With the worldwide outrage over the racist fraternity video from the University of Oklahoma starting to simmer down, perhaps it offers an opportunity to reflect, not just as possible friends or former classmates of those involved, but as a community.
Of course, the video — as ugly and disturbing as it was — led to the shuttering of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at OU and the expulsion of two students by university president David Boren. It also prompted a series of campus rallies and protests.
The parents of recent Highland Park High School graduate Levi Pettit, Brody and Susan, can be commended for their swift condemnation of their son’s on-camera role in the racist chant. Jesuit grad Parker Rice also issued a statement of apology, as did Jesuit president Mike Earsing. We haven’t heard anything from HPISD.
At any rate, the incident has served to reinforce certain stereotypes about the Park Cities on a national scale, and it raises some intriguing questions. Was the media coverage fair? Is there a larger point here about lingering racism in the Park Cities that’s worth discussing? And can local residents learn anything that could change us for the better going forward?
This morning, we received this open letter from a Park Cities resident of Indian descent to Pettit’s parents that’s both thoughtful and powerful. It might be addressed specifically to them, but we think it’s more valuable as a memo to the entire community. The letter is below, and we welcome your feedback.
An Open Letter to the Parents of Levi Pettit
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Pettit:
Please take a moment to read my letter. It will hopefully give your family some idea of what I have had to live through and I hope it actually opens a door for someone else.
Do you know what it’s like being an ethnic minority living in the Park Cities? Do you know what it’s like being discriminated against by your own neighbors? Do you know what it’s like to be labeled as a criminal only because of your skin color?
Because I do.
“Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” That is the Highland Park High School motto. I am a graduate of Highland Park High School. I have lived here almost all my life — from kindergarten at Hyer, to middle school and HPMS, to finally graduating from HPHS with my brother in 2010. I am also a graduate of Austin College and came back to live in the Park Cities. These past several days have been very disheartening and disturbing. I was disappointed and saddened that my fellow graduate could say such hateful things. I want you to know what my family has been through, so maybe you could at some level understand the depth of the pain my family and I felt.
From the time we moved to the Park Cities in 1998, myself, my mother, my father, my brother, and three sisters have all experienced racism from our own neighbors, classmates, YMCA soccer teammates, store owners … the list goes on. In 1998, not even having been in our new home for more than a week, our neighbor came to the front door to greet their new neighbor (my family), but when my mother answered the door, she was not greeted with a warm welcome to the neighborhood — instead she was mistaken for the cleaning lady and our neighbor asked my mom if she could speak with the owner of the home (this happened three times). My parents’ philosophy is that there is integrity in all types of work, so after the second time this happened, my mother would answer the door as if she was the housekeeper.
My brother and I were the only kids on our block to not be invited to block parties and birthday parties. I was the only kid in my class, many times, who was not invited to birthday parties, not invited to movies, excluded on the playground at times, and discriminated against in the lunchroom. Do you know what it’s like to be the only first grader not invited to a pool party? Do you know what it’s like to stand in front of the window, glued to the glass, looking at a water slide that you’ve never seen in your life and being the only kid on the block not allowed to go? And what was my crime? What did I do that was so wrong? Because I was brown and because my family was brown?
I had someone tell my sister that she couldn’t be the line leader in third grade because “n—–s” cannot be the line leader. At my soccer games, when my brother and I were in elementary school, my parents were given the cold shoulder by many other parents and excluded from parental and community activities in the Park Cities. Another mother in the neighborhood told my parents, to their face, that they would never be members of the Dallas Country Club because of our skin color and religion.
Recently when I visited my best friend at the University of Texas at Austin, I was told that I couldn’t enter a frat party with him because I was a “haji,” which is a racist term referring to brown people insinuating I was a terrorist. But my friend is not racist, and he stood up for me and told them that I was going into the party no matter what the frat members at the door were saying.
However, through all of these trials, there were many that I encountered in the Park Cities who are kind, loving, generous, and most importantly “colorblind.” Some of my best friends in the world are white HP graduates. My home is Highland Park. It is where I grew up, it is where I consider my roots are, and it is where I want to raise my children because I am hopeful of the future. My three sisters are 6, 8, and 10 years younger than me, respectively, and are currently enrolled in the Highland Park school system.
I am grateful that now things have improved greatly. My parents are friends with the parents of their classmates, they have great relationships with many parents of my sister’s friends, parents of their volleyball and basketball teammates, and are now more active in the community because over the past 10 years our community has changed greatly for the better. But we must also be wary and cautious because prejudice is still present in our neighborhood even though it is less than what it was.
If we do not teach our children to see everyone as the same (no matter what color, race, gender, sexual orientation) then we will be doing a disservice to not only our children, but also the people of the Park Cities and the whole global community. My parents could have moved to a more ethnic neighborhood, but they did not. They chose to live here and they made me a better person for it. The video I saw was deeply disturbing to see because it is a reflection of my neighborhood, my community, my neighbors, and I know everyone is not like that. But the media and the national news paints only with broad strokes, so now we will all be labeled according to this.
I have already had people call some of my friends called racist in gas stations and restaurants for doing absolutely nothing but simply for wearing a HP Scots T-shirt. This is not what I want my community known for, because both you and I know that we have one of the best places to live and raise a family in North Texas. I love Highland Park, but I don’t love the prejudice that has been cultivated into many of the children growing up in the Park Cities, whether it is overt, subtle, blatant, or whatever the methods are. Your son got caught, that is the simple truth, and unfortunately, your son is a product of your raising him. But I have hope. I have hope for your family that it will see that it has a problem and will deal with it head-on and not hide.
Come meet me and my family and you will see how much we are alike. Come see that the same dreams and aspirations you have for your son, my parents have for me and my siblings. Don’t be afraid; we are just like any other American family!
I am writing this to share my experience as a brown, New York-born, Dallas-raised, third-generation Indian living in the Park Cities with the best parents a son could ask for and the most amazing siblings in the world. I am living the American Dream and I entered to learn and I will go forth to serve. I’m a human being, an Indian, a Hindu, a passionate Texas Rangers fan and MFFL — Mavericks Fan for Life. Thank you for your time and I can only hope to hear from you.
“We are a nation of communities … a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” — George H. W. Bush