A Tale of Two Cities

I remember exactly when I first noticed it: my first year in town, wandering around the heart of the city, unwittingly crossing through Red River and Sixth Street. It was an immediate shift. Property value sank, and the sidewalks were now populated entirely with black and brown faces. Casting my gaze back west and seeing all that pallid skin bumbling around in merry debauchery, participating in all those Austin promises, made me feel a little guilty. At that moment it was clear that Austin had some unfortunate secrets, because no matter how liberal or progressive your reputation might be, a history of segregation will always rear its ugly head.

Luke Winkie writing for Vice.com

A house fire destroyed a boarding house just before New Years here in Austin, leaving six people homeless in some of the harshest weather this area has seen in several years. If you look at the images of the house in this news article, it is clear that hoarding was more than a problem in the house before the fire. The structure itself violates several current building codes, or would have violated them if it had not been grandfathered in under the rules that were being enforced at the time of its construction and/or annexation into the city of Austin. A filled construction dumpster in the driveway is a clear sign of unresolved problems within the structure that a devastating fire probably only makes worse for the people involved.

Not satisfied with the fact that there will soon be new construction at this once poverty-stricken address in a nearby neighborhood, one of the recent purchasers of Austin real estate took exception to the state of the house as it currently sits smoldering. This is understandable to me. It is understandable because house prices in Austin are ridiculously inflated, and I’m sure this purchaser paid far too much for his property. There was no price correction in Austin after the real estate bubble burst in the rest of the U.S. There was the briefest of pauses in price inflation, and then the prices just continued to go up, rising to levels that frankly have me thinking seriously of renovating and flipping my home so that I can retire somewhere a little quieter. Somewhere with horses, so that the Wife will have something to do with her time since no one will pay her a wage to do work in Austin anymore.

The homeowner’s objections are also understandable because I have an issue with the rental house across the street from me. I’ve told a running joke about it over the decades that I’ve lived here, and the joke has only gotten darker over the years. Considering the downward spiral it has been in since starting as an owner-occupied dwelling in the early nineties, I suspect there will be cannibals living there soon. Cannibals, because there isn’t much lower for it to go on the occupant quality ladder. Cannibalism is bound to occur there at some point in the near future.

However, several of my neighbors on Nextdoor insist on calling the boarding house that burned to the ground a crack house. Repeatedly. I have to say, that’s just uncalled for. After all, it’s not the nineteen-eighties anymore. We’re well past Reagan and his cloaked racial references like crack houses. Perhaps these new property owners don’t know the history of East Austin, the history of Austin in general? As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, I’d like to offer a few pointers to these new Austin residents, in the spirit of the New Year.

Let’s start with a big picture, historically. Austin was officially racially segregated until 1963. There were specific redlined neighborhoods where people of color were allowed to buy property. Those neighborhoods are well South of the area of Austin that we live in, but if you add in the Great Wall that separates East Austin from West Austin, the distance South that the redlining occurs becomes almost inconsequential. East of Interstate 35 was long considered the dumping zone for housing projects and industrial uses, and any in-depth analysis of land use in Austin will reveal that East Austin carries the brunt of the load of poverty for the entire city to this day.

While you’re calculating, don’t forget to add in the depression on living standards that the Mueller airport noise levels inflicted on the surrounding areas until very recently. That is crucial to understanding the change that is occurring on the East side of Austin today. With the removal of the airport out to Bergstrom, and the removal all the airport’s associated industrial businesses, there was suddenly a wealth of under-utilized property right in central Austin. The re-purposing of this property continues even eighteen years later. The old boundaries of the airport are all but erased, but you can still see the blighting effects of landing and take-off zones near the airport if you look hard enough.

The historical racism that stifled central East Austin’s growth, now lifted, the industrial uses and noise pollution of a central airport, now lifted, the big picture of why the gentrification and the pushing out of old minority owners in East Austin should become obvious. The two cities that were Austin are being forced to become one city, and the new city of Austin doesn’t have room for people who don’t have more than a quarter million dollars to sink on a home. Especially not in central Austin neighborhoods that used to be beacons for the average American middle class lifestyle.

