The Most Beautiful City In The World.


Austin Skyline Sunset by Visualist Images, on Flickr. CC 2.0.

This post is by our play-cousin, the amazing Joshunda Saunders, and originally appeared on her blog

I do not want to write about leaving Austin.

I don’t want to write about it because it feels like generalizing. Because, as someone noted, African Americans are the most vocal minority in Austin to be such a tiny group — 8 percent in a city with an estimated 843,000 folks. Because writing about it suggests ambivalence or ambiguity and I feel neither.

But I’m writing because I think there might be other black women living in Austin or considering living in Austin who might find some recognition in my observations after living here for 8 years – both in Austin and in Texas. These sentiments can probably be extrapolated to other groups and ethnicities but the black woman component is unique and to me, uniquely significant.

Austin is the best part of Texas. But it is still Texas. We say this to one another in real life. For however people fashion Texan identity in their mental landscape, the state is an adventure of its own. Texas is a vast, conservative empire of space, perfect for a journey. It is a gigantic canvas with silos and fortresses of comfort, discomfort, colorful and mountainous dreams. It feels like the precipice, the cliff looking out over something potentially majestic. You know the narratives here, the history. You can feel it in the earth, cowboy boots or no, and you imagine everything your heart wants to project on that great giant sky. The blooming skylines in Austin and Texas, like the wide-open horizons, offer unspecified creative promises where you can write your future.

The patriot in me loves a great narrative, particularly if a space embodies the narrative. Austin’s narrative is that it is the cool, hip, laid-back kid who might dress like it’s Monday for a paycheck but has a heart for year-round Spring Break. All this beauty and fun and queso and breakfast tacos, all these festivals and all this live music and all that football and burnt orange everything and our shared contempt for Interstate 35. What only a few people say is that what keeps Austin from leaping from the precipice toward greatness is its aversion to constructive criticism, a kind of collective defensive denial about what it really means to be liberal, progressive and great. (For more, read Michael Corcoran’s great piece,Welcome to Mediocre, Texas.)

I loved that narrative, the one about the tacos and the creative class, so hard, almost 20 years ago, the first time I came here, back when Tower Records was a thing, and more recently when I became one of the dreaded legions of People Moving Here from California. But I am a sentimental woman. You give me something, and I will keep it forever until it breaks or dies or falls all the way apart. I keep cards and pictures and old perfume boxes filled with letters, ticket stubs, old printed-out emails from the days of AOL domination, certificates and birthday cards.

Some say hoarder, I say aspiring amateur archivist.

For someone so sentimental, I’m unsettled and surprised by my lack of sentimentality about Austin, about moving back to the East Coast. The people I love here who have shaped the experiences that made this feel so close to home for me all know about the non-narrative Austin, the pseudo-nirvana blind to its hidden luxuries and congratulatory, smug stubbornness. Like San Francisco, bless its heart, Austin prefers topical niceties over excavation, and redefines progressive intention, sentiment and fantasies as akin to thought and action.

This is part of what makes Austin and Texas exhausting locations for black people, especially black women. As in its liberal cousin hubs, like Berkeley and San Francisco, I feel a hypervisible invisibility in Austin. Like people are happy to see me because it means that they are not racist, because, look, there is a real, live black woman here, too, and it’s so great that she didn’t have to come in the back or that she’s enjoying a fine meal, too. More often than not, my presence provokes a stare from non-black people pregnant with class and gender assumptions and limitations. Put another way, even though I’m a homeowner, people frequently assume that I must be visiting from where all the black people live. Polite racism is still racism, and because black people with brown skin in particular are unable to pass as anything but, I would argue that people hear most often from us about bias in Austin and Texas because there is no way to blend in or avoid the subject.

This is no different from America. But at least in more racist pockets of Texas, I know where I stand. I mean, I know to stay the hell out of Vidor. But knowing your role in Austin is much trickier. There is no resting place. A tense smile in a liberal hub is a maddening, dangerous thing. It is to be placed in a category upon first meeting that requires black women to spend their social time and experiences treading lightly while we assert and affirm our individuality, knowing that we are often educating our well-meaning friends and while they appreciate it, it is repetitive, never-ending, tiring work. If they are not awkward (and it is a naturally awkward topic, race) or defensive, responses about racial stratification here prompt a white flag: hopelessness, a kind of dreaded silence, an acknowledgment of the awkward position of black women here, a change of subject.

Austin is growing but part of its story is that it is a small town. In this small town, the foundation of the city, the thing that makes it work, is an intricