troubling disparities by race and ethnicity.”

Today, more than one in three Hispanic and African American children live in poverty.  

Neighborhoods of concentrated poverty — just go look in the Fair Park area, for instance — often isolate residents from resources and opportunity. Black and Hispanic children in Dallas are more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods than Asian and white children, and children that live in these areas of highly concentrated poverty have less economic mobility.

A principal in one of these areas once told me that often parents will decide to move (frequently after the income tax refund check comes) to a better area, only to discover that it’s harder to get to work from their “better” location, where they had bus routes and train schedules figured out, where rides to work from neighbors and childcare from friends and family was more likely.

We continue to isolate high-poverty areas with transportation policy, a lack of job opportunities and training, lack of quality childcare, and even the ability to purchase affordable and healthy food.

On average, African American households in Dallas make $40,000, and Hispanic households make around $38,000, White households on average make around $100,000.

Twenty-seven percent of children in Dallas County don’t have reliable access to adequate food.

Dallas ISD can feed a student, teach a student, even help a student with clothes and supplies. But at the end of the day, poverty is an Adverse Childhood Experience — and one the district can’t combat alone.

This week, the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty released figures about childhood poverty in Dallas. The figures, based on the most recent U.S. Census report, were sobering. The child poverty rate was 30.6 percent in 2016 — almost 100,000 children.

Dallas has the third-highest poverty rate among U.S. cities with populations 1 million or more.

In Dallas, 22.5 percent of Latinos and 26.8 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line — about 121,699 Latinos and 85,872 African-Americans.

Twenty-five percent of Dallasites make less than $25,000 a year.

For comparison, it’s estimated that a family of four (two adults and two children), would need roughly $52,000 to $61,000 per year to pay all expenses.

And Nutall is painfully aware of the havoc poverty and race are continuing to wreak — she even mentioned such things Thursday.

She has five schools listed as Improvement Required by the Texas Education Agency. Of those five, two have been on the list for multiple years: Dunbar Elementary (3 years) and James Madison High School (2).

And of the 14 IR schools in Dallas ISD, 4,159 students out of 8,114 are African American, and 7,474 are economically disadvantaged. In Nutall’s district 9, 33 percent of students met standard on the STAAR reading test.

But rest assured that Nutall, or anyone else, isn’t using these statistics as a means to shrug shoulders and assume that’s the best anyone can do.

“But just like Trustee Foreman’s district, we WILL be high-performing,” Nutall said with a determined twinkle in her eye Thursday night as the trustees gave updates on their districts. “We are doing GREAT things in District 9.”

No, I may not always agree with Bernadette Nutall. In fact, I wager we don’t see eye-to-eye very often at all.

But we do agree on this. Dallas, we have to roll up our sleeves and do some actual work. We have to have some hard conversations. We have to have our come-to-Jesus meeting and come away resolved that the conversation doesn’t end with a statue riding down the highway and some new logos for four schools.

A 2014 study commissioned by the Embrey Family Foundation surveyed 600 Dallas residents of varied backgrounds and racial makeup revealed something — 40 percent felt that racial discrimination would improve in the next five years.

But an almost equal number (37 percent) felt that it would stay the same.

We have to do better. And we have to have the guts to do so — starting with a gut check of our own. Do we want things to stay the same when it comes to race and our city?

“This is an opportunity for Dallas ISD to do a lot of healing,” trustee Joyce Foreman said Thursday.

But first, we’ll need to clean out the wound.

Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for Contact her at

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

Reader Interactions


  1. Beau Beasley says

    I think the minority communities are going to need to look within themselves to solve their own issues. White people can’t do it for them, no matter how much white guilt they extol. I know the truth hurts sometimes. There are plenty of safety nets in our country for when things go bad, but at the end of the day, we all need to realize that most of our problems are self inflicted. Do the right thing, obey the law, and take advantage of opportunity, and you’ll be okay in the USA.

    • mmBethany Erickson says

      Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion. I urge you to click on all the links in the story (many were chosen for the story they tell, the data they reveal), and reflect on this.

      In addition, I know a lot of people get white privilege (and acknowledging its existence) confused with white guilt, as if they are interchangeable. This is a wonderful explanation.