Just to the North of the old Mueller airport site sits some of what was the most overlooked, undervalued property in central Austin. It was overlooked and undervalued when I first started living in the area about thirty years ago but it has now been discovered and is probably overvalued. I look to see a market correction in the near future. Friends of mine in the construction industry bought into real estate at the peak of the last boom in the eighties. They lost half their investment in the subsequent S&L collapse. I expect there is another one of those nasty surprises just waiting around the corner for most of Texas somewhere in the future. We dodged that bullet in 2008, but the growth that Texas is experiencing can’t be maintained forever. Something has to give, eventually.

The house fire that started this article is in one of those quiet little neighborhoods that used to be havens from the bustling inner-city of Austin, protected by the vast bulk of Mueller from central East Austin’s old redlined districts. The closest of these neighborhoods to the Eastern edge of Mueller is Pecan Springs-Springdale. This is the neighborhood where the boarding house stood.

Pecan Springs-Springdale was two neighborhoods originally, ergo the name. There are pockets of very nice houses in this neighborhood, surrounded by marginal commercial ventures and apartment houses, especially along the main arterial boulevard of Manor Road that carries the bulk of the traffic North/South through the area, between the two neighborhoods of Windsor Park and Pecan Springs-Springdale. The intersection at Rogge and Manor, near where the fire occurred, has always been problematic. That intersection marks the boundaries between three distinct areas and uses, one corner of which is a vacant lot. That property is an investment opportunity, for anyone taking notes that still wants to live here.

We rented a house in Windsor Park for about seven years before buying our current home. We rented it for less than $500 a month if you can believe that. The houses in that neighborhood are generally smaller and sit on smaller lots than surrounding neighborhoods. They were built for and bought by people with even less money than the college professors that my current neighborhood catered to. Backed up to the original Austin shopping center, Capitol Plaza, and bordered originally on the South by the main runway of Mueller and Fifty-first Street, Windsor Park was a working-man’s neighborhood. It’s hard to see that now since most of the property there was snatched up and renovated first, before Mueller moved.

The wife and I realized that the time to buy a home was now or never as we watched the neighborhood change around us, so we gave up renting and purchased a home in University Hills, a smaller neighborhood further East, but not so close that you could see or smell the landfill still operated by the city further out highway 290. University Hills was built to appeal to the growing number of educational professionals that needed to live near the University of Texas and the price of its real estate has ballooned significantly since we moved here.

People looking for a real estate investment should be well acquainted with this fact, that housing prices are at an all-time high in Austin, since it would be part of proper due diligence to have looked at historical prices for the area before investing. Some of the original residents still live in our neighborhood, and I bought my house from one them twenty years ago. There aren’t too many left these days, but their investment of $40-60k when they bought their places back in the nineteen-sixties would not compare favorably with the investments people are laying down now to get in this neighborhood. Some of us still don’t have that kind of money and we are being forced out of our neighborhoods by a growing number of people who do.

not very neighborly

Which brings us full circle back to the transplant complaining about a boarding house he has to drive by on his way to work that burned down having once been purportedly used for drug sales. The question I want to ask people like him is, how do you live with yourself? How do you ignore the underpasses in Austin littered with homeless people, even in freezing weather? Let me put it this way; I apologize to you for your neighbors, neighbors who were clearly having a hard time paying to remain in a neighborhood that has left them behind. Now that they are homeless, I’m sure the weather will get on with killing them faster so that their property can be better utilized by the next owner and not be a drag on your property in the future. That way you can flip that property you sank every penny you had into and make a profit. How does that sound?

Don’t mind us long-term residents, the people who just lived and worked here over the course of a lifetime. We certainly won’t notice when you are gone, any more than we noticed the last five people who owned that property before you. If you think I’m being too harsh, then I suggest you get out and help the homeless in your area, right now. Now is the time when homelessness hurts the most, when we lose the most people to exposure. If you have the quarter-million dollars to blow on an investment, then you certainly have enough scratch to make the difference in a homeless person’s life. Maybe you should re-prioritize your to-do list and see if you can make the world a better place for someone else. They’ll probably thank you for it and it might even be more rewarding than that profit you are lamenting you won’t make.


This recent (04/11/2018) episode of Code Switch deals with the subject that I was talking about in this article, namely redlining, what redlining was, and what redlining did. The after effects of redlining are still felt here in Austin.

NPR, Let’s Talk, Why are cities still so segregated?

