Color in the Capital

Social studies: National discussions on minority issues fuel local debate

National discussions on minority issues fuel local debate

Protestors of immigration reform in Austin
Locals protest immigration reform. Courtesy of KVUE News

As if to corroborate a need for the kinds of conversations CultureMap is sparking with its "Color in the Capital" column, this proved to be an emotionally-charged mad-cap week of legislative rigmarole, locally and nationally.

Voting Rights Act
On Tuesday, in a bombshell ruling, the Supreme Court knocked the winds out of the sails of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 (a decision that some local pundits say will affect Austin's redistricting process). The original purpose of the Act was to keep whites in Southern States, including Texas, on the straight and narrow during elections. Feel like changing voting locations at the last minute to throw off black voters? Nope, don’t think so! Got a hankering to administer sham literacy tests for registered voters of color? Think again, my friend!

The Supreme Court didn’t do away with the entire historic ruling, but it said the country has changed over these last 50 years, and those disgraceful practices aren’t widespread problems anymore, and that Congress needed to reassess which state and local governments still need to be babysat. Until Congress complies, the safety measures that were in place to thwart all that nonsense are gone. Congress was warned four years ago to address the issue in a case involving a municipal utility district right here in Austin. It did nothing.

Immigration legislation
Immigration reform is front and center at the moment. On Thursday, Austin police arrested five people participating in a protest rally that blocked Sixth Street. This happened after the U.S. Senate, in a bi-partisan 68-32 vote, passed controversial immigration legislation that caused a cacophony of cheers as well as jeers. On the one hand, it opens up a 13-year path to U.S. citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. On the other hand, it makes it mandatory for employers to check their employees’ legal status.

Meanwhile, nearly $50 billion will go toward putting the finishing touches on 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and border patrol could be as much as doubled. The House must pass the bill in order for it all to stick.

As fiercely as some people feel the bill is fair and makes absolute sense, others feel just as fiercely that America's mantra about taking in the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, is hogwash that pertains only to a select few.

Quality of life for Austin's Hispanic and Latino segments
The focus on race-related issues on the national level this week mirrored some of what went on here at the local level. At Thursday’s city council meeting, a community oversight team appointed by city leaders, revealed some troubling facts regarding the quality of life for Austin’s Hispanic and Latino segments.

Between 2005 and 2009 in Travis County, 67 percent of all births to single mothers were Hispanic or Latino. Of babies born to mothers younger than 20 years old, 76 percent were Hispanic or Latino. While Hispanic or Latino children make up a majority of the students in the Austin Independent School District, only 39 percent of them were considered “college ready” in 2011.

The team also reported there is a lack of summer youth mentoring and training programs for kids. It said 58 percent of the community live in rental homes as opposed to owning their own property, their arts organizations have been historically underfunded, and that Austin’s historic Hispanic and Latino neighborhoods have been largely displaced.

According to the city’s website, “The City of Austin has now crossed the threshold of becoming a Majority-Minority city. Put another way, no ethnic or demographic group exists as a majority of the city’s population. The city’s Anglo share of total population has dropped below 50 percent... and will stay there for the foreseeable future.”

From education and politics to immigration reform, health, jobs and the economy, there are magnificent racial disparities, not only in our country, but here in our city. And, in only one week’s time, these issues stirred up some pretty compelling local dialogue. These conversations are nowhere near coming to any foreseeable end. In fact, Austin may want to brace itself for the real possibility of more debate.

Some CultureMap readers have argued this column, and discussions like it, only help perpetuate problems between the races. I assert that there are magnificent disparities between whites and people of color in Austin. And a good way to deal with that is to talk about it. Here. Now. 

What say you? Are these problems real or imagined? Is the solution that people of color pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or does the dilemma go much deeper? As the nation grapples with some pretty intense social and racial debacles, what can we do here in Austin to legitimately establish the kind of richly diverse city we're so skilled at telling the world we are?