Color in the Capital

Social studies: Could black people in Austin do more to help shape the local culture?

Being black and social in the city of Austin

african woman in the city
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Editor's note: Austin, Texas is young, hip and white. In her new column, Color in the Capital, Austin native Charlotte Moore aims to “throw a little bit of healthy shade on our white-washed town.” From pop culture to politics, Moore sheds light on the darker side of our fair city.

Close to a million people live in Austin, and only about 10 percent of us are black. In fact, those of you reading this column right now are likely white. And possibly thinking, "Here we go again..."

Look at it this way: In Texas politics, Austin is the blueberry in that bowl of tomato soup. No matter how hard you push that Democratic agenda, chances are the Republicans will win out. It’s in the numbers. Your voice counts, but ultimately, so what?

That’s what it’s like being black in Austin. Which then begs the question, are we really helping shape the culture in our city?

I’m a black woman who’s comfortable on both sides of Austin’s color line. Some of my best friends are white! But let’s face it — when you’re out and about, drinking Heineken at The Lucky Lounge, boating on the lake, eating pizza at Home Slice, cycling the Veloway, kissing at Mt. Bonnell or maneuvering through a crowd at ACL Fest, you don’t see a bunch of black people.

That’s not only because of the numbers, but because some things are just not our thing. 

In a shamelessly unscientific Facebook survey of five of my most candid black female friends of color, I asked:

Do you swim at Barton Springs Pool?
 - “No,” responded one friend, “I’ve never had the desire. I’m not crazy about swimming as it is.”
Do you ever visit Fredericksburg? Bastrop? Enchanted Rock?
 - “Enchanted Rock, really? Never heard of it, therefore I’ve never been.”
As a group, we don’t tend to flock to SXSW or ACL, either.
 - “Not my type of music line-up.”

You might argue it’s more of an economic issue than a black/white one. Money’s tight, no matter what color you are. There’s no plethora of white people in Austin flying around in their private jets, nor are you all attending $1,000-plate galas at the Lakeway Resort and Spa each weekend.

But, get this: To the question, "Would you ever consider living in Westlake, Bee Cave or Rollingwood," one friend said, “No, because of an assumed lack of diversity,” while another friend wrote of a “negative connotation toward blacks” in those neighborhoods and a fear of being made to feel inferior.

None of this proves anything, least of all that Austin is racist. But it does signify there’s more work to be done; that for all of Austin’s progressivism, there are at least some people who still feel counted out. You may be tired of hearing it, but even now in the year 2013 in a town like Austin, this ish is still very real.

Okay, so maybe you’re feeling left out of the black community and wondering, "What the hell do y’all do?" Well, first off, all that outdoorsy stuff you whites seem to live and breathe, we can take or leave. Swimming wreaks havoc on our hair. And ironically, just as you’ve bought into the crap notion that very white skin is unappealing, we go to great lengths to stay out of the sun for fear of getting too black — another discussion for another day.

We spend time with our friends and families. We shop. We eat out. We go to the movies. Church is always a big deal. We get pampered at beauty salons and barber shops with stylists who know how to work with our skin and hair. We go to clubs that play the kind of music we tend to like. And we don't karaoke... we sang! Basically, we do the same stuff you do, we just tend to do it with ourselves.

Perhaps the larger lesson is ours to learn about getting in the mix, challenging assumptions, dipping our toes — if not our entire foot — into the Springs and soaking up more of the Austin culture.

We own the same "I Live in Austin" card as you. It does no good if we’re not getting out there and getting the damn thing punched.