      I’m happy to talk more about how practices from the Jim Crow era (and even further back, the slave era), such as redlining, actually have created a far-reaching effect that extends into today, if you’d like to email me, and you’re interested in having the conversation and really doing some homework, I welcome your response.

      Otherwise, have a wonderful day.

    • Bob Stoller says

      Thank you, Mr. Beasley, for illustrating the root problem in this painful conversation. While you are urging “minority communities to look within themselves to solver their own issues,” how about YOU looking within yourself to see whether you can be a part of that solution? You say “there are plenty of safety nets in our country for when things go bad but at the end of the day, we all need to realize that most of our problems are self inflicted.” Really? The children in a failing school caused the problem? The hourly worker who gets sick, can’t work, has no income to pay that month’s rent, food, and medical care caused the problem? The veteran who came back from the battlefield very much changed from the person who went to war to defend you caused his mental issues? The 55-year old factory worker whose job was eliminated because his employer moved his factory to a foreign country, and who cannot now find anything but part-time work in the fast-food industry caused his own employment problems? Have you no empathy for any of these people?

      • Beau Beasley says

        Yes, of course I have empathy. That’s why I’m taking the time to write and voice my opinion. I work with several investor clients who are minority Americans, and I can tell you that they are not sitting around wallowing in victimhood. They are everyday Americans living their lives, working hard, doing the right thing, and reaping the benefits of the American dream. And as a 50 year old man who happens to be white, I can also tell you that this conversation we are having has been going on for my entire life, and as democrats and liberals have come to dominate the running of the inner city schools and government, the minority populations are still experiencing the same issues year after year. I am convinced that until the minority communities return to the more conservative, accountable, entrepreneurial, and yes, Christian values, they are in for more of the same. Same goes for our whole country really. In regards to White privelege, I see lots of white people fail. Where is my white privelege when I go on appointments with members of the Indian community who I can never earn their business because I am white? I know it does no good to play the victim card, so I move on. And I know several minorities in my business who are hugely successful, much more so than I. I’m just saying that people need to take some responsibility for their own lot in life, and just doing that will have a much larger bearing on their outcome than any program you can come up with and spend endless amounts of money on. Just my humble opinion….

  2. Alex Troup says

    Good points while it should of taken place 3 years ago so the education of why change is needed and who is not really involved with this change..we did it in the 70s but the other guy did not and they are still complaining….while we got ours done…winners are not losers if the work and stop complaining. Thomas Jefferson 1972.

  3. Alex Troup says

    Good points while it should of taken place 3 years ago so the education of why change is needed and who is not really involved with this change..we did it in the 70s but the other guy did not and they are still complaining….while we got ours done…winners are not losers if they work and stop complaining. Thomas Jefferson 1972.

  4. Nick says

    Here is how DISD can fix the problems.
    1. Pay non trash moms, or Dads, to stay home and breast feed their kids till age 2.
    2. Provide free child care for 2 years olds with class sizes under 3, Teach kids literary and math concepts.
    3. Shrink class size in K-3 to no more than 3 kids per class
    4. Shrink 4-5 to no more than 10 kids per class
    5. Hire counselors from the community for the kids. Some sorority girl from SMU should not be counseling Latino boys.

    In about 7-15 years there will be improvement.

  5. Kathy says

    Thank you for the truth in this piece. Those of us living on the north side need to understand the racism in having failing schools on the south side. Richer parents send their kids to private schools on the north side. When you are poor, you struggle everyday. Just paying the bills sometimes makes one not so focused on the kids, especially if you are working several jobs and got a crappy DISD education yourself. It grows from generation to generation and some do make it out. Dallas has a long and sorry history of not educating students in the south of downtown as well as say Woodrow or Hillcrest. Was going on in the ‘60’s and now.

  6. Joyce Riddle says

    Glad to read someone has possible solutions I have one comment in the article about the blacks and Latinos being segregated from the whites in the 1940s. Latinos went to school with me from the first grade through high school – San Jacinto Elementary, Stephen F. Austin Elementary and David Crockett Elementary, all in the 1940s.

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