Civil Rights

Whites remain silent in police reform fight in communities of color

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In Dallas, we don’t like to talk about our racial history or our racial present. The civil rights movement “skipped” Dallas for a reason — though many African-American elders like to remind us they did sit-ins at downtown lunch counters.

In the 1980s when local reporter Jim Schutze wrote a book about the 1950s bombing campaign in Dallas’ black neighborhoods, the book was dropped by his first publisher, released quietly by his second, only to go out of press shortly thereafter and become a ghost legend in the digital age.

{mosads}I can personally vouch for the fact that one can grow up as a white liberal kid in Dallas and never even know there was a racially motivated bombing campaign in South Dallas in the 1950s.

The filmed deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile represents not so much an unusual week just an unusually visible one. My stomach is still turning over last week’s unfilmed mauling of Ronnie Shumpert’s body by police dogs and bullets in Mississippi and the week before the inability of the legal system to find that Freddie Gray did not give himself fatal spinal cord injuries on his rough ride with police.

In considering how white people might engage honestly in racial justice and not shut down or succumb to white fragility, I’ve spend time struggling to compose a list of things white people can do as honest allies. Fortunately, much better guides went viral: here and here for starters. But on July 7, with helicopters circling and sirens blaring around my neighborhood, with dead police officers less than a mile away, there was just one very clear thing on my list: 

Do not become part of anyone’s silent majority.

What is a silent majority? It is a reactionary category put forth memorably by Richard Nixon in a 1969 speech against Vietnam War protests, which sought to separate protesters from “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” who Nixon said agreed with him that we should stay in the war. Silence became a vote for war, simply by default.

Historians often identify this phrase as a conceptual and political tool that marked a shift toward racial retrenchments of the 1970s, markedly white flight and fights over court-ordered busing. The Dallas school system, as one example, was only desegregated under a court-ordered plan that had to be supervised by a federal judge from 1971 until 2003.

Amidst the grief for those dead and injured, the chaos and the great weight of the unknown, the faith that the police would identify and defuse the bombs reported to be all over downtown, a chant rocked back and forth in my brain all night: Do not let Dallas legitimate the next silent majority. 

For we are all implicated in this larger tragedy. Residents in majority white ZIP codes in Dallas enjoy significantly more years of life than residents in ZIP codes where the majority of residents are black.

The grief for the police department and the families of officers Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa and Michael Krol sits alongside the grief that the lives of our citizens of color in Dallas remain systematically vulnerable in in thousands of ways, each vulnerability adding to an accumulation of lost life. 

We can speak truthfully about the horror of the Dallas and Baton Rouge killings while still speaking truthfully about the horror of a system that creates such a terrible burden of unequal life and death. We can follow the nuanced lead of President Obama’s eulogy, the witness of an anonymous group of protesters, or join in one of many community conversations like those happening in Dallas.

I hope my hometown can model a way of honoring the country, by holding our grief in the complexity of our racial history and slowly working toward making Dallas better for all its citizens.

Keeping silent about the way in which life differs along racial lines allows people like Nixon to say they’re speaking for me as a white person when they try to separate me from the Black Lives Matter protesters: I am not separate, and I will not be silent. 

Farquhar, a public health professional, is a Dallas Public Voices participant.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Alton Sterling Baton Rouge Baton Rouge Police Department Black Lives Matter Brent Thompson civil rights Dallas Dallas Police Department Lorne Ahrens Louisiana Michael Krol Michael Smith Patrick Zamarripa Philando Castile police reform Ronnie Shumpert silent majority Social justice Texas United States

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