Bulldozing Black People

Monday morning, the Black people in the City of Austin woke up to familiar feeling: that people care so little about our existence here that any belittlement is deemed acceptable. Evergreen Cemetery, which was designated as the “colored” cemetery in 1926, was covered in graffiti. There has been shock and outrage, but we are confident that little will be done and we will be asked to absorb yet another affront. After all, last week, the city council moved to yet again to generously offer more of East Austin to non-Black and brown people in pursuance of its cultural agenda, being that Black and brown people continue to beg as their local government continues to deride them. All of this makes sense, because in Austin–just like several other so-called “liberal” cities–bulldozing Black people is considered the cost of doing business.

Developers are always seen as the markers of progress, and because historically White neighborhoods are considered sacrosanct, local governments have tacitly agreed that Black neighborhoods are available for demolition. Even though experts recommended that Rosewood Courts be rehabilitated and historically zoned, the city continues to permit excessive development around that area to diminish the strength of that designation as compared to those of Castle Hill. This makes sense, as the city did not do a historical survey for East Austin until 2016, long after many other neighborhoods had secured historical designations and many Black people were already gone. Every time a developer shows up with a fancy presentation, Black people hold our breath to see whether or not we will be forced to move. In response, the city council mocks us with the farce of public input after the developers have already wined and dined them–and contributed to their campaigns. The voice of Black people is irrelevant to our local government, and all the fancy words mean nothing.

Outside businesses are pivotal to Black people being removed, because they hold the city hostage unless they receive countless tax incentives. Dell is located in Round Rock, but because Michael Dell attended twenty minutes of UT Austin on a Thursday 40 years ago, he is still painted as an “Austin icon” worth supporting. The new Tesla factory is being built in Del Valle–far away from public transportation–and local governments have offered $64 million in tax incentives to Elon Musk during a pandemic when only $10 million has been offered in COVID-19 relief for people who will potentially be homeless due to job loss. All these tax incentives mean rent and property tax increases for people who can least afford them, namely Black people, with brown residents not far behind. Maintaining a healthy population of color matters little to a city so intent on building condos for wealthy people to rent that proper population counts become a problem.

Most unsettlingly, predominantly White communities have done very little to preserve Black communities while protecting their own. Then-Mayor Kirk Watson was the spearhead of New Visions of East Austin–the vision being no Black people–which was enacted as of January 14, 1999, even though Watson did not live there nor would he be affected by the changes. Environmentalists were so forceful in directing construction to Black communities that one of the most prominent groups, the Save Our Springs Alliance, apologized in 2017. No supposed non-racists ever did anything to prevent the destruction that has led to Black people being consistently pushed out for “progress.” Yet, those same individuals will lavish fake praise over those who “start” teaching the history of Black people, as if people had not been trying to implore them for decades. When White neighborhoods see a single condo, everyone runs around in a panic; Black neighborhoods are supposedly there for the taking.

The city is no help, and sees no obligation to retain any portion of Black occupants, even in its so-called cultural district. In 2007, there was a resolution to create an African American Cultural Arts District based on the high concentration of culturally significant landmarks, such as the Carver Museum and Huston-Tillotson. “Resolution” is a weak word designed to protect the city from accountability by saying that, “The city lacked the resolve.” Compare that to the Red River Cultural District, which not only has a longer resolution which heaps lavish praise on about three blocks, but has its activities protected by ordinance–“ordinance” meaning municipal law, and much stronger to enforce. To add insult to injury, the city approved the ordinance for the Red River party zone after signing the Racial Equity Here pledge with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, proving that Austin had no interest in following through on making Austin easier for Black people. (Note: Louisville, Kentucky signed the same year Austin did; we see how well that worked.)

There is no way to shame the city of Austin because the city lacks remorse and does not care about whether any Black people live there at all; in fact, the city has demonstrated that it would prefer Black people in theory, rather than in person. A couple of months of marches and kitschy activism will not erase decades of marches and racist activism that cultivated millions of adults under the age of 45 to believe that any Black person with intelligence was “acting White.” Intentional segregation and the belief that Black children could not exist at good schools will take at least two generations to overcome. No one holds the city accountable except the Black people who anticipated the fulfillment of the promises, and we are seen as “angry” and “unprofessional” when trying to address those concerns. Fake antiracism is seen as a publicity stunt for local governments, while everyone not affected regards Black people with derision.

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