Point Austin: Firestarter

If you want to attack institutional racism, you might pick an actual target

Point Austin

I've been trying to decide which fleeting cultural phenomenon is more ridiculous: last week's knuckleheaded attempt by a drunk-attorney (aka "DWIbadass") to protest racism by posting racist stickers on several Eastside neighborhood businesses, or the subsequent online campaign by his sycophants to defend his actions as somehow "stirring the conversation" on Eastside gentrification, or (even more absurdly) as an "art piece" calling attention to official and public hypocrisy over Austin's rising land prices and their effects on working-class and poor people, especially minorities. Before Lawyer Looney YouTube tagged (or so he claims) those Eastside businesses, the folly goes, nobody in town was even aware that housing prices and property taxes are rising, and certainly nobody was talking about it.

That's nutty enough as it stands – the sort of witless cliches spouted by the Pantsless Pundit about "the way shit works" are only possible because Austinites, official and otherwise, have been lamenting, brainstorming, and strategizing over rising prices and gentrification for years, trying (without dramatic success) to blunt the edge of rapid population growth. But it seems to have occurred to very few of the Nattering Nihilist's ("go into the darkness") online army that the best way to engage that ongoing conversation might not be to attack mom-and-pop businesses (several minority-owned) in one of Austin's most racially integrated neighborhoods, and complain ("satirically," of course) that there are too many white people around.

As one of the shop owners pointed out, this looked and sounded like victim-blaming with a vengeance. It was worse than that: Because of the confused initial response to the stickers, the inevitable backlash, and sensationalist national media coverage, some of the shops incurred denunciations, threats of boycott, and worse. The reaction of Lawyer Look-at-Me and his online platoon? Variations on "Some people can't take a joke," or "We don't give a fuck."

Mirthless Mugging

The official response to the stickers was also mixed. Because the city of Austin had been falsely portrayed as officially "sponsoring" the stickers' "partition" program, both Mayor Steve Adler ("appalling and offensive display of ignorance") and City Manager Marc Ott ("cowardly and hateful") issued denunciations. Those were partly in reaction to state Rep. Dawnna Dukes' initial inquiries, after a constituent had alerted her and Dukes was still uncertain of the details. Dukes stumbled badly in her initial response, posting a statement that if one of the businesses (Rare Trends) couldn't adequately explain the sticker, "They need to be put out of business, ASAP!"

Soon thereafter, Dukes posted updates that the businesses were in fact victims of "an act of hatred," but never removed or updated the original post, which went national when sites like Huffington Post circulated the story and included without qualification Dukes' quote about Rare Trends. Co-owner Paola Ortiz Moore demanded a retraction and apology, but Dukes has thus far declined, instead posting several conciliatory statements, e.g.: "support the community and its businesses who were victims. Help everyone push back on this hatred and make the community stronger as a whole." One hopes that advice can be personally fulfilled.

On the other hand, when no one was yet taking credit for the tagging, Dukes nailed it when she speculated that whoever had done so was "a narcissist and a bully." In his underwear, Attorney "Trenchant Anal­ysis" directly attacked Dukes for supposedly not "getting the joke." On that subject, local actor/director Rudy Ramirez aptly posted, "Yeah. I got that. Still not funny. Still bringing back years of trauma around exclusion and banishment from home spaces. Thanks, asshole."

Mission Unaccomplished

If you were indeed a self-appointed "culture jammer" looking for a "whites only" target to satirize in Austin, presumably you would look quite a bit further west than Central East Austin. Tarrytown, Pemberton Heights, Northwest Hills (or even original white-flight areas like West Lake Hills) might not be "littered with white hipsters," but they certainly include plenty of establishments much more visibly (if not legally) "whites only" than El Chilito, Sugar Mama's, or the Counter Cafe. More importantly, those neighborhoods (and homeowners) have benefited for decades from exclusionary zoning codes and development practices that block most attempts to increase the supply of housing affordable for working people, whatever their race.

Austin's working people have to live somewhere, so they find still affordable neighborhoods, and that trend then dominoes the same pressure on housing prices in those neighborhoods. It's hardly a productive response – whether you call it "applying the technology" or "not giving a fuck" – to attack the folks at the bottom of this process, set a match to the gasoline of racial hatred, and applaud the result – while pretending to be above it all.

Nobody gets a free pass on history, and we're all in this together.

For more, see "Contested Territory." Follow @PointAustin.

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"White People" stickers, Adam Reposa, Dawnna Dukes, Paola Ortiz Moore, Steve Adler, Marc Ott, gentrification, institutional racism

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