Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Little Rant About Racism in Austin

I grew up in a small town in the Old South in the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s. During my early, formative years, open, public racism abounded. It was not uncommon to hear the n-word spoken in public, or to hear horribly racist jokes told loudly in a restaurant. Many of the white people in town (about 60% of the town's population) genuinely considered black people (most of the other 40%) to be inferior, and would tell this to anyone who'd listen. Their children sopped up their racism, of course, and when I was in elementary school it was not uncommon for their to be fights caused by racism. The Confederate battle flag was everywhere, and I mean everywhere. My schools mascot, from middle school on, was a Rebel, and in both my junior high and high school gyms (where I played on the basketball teams), rebel flags were painted on the walls. By the time I got to high school, though, things had changed dramatically. GM's Saturn plant had opened nearby, resulting in an influx of new residents mostly from northern states, who were less tolerant of explicit racism. Even before that, a change in attitude had been slowly occurring, and by 11th grade in high school, a petition circulated, and was ultimately signed by about 2/3s of the students, the change the mascot (the school's administration, and then the school board, ultimately rejected the change, and the school's mascot is still a Rebel). There was a bit of a countermovement -- my senior year, a group of white students produced "senior" shirts that displayed the rebel flag with a message about being proud of our southern heritage -- but for the most part, by the mid-90s, explicit racism was no longer tolerated. It has been years since I heard the sorts of things I used to hear regularly in the 80s.

Now I live in Austin, TX, an ostensibly liberal city that certainly isn't known for its racism. It should be, because institutional racism is a big problem here, but it isn't. To see this one need only look at the police shootings of the last several years, Austin's nearly complete racial segregation, or the fact that the police presence is fairly small at the mostly white SxSW music and film festival, while the police presence is mind-bogglingly large during the mostly black Texas Relays, which is considerably smaller than SxSW, that takes place a week or two after SxSW. This year, several businesses even chose to close their doors during the Relays, including a reggae club (saying that, in essence, black people don't like reggae) and an entire friggin' mall, citing security concerns, despite the fact that statistically the SxSW crowd produces much more crime than the Relays crowd. But Austin's racism is 21st century racism: it's acted on, often very subtly, but it's rarely if ever openly voiced, and therefore if you're not paying attention, you might miss it.

Today, however, I ran into one man who proudly wears his racism, on his jacket. He was riding the 1L bus from South Park Meadows (in the far south of Austin) wearing a jacket on which he and, if I were guessing, his friends had penned several symbols and phrases, including "White Warriors," "Aryan Knight," and the SS lightning bolt symbol (in several places), along with several anarchy symbols (because nothing is more compatible with the most fervently loyal military wing, the SS, of one of history's worst authoritarian regimes, the Nazis, than anarchy!). I honestly hadn't seen anything like this in years. I had seen KKK and skinheads at rallies, but not just walking around in public, proudly displaying their racism. I found it both disturbing and incredibly offensive. It's upsetting that in 2009, more than 50 years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It's just mind-boggling.

The picture was taken without his permission, but fuck the racist bastard, I don't care. I know it's kind of hard to read, because my camera phone sucks, but the word after "White" is "Warriors," and underneath that it says, "King of Kings," and then, "Aryan Knight." The "A" in "Aryan" has been turned into the anarchy symbol. Just above the word "knight" is one of several SS lightning bolt symbols. If you're in Austin, and ride the 1L, be sure to let this guy know what you think of his white supremacist views if you see him.

A friend of mine told me that she prefers that racists be open, because at least then you know what you're getting. But I had always thought the fact that racism had become so shameful that the vast majority of racists were afraid to show their, shall we say, true colors in public, was a good thing. But this guy shows that not everyone has gotten that message, and thus reminds me of just how far we have to go in this country before we can say we're living in a "post-racial" society. Ugh. And I'm afraid that this is the sort of thing that Austin's city government, police force, and many of its businesses, encourage when they tacitly approve of racism through their actions and inaction.


Doll said...

thanks for writing this. I'm thinking about moving to Austin, and it sounds a lot like Seattle where racism is guised under a liberal sheen. I'm a big girl though, I think I can hang tough.

Yanira said...

My friends and I experienced racism this weekend in Austin. I've been going there continuously for over two years and I never thought this would happen. But a bunch of white frat boys called my friend a faggot and went off on how we have to go back to Mexico and that probably work for his dad. I am writing an article on this and ran into your blog. It is just sad to know that in the most liberal city in Texas, racism exists.

tim said...

Surprised by a frat boy being racist? Of course racism exists (on both sides, unfortunately). Businesses close for this event for three reasons: locals stay home (not just white folks), minors can't buy liquor (under age crowd) and it IS dangerous, even though official police reports seem to not show it. Two Emos employees were physically assaulted in the parking lot after closing time, and I was present three years in a row for gun play at 6th and Red River. Though there may be more threats of aggression than actual incidents of it, it still sucks. Assuming racism is a form of racism, by the way.

Gabriela said...

I am
Leaving Austin after a week of vacation with my family and feel completely disappointed at my experience in this town which I expected to be "awesome". I didn't quite figure out at the beginning why everyone was so rude, then I realized it was because we are Latin and have 3 small kids. Suddenly I realized it and told my husband in shock "this is racism, the way we are being treated". It was so disappointing. The promotion this city gets is purely PR but a city is nothing without the warmth of its people and these people are intolerant of children, and people who are different. I'll be glad to take my money elsewhere next time I want a pleasant vacation with pleasant people. This was specific in the north and central areas. We shopped in Whole Foods and Central Markey and the servi e in Whole Foods was so extremely condescending.... I'm so glad to go home

Jesús Iván said...

Austin Texas is a very racist city. I also think it's ridiculous how it is labeled as a "progressive-liberal" city. With so many racists in town how is that considered progressive? and liberal? For crying out loud this is the capital of a very conservative state called TEXAS! Pretty town but a confused and pretentious population. most of 'em at least.

It only takes 1 said...

Please Believe! Austin is the Capital of Confederacy." One only has to consider that UT has a fraternity called the Pikes named after Albert Pike, the foremost KKK member in the United States. I've been living here for five years and I am persecuted daily for my outspoken persona and approach to confronting this twisted city. For a deeper understanding of Austin's unique problem read "The Heart of Whiteness" by Robert Jensen. He is a UT professor. I started mentioning this book around town and they soon pulled it from circulation in the public libraries.

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