Photograph by Hakeem Adewumi, courtesy Marion Marshall. The framed photo is of Marshall's grandmother and mother, taken on the family farm in 1959.

Open Letter

‘What Are White People Afraid Of?’

Dallas wedding and event planner Marion Marshall wants an honest answer to her question.

As the protests began to erupt after the umteenth Black man was murdered, this time it felt different. It’s been brewing since the last civil rights movement, and since the enslaved first arrived.

I was born in 1959 in Columbus, Georgia, a Southern belle by birth and a Texan by choice. I grew up in what is called a blue collar, middle class neighborhood. My mom was a home economics teacher in the country, and my dad was retired military and worked in the civil service.

There were no White people in my neighborhood school until 1969, when I was in the fifth grade. This is when they integrated teachers. Then, in seventh grade, we integrated schools and I was bused to a wealthy, all-White neighborhood. It was different. Many of the women in my neighborhood rode the city bus to the same neighborhoods where they worked as domestic help.

We were not in our neighborhood. The profiling when we walked home — it was far — and the instructions my mom gave me in case we were stopped are the same as now. The kids looked at us differently and treated us differently. There was an underlying fear that we didn’t belong. By high school, I was back in my neighborhood and my home school. This time, White kids were bused to our school. The question I have now, which I believe started in fifth grade, is “What are White people afraid of?”

I know the subject of racism is difficult for most White people. The more affluent they are, the more deafening is their silence. I want to share a letter I have sent to several Dallas-based corporate leadership teams:

I would argue that most people do know how we got here. History tells us how we got here. I know how we got here. The question is “Why are we here?” This moment is about power. America has used systems based on racism to exploit the resources of other people, to develop a biased social and economic society, and to skew opportunities for generational wealth to advance the dominant racial majority: aka White people.

It is true that since the Civil War ended, in 1865, we have seen incremental progress (the 13-15 amendments). Quite often, progress was due to protests against stifling laws and overly punitive and unjust legislative practices toward Black and Brown people. It is also true that many unjust practices don’t change and go unchallenged because some White people are complicit in not using their power and privilege to speak up.

Challenge yourself to think about your privilege and your Whiteness. Have there been times in your life and in your career that you didn’t speak up or speak out? This may be hard for you to admit. If you answered yes, you’ve answered how we got here. We got here due to over 400 years of people (mostly White) not doing the right thing when they had the power to do so at the expense of enslaved and oppressed groups of minority people who did not have the power to say no in order to maintain the status quo or to benefit (usually financially). That is the core of American racism.

Is there one Black woman in America with whom you’d trade places for a day, a week, a year? Have you ever woken up any morning and wished you were not White? At some point in your life, you received an impression that Black and Brown people are not your equal — another difficult notion to acknowledge.

This is uncomfortable. We need less talk and more action. I’d like to suggest that you present your question to your family, your White friends, your White neighbors, and your White colleagues. Ask them, “How’d we get here?” YOU are in charge of dismantling. YOU are in a position of power. This is the work. YOU have to do the work. This is not a group project. We want to see results. That’s how we can all get better. Black and Brown people have heard it. We’ve all been talking about it for generations since Reconstruction, through Jim Crow and the Civil Right movement. It’s your turn. That is the centerpiece of these protests.

A former fashion designer, Marion Marshall is the creative director for AbsolutelyBlooming! Follow her on Instagram to catch her weekly conversations with local business leaders in the fashion and beauty industries. The next one, “The New Normal: How Far Has Fashion Education Come?” with Vicki Meek, will be Tuesday, June 23, at 7 p.m. 

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