When I was offered a job transfer from Dallas to Austin in 2013, I could not have been more thrilled to join the thousands of young professionals migrating to America’s second fastest-growing city. As a creative with a flair for the eclectic, the draw of the culturally liberal metropolis that boasts “Keep Austin Weird” as it’s city slogan was irresistible. I snapped up a one-bedroom flat on South Congress Avenue placing myself at the epicenter of this hippie haven for techies, yuppies and creatives — none of whom, I would come to find, looked like me.
I learned that the lack of cultural diversity in my new city was not by coincidence. Like most cities in the U.S., Austin has a specific legacy of segregation which, through mortgage loan discrimination and red lining, shooed it’s African-American and Latino populations into specific areas of the inner city for generations. How paradoxical that these poorer communities of color were now being displaced from the very areas to which they were strategically isolated.
When I think of gentrification, I think of Starbucks, Whole Foods and a whole host of yuppie fly strips strategically positioned to attract upwardly mobile professionals into poorer neighborhoods. A revitalization that, accompanied by an inevitable rise in rent and property costs, ultimately prices residents out. As tapas bars and yoga studios replace barber shops and store-front churches in American inner-cities, the casualties of this urban renewal are most often black and Latino. So what happens when, as an African-American woman, you find yourself on the privileged end of this shift?
A photo posted by Ebony F. (@ebony_be_writing) on
For me, this was a familiar conflict. As a black graduate of a PWI in the deep south, I enjoyed the amenities that came with attending a large, well-funded university and cringed at the recital of the school fight song which crescendoed at “power of Dixieland.” As the first person of color to integrate the administrative ranks at a handful of rural manufacturing facilities, I took pride in that progress even while negotiating the moral dilemmas and racial politics that accompanied it. As an African American woman living in the most economically segregated metro area in America, I relished the visually lush graffiti art, soulful live street music and outdoor ethnic eateries even as I resented the politics bent on erasing the people whose culture created it.
While my financial status granted me access, it did not prevent me from being followed as I browsed through high-end boutiques, nor did it soothe my craving for true culture and diversity. In essence, my dilemma as a black gentrifier in Austin, Texas is not unlike my experience as a person of color in society at large. It’s complicated.
Loving Blavity’s content? Sign up for our daily newsletter!