Don’t Sleep on Black Austin

After 17 years in Austin, I've concluded too many sleep on the power of Black Austin. 

After several years collaborating with community partners, the experiences have allowed me the privilege to see the natural genius fostered and the opportunity to learn from their insights and perspective.

In Austin, we have a unique set of circumstances to continue building on the legacy of prosperity and learn from the persistent and pervasive challenges. One of Austin’s challenges involved the distinction of being the only major US metropolitan city with a shrinking Black population.

Despite these kind of challenges, I’ve grown to love Austin to the point that I’ve given elevator speeches to strangers, visitors and tourists in hallways, at conferences, in taxis, during talks, and sitting at restaurants to convince Black people to move to Austin.

When you relocate to Austin, you’ll find a vibrant Black community; however, you cannot come with an expectation that Austin is Atlanta, DC, Baltimore, Oakland, New Orleans, Philadelphia or other major urban city with a Black critical mass. If anything, I’ve heard Black Austin leaders describe Austin as the White Atlanta. When some White people come to Austin, it appears that they can easily find the human connections, resources, and opportunities available to them without a struggle.

Whether reality or fantasy, the ease of adapting and assimilating to Austin is a powerful perception widely shared by word of mouth. The perception is one of those White privileges where you’ll hear some people speak about the spirit of Austin as if by mystical powers things seem to just work intuitively.

Austin – the city where 20 somethings come to retire . . . if you’re White. They find jobs, people of like minds and political persuasions, and places to enjoy the food, clothes, and outdoors that infects them with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.

White privilege is a powerful elixir that induces love of everything Austin.

Connecting to Black Austin can be a bit more of a challenge despite our efforts to tout the best of what we offer. Part of the problem is that many Black people commonly feel disconnected and isolated living in a White vacuum at work, school, and recreation. We often literally feel and experience being the only person of color in many spaces across the city including in our neighborhoods where we live. Admittedly, for some Black people, they enjoy the special status as the token Black person, may thrive in these spaces, and feel no obligation to embrace or connect to the Black community. Our social, career, and romantic lives can be surrounded thoroughly, almost entirely, by a pervasive Whiteness that creeps into and dominates spaces for people of color.

Have no fear, Black people are here.

Many people ask where would someone find Black folks in Austin. Due to gentrification and the high cost of living, the Black exodus from Austin proper has significantly changed the landscape of Austin. Only recently has there been an uptick in the number of Blacks in Austin to reverse the tide. Many of us moved out to the suburbs into Manor, Round Rock, Pflugerville, and Del Valle although we continue to remain in Austin scattered throughout the city and surviving in historical enclaves holding on tight.

Unbeknownst to many people, Black entrepreneurs thrive locally. Austin has been one of the highest ranked among the best cities for Black-owned businesses. Additionally, the Urban League, NAACP, and Black Chamber of Commerce are major forces here. Huston-Tillotson University, a historically Black university, has increasingly served in leadership and as a community partner as well as several Black churches, and leaders from local associations for Black accountants, MBAs, public administrators, engineers, and sororities and fraternities.

Within the last five years, a bumper crop of local community advocates have stepped to the plate on a variety of issues including Chas MooreAustin Justice Coalition; Meme StylesMeasure AustinFatima MannCounter Balance: ATX; and Margaret HauleAustin Black Lives Matter to name a few. Each organization works with a culturally diverse and committed community of co-conspirators.

We’re here knocking on and kicking down the door of opportunity

There are several other notable Black Austinites. Fellow Prairie View A&M University Alum, Anita C. Roberts recently published Achievement in Black Austin, an anthology of images and stories celebrating African American accomplishments. Listed among the pages include a successful eleven year old social entrepreneur, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, and local elected officials. Michael Gibson, chairman of EBONY media operations and publisher of Ebony Magazine, is a long time Black Austinite. Robert Smith, Chairman and CEO for Vista Equity Partners, is a local billionaire private equity investor and listed on Forbes’ richest Americans.

For larger metropolitan cities with a larger Black critical mass, Black Austin’s accomplishments are noteworthy and should attract financial investment and cultural capital needed for our city to prosper. Don’t sleep on Black Austin. We’re here knocking on and kicking down the door of opportunity. But, our work is not done.

Don’t sleep on Black Austin.

Photo by Salihah Barnett

Here are a few ways to tap into the rich repository of local Black Austin talent. Appoint two or more Black professionals or volunteers to your all White nonprofit board. Hire a heap of Black people who don’t seem to fit the culture of your department or organization. Sponsor up and coming Black professionals through the ranks of your organization. Rewrite your job descriptions to ensure the unique qualities we bring to the job are valued. Provide substantial venture capital to hundreds of Black entrepreneurs no less talented than the over-privileged nephew of your best man’s nephew. Attend Black professional conventions seeking talent with the hunger to learn despite whether they followed traditional track of your profession. Keep your standards high and your expectations higher. Be one of our collaborators who wants to share in Austin’s prosperity.

Last but not least, be comfortable with building greater race consciousness and fluency to ensure there is room for these conversations about race and implementing solutions to dismantle racism.

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8 Comments

  • I’ve been here for 9 months now and enjoying the city. Love the Art, Food and the Diversity when it comes to the city. I would, however, like to see more Black nightlife spots (maybe there’s some here and I just haven’t found them yet). Thanks for this article because it is awesome to know that there is a “Black Austin” also.

  • “When some White people come to Austin, it appears that they can easily find the human connections, resources, and opportunities available to them without a struggle.

    Connecting to Black Austin can be a bit more of a challenge despite our efforts to tout the best of what we offer.”

    Been here for a little over a year and I can agree that yes, it is extremely challenging to (a) find, and (b) connect to Black Austin. And to be honest, as a 30-something SAHM, the “struggle” the author refers to…it doesn’t interest me. It’s daunting, it’s frustrating, and frankly harder than it needs to be.

    I would never suggest a move to Austin to anyone Black, especially if they are, like me, from the Mid-Atlantic East (NY, DC, Philly).

    But good on those whose experience hasn’t been as disappointing.

  • Shay, pretty much agree. i have never felt so isolated from blacks in my life and i lived in phoenix, az where there were not a lot of black. i am from the midwest of all places.

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