Op-Ed: Extinguishing Racism in Central Texas
Pflugerville Councilmember Rudy Metayer on how we can start rebuilding a broken society
"Daddy. Why is that man's knee on the other man's neck? Why is that building on fire?"
So here we are.
Following national and social media coverage of an all too familiar, utterly American series of events – race-driven hate crime, inflammatory rhetoric, flawed or strategically divisive response, and incendiary aftermath – we must face the fact that racism in America is breaking news, not a history lesson.
Exhausted by simultaneous political, economic, and health crises, Americans are taking to the streets. There, with alarming regularity, we've seen peaceful protest met with violent response, deepening the divide, fanning the flames of another confrontation.
As an attorney, I respect the letter of the law. As a parent, I'm determined our laws and institutions allow my daughters a safe future, without fear or barrier. As a public servant and elected official, I'm working to build a new coalition delivering equity and opportunity based on common good and common sense.
But as a Black man in Texas, I also know the challenge.
Many years ago, I heard Colin Powell speak at the University of Texas. He told the room something I'll never forget: When he drove the back roads of Mississippi, he knew he was a Black man and knew not to forget it. The audience, mostly white, was clearly taken aback that a former secretary of state, four-star general, commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs could have that perspective, that experience.
My own experience tells me that this is the rule, not the exception. Generations of Black men – and the benefit they could have delivered to their communities and families – have been sidelined because Black men are viewed as different: more threatening, less deserving, less able.
Against the backdrop of the fabled American Dream, generations of Black children have viewed their parents, and themselves, as outsiders through the same lens. I know and am thankful that I'm blessed. I have a loving and encouraging family, a terrific education, and a diverse network who I turn to for help and who turn to me in times of need. Even so, to support my family and serve my community, I am vigilant to meet the expectation of being a "safe" Black man. I have internalized racism to put others at ease. But systemic and institutionalized American racism has made even that compromise impossible for others who look like me.
The pandemic (remember the pandemic?) reveals two examples of a failed system. COVID-19 has delivered disproportionate sickness and death to Black communities. This is a systemic, human failure. Black businesses are disproportionately damaged by COVID economics. This is an institutional, human failure.
That said, and overlooking the glaring disparity, the coronavirus has provided the opportunity to flatten society's barriers once and for all. Rebuilding our devastated economy must include rebuilding our communities, redefining our relationships, and redesigning paths to meet potential.
How do we begin to meet that potential?
1) Talk about race.
2) Talk about race.
3) Talk about race.
Sunlight cleans a room. Transparency improves the view. Conversation clears the air.
Explore preconceived notions on race and underlying thoughts and emotions. Talk to someone with a different perspective (they are legion). And listen. Don't just wait to give your opinion. Work through understanding others'. Not talking, not listening, helps absolutely no one. "Race blindness" is impossible and entirely misses the point. Quota hiring/investment further marginalizes the mainstream community. Not working through the equation to see that every integer adds unique value messes up the math.
As we talk through this, we can't attribute to malice what can be easily explained by misunderstanding. But understanding is sometimes hard to come by.
But not as hard as explaining to a 7-year-old why her brown skin bothers people.
One last thing on the to-do list.
As early as July 14, Central Texas voters will have the first electoral opportunity to reconcile our broken society.
Look close. Choose carefully. Let's start putting this fire out once and for all.
Rudy Metayer currently sits on the Pflugerville City Council, CAMPO, and the Austin Bar Association. He is the son of Haitian immigrants, a proud Central Texan, graduate of UT Law School and LBJ School of Public Policy, a happy husband, and father of three girls.
The Chronicle welcomes submissions of opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Find guidelines and tips at austinchronicle.com/contact/opinion.