It’s hard for people who have never been poor to understand what poverty does to you. It’s even harder to understand what not being able to pass for white does to you. The barriers that are placed in your way. The things that keep you from being able to succeed, the things they blame you for? Those things are external, barriers to entry that allow those who have what you want to point at you and say “see you don’t deserve what I have.”

NPR – Code Switch – Housing Segregation In Everything

I wanted to post a link to this episode because this was the first episode of Code Switch that I could link directly. The first episode that had a specific page that I could find and link to with the content that I heard on the air present on the page. It was a nice change that I hope they keep up with. It’s hard to share insights like you get from podcasts like this if there isn’t a location on the internet to send people to so that they can hear that specific thing you are talking about. In this case, redlining. Forcing people into poverty for the sake of having poor people to look down on, to take advantage of. This structural racism and economic stratification? This bullshit has to stop, and it should have stopped a hundred years ago.

They Can’t Just Be Average

Code Switch – They Can’t Just Be Average – October 25, 2017

‘They Can’t Just Be Average,’ Lifting Students Up Without Lowering The Bar The final passage, where the man wants to be a Mechanical engineer, that passage brought me to tears. These two episodes of Code Switch have…

Facebook

Editor’s note, 2019. Another one of the thousands of posts that disappeared when I deleted my Tumblr account. The only reason I know that I wrote this on Tumblr is because it was during the time that I was allowed to re-post Tumblr to Facebook. That ended, and then shortly after that I deleted my Tumblr account. I had nursed the account along for years, hardly using it, and then finally only using it to distribute posts across the day, making it appear that I was online doing something somewhere. When Verizon stepped in and bought Yahoo and with it Tumblr, I decided I would wean myself out of the Yahoo-verse. It took a few years, but I finally cut the cord a few weeks ago. No more Yahoo for me. I wish I had let my Tumblr account run a little longer. It would have given me the chance to figure out what I said in the rest of that post.

This is the home on Code Switch for all four episodes of Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep.

Niemoller’s Law

None of us can be safe until all of us are safe.

Niemöller’s law

I first heard this sentiment uttered by the Reverend Timothy Murphy on this episode of Code Switch.

Code Switch Safety-Pin Solidarity: With Allies, Who Benefits?

The Reverend Timothy Murphy doesn’t credit Martin Niemöller for the inspiration, but I know the origin of the sentiment all the same.  The same feeling has been heavy on my mind since the day His Electoral Highness descended the golden escalator and intoned “Mexicans are rapists” to a rapt audience.

For those who are not students of history, this was Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

‘First They Came’: The Poem of the Protests

The Justification for the Explanatory Pause

Code Switch is one of those podcasts that I make a point to listen to even when the titles make me cringe. This is one of those episodes that I cringed through while at the same time having some relevant old white guy points I really felt were worth addressing.

Code Switch – Hold Up! Time For An Explanatory Comma – December 14, 2016


The podcast hosts bring on Hari Kondabolu (whose podcast Politically Re-Active isn’t one I listen to) to talk about why he takes a break in the middle of a subject riff in order to explain the subject matter being discussed.

He refers to it as Hold Up, Wait a Minute which is amusing, the right move for a podcast that is humorous in nature. However the title of this podcast Explanatory Comma had me yelling explanatory pause at my headphones by the end of the episode.

In my opinion, the breaking point for when/when not to explain things is entirely subjective. If the audience member knows about the thing, they will think you are talking down to them. If the audience member doesn’t know, then they will be lost if you don’t explain it. I knew who Tupac was, so was not lost during the previous episode of Code Switch that dealt with him but didn’t explain who he was.

On the other hand Hari Kondabolu says Tribe Called Quest and stands on his outrage at having to explain that this was another music reference. I know it is a music reference now, because I went out and looked it up and realized that my ignorance on the subject is a product of not having any interest in Rap, Hip Hop, or any other form of music that wasn’t Rock or Classical or the Country music my mother made me listen to as a child.

All of us are products of our experiences. If our experiences don’t include your experiences, then any attempt to connect will be fruitless unless a common ground of conversation can be established. So you have to take time to explain to the audience so that you can bring them along with you if you want them to go where you are going by the end of your narrative. If you don’t do that, they get bored, stop reading/listening/watching and your attempt to communicate fails.

When you can’t see your audience, the curse of the A/V field, you have to attempt to gauge what your audience will understand without your providing an explanation. Which is largely what this entire episode of Code Switch is about.

But I didn’t start writing this entry to talk about why explanatory pauses are necessary.

What I wanted to address was making sure that you don’t take time to explain things that really shouldn’t have to be explained. All of us have our own lives, our own heuristics, our own foibles and our own prejudices. Most of us are smart enough not to air our dirty laundry or (as Hari Kondabolu quite pointedly says) force our white supremacy onto the rest of society.

There are exceptions, the entirety of the FOX news team springs immediately to mind, but generally we keep our thoughts to ourselves because, hey, everybody is busy and why burden a total stranger with the bullshit in your life? Right?

On the other end of the spectrum we have something like the TED talk below;

Tiq Milan and Kim Katrin Milan – TEDWomen 2016 – A queer vision of love and marriage

Now, I’ve made a few attempts to line out what I think on the subject in the talk. Tiptoeing through Gender IssuesPartnership by Any Other NameHomophobia In Denial. Before you come to any snap judgements about what I’m about to say, I’d suggest that you take an explanatory pause and go look at what I’ve said before, so that what I’m about to say doesn’t strike you as callous or unfeeling.

When I look at that couple I do not see the complex characters they want us all to accept them as. What I see is a perfectly average couple who clearly love each other. If I’m passing them on the street, serving them food, or any of the dozens of jobs of the people they will encounter every day, none of those people will have the time or the desire to understand and accept these two as what they see themselves as. There comes a point where you have to rely on your gender presentation (clothing, hair style, scents, makeup, whatever) to communicate all the myriad things you think are important as a first impression. You cannot go back and make a second first impression, and an angry explanation about why your presentation should have been understood will be accepted just as well as the FOX news junkie who goes around insisting that Santa is white.

This TED talk is an example of the dreaded internet oversharing. The needy posts on various social platforms that start with “Let’s see who reads this” or “if you really are my friend”. The entire TED talk is an explanatory pause; and frankly, I’ve contested a few of the belabored points in the talk.  Contested them because, in the end, no one really should care that much about you unless they are having sex with you. You aren’t having sex with the entire internet and if you are you probably need therapy of a different kind.

A Queer Version of Love and Marriage goes over the line from explanatory pause into the realm of browbeating. If you are in an educational setting like a podcast or a TED talk, then you are going to get things explained to you that you probably already know. That is what the 30 second jump button is for (if your podcast app doesn’t have that, go get this one) if you don’t have the patience to hear something explained for the 97th time, skip ahead 30 seconds. But if you are getting a gallon of milk at three in the morning, don’t expect the cashier to know your preferred gender pronoun. Just pay the person behind the counter and say “thank you” and walk out. He’s got mopping to get back to and he really doesn’t care about your frustrations.

When I’m listening to a podcast about Code Switching I expect to have musical references, as well as many other references, explained to me. That is why it is called Code Switch. Because we are trying to Switch the Code; Race and Identity Remixed. Understand the other side. Broaden our understanding of the human animal. Can’t do that if we don’t understand the references. Hope I’m being crystal clear here.


I edited the first sentence in the second to last paragraph to be more clear as to where the line between explaining and over-explaining is, or where it is for me. Your Mileage May Vary, as the saying goes. Damned indefinite pronouns, the bugaboo of all attempts at clear writing.

Earlier on I changed the last paragraph to link the FAQ for Code Switch so that anyone who disagrees with what is being said can just go to the FAQ and educate themselves.

The most amusing thing about writing this piece, about my initial response to pushback against White Supremacy being attached to everything white people do, to the explanatory pause being denigrated as a distraction from the actual storytelling, is that the overwhelming number of negative attacks have come from White Knights who feel obliged to jump in and defend minorities from aggression. As if Old White Guy points are always going to be aggressive. Or White Supremacist. As if minorities aren’t capable of defending themselves in a battle of words and ideas.

May I always resist the urge to come to the defense of someone whom I consider to be my equal and does not appear to be losing a battle of words. All Social Justice Warriors should be compelled to adhere to that oath.


Gene Demby‘s sole response on Twitter was two characters.

NO

Those two characters, and then he promptly blocked me on Twitter. I think the blocking was a bit overboard, but fans can be a bit oppressive. I practice prophylactic blocking of MAGA trolls on all venues myself, so I will take the fact that it is Twitter and what would I do in his shoes? and go with that.

I puzzled on the meaning of those two characters. Puzzled on them off and on for months. I puzzled on them until the next time they needed to explain something on the show and they said it’s time for an explanatory comma. After about the third repetition of the phrase, I realized that the NO meant that I had completely missed the point the show hosts were driving at. They were introducing a new segment to the show, and this was to be its cringe-inducing title. I also missed the point that I was not in the segment of the audience that the phrase was directed at. It was the people resenting having things explained to them that they already knew. A cute way of attempting to disarm them, I guess.

I’ve tried clever titles for posts in the past. It rarely works out the way you intend, but I wish them luck all the same.


I’m still listening to Code Switch. Currently I’m looking forward to the last installment of the look back at the influence of President Obama (part 1, part 2, part 3 WBEZ’s Making Obama was also worth the listen) I have an opinion piece on that subject which I title Obama Best President Since Eisenhower. No, I am not subtle. Not in the least.

The last episode put a bug in my ear about the miscommunication of what Code Switch means to black people and why it might mean something different to white folks. I talk in code to old white people; old being my age and older (yes, there are older white people than I am) I will occasionally put on a filter for children that aren’t mine as well. I have found that being dead honest with the children of strangers can be more troublesome than being dead honest with old white folks.

However Code Switching takes on a whole new meaning when you take things like this into account.

The Green Book, or to give it its full title, “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” was first published in 1936. It was a revolutionary publication which listed restaurants, bars and service stations which would serve African-Americans.

Traveling during the Jim Crow era was difficult for African Americans. In the South, “black code” laws targeted them for loitering. In many towns, black travelers risked death if they stayed past sundown.

Travelers came up with their own ways to avoid violence and humiliation. One was called ‘The Green Book’ created by Harlem postal worker Victor Hugo Green. It was an invaluable tool to help black people plan a safe route across the country.

Alvin Hall’s BBC program ‘The Green Book’ documents this little-known aspect of racial segregation.

When you might be lynched or shot for simply driving into the wrong town, knowing what the code is takes on a whole new meaning. I know this. I knew this. But knowing isn’t being. While I know that I don’t speak freely (to not speak in code) around parents, children, people who aren’t into SF or video games or recreational drug use (legal. All my drugs are legal now. Have been for at least 25 years. I have the prescriptions to prove it) the downsides of slipping out of code for people like me are radically less life-ending than for people who face the possibility of death at the hands of people who hate them just for existing. Which is why a Code Switch takes on much more weight for minorities than for people like me.

My apologies for approaching the subject with less gravity than it probably deserved. I still see the refusal to explain as a missed opportunity to connect; but truthfully there is little use in telling me about one more artist whose rap I probably won’t be interested in either. The explanation for how I lost my music (and with it the appreciation for pretty much all music) is a story I haven’t tried to write down yet.

Another time, perhaps. 

War on Christmas, Black Santa

This was a thing again this year. FOX News declaring that Santa is white. Why is it important what color Santa is? Why does anyone care? The fact that this is still a thing makes it even weirder than it was way back in 2013 when Jon Stewart riffed on the subject in these segments from his show,

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 12/13/2013, WAR ON CHRISTMAS – S#@T’S GETTING WEIRD EDITION

Gretchen Carlson issues a manger danger warning, and Megyn Kelly defends Santa Claus’s historically-based Caucasian bona fides.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 12/13/2013, WAR ON CHRISTMAS – S#@T’S GETTING WEIRD EDITION – BLACK SANTA

Fox News debates Santa Claus’s ethnic background, and Jessica Williams concludes that Santa Claus could not possibly be black.

I really do miss Jon Stewart. News was a lot more fun with him around.


Listening to NPR’s Code Switch for December 19th, 2017 turned me on to the inspiration for Megyn Kelly’s rant,

So let’s ditch Santa the old white man altogether, and embrace Penguin Claus—who will join the Easter Bunny in the pantheon of friendly, secular visitors from the animal kingdom who come to us as the representatives of ostensibly religious holidays. It’s time to hand over the reins to those deer and let the universally beloved waddling bird warm the hearts of children everywhere, regardless of the color of their skin.

Aisha Harris writing for Slate, Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore (just FYI, this was a satirical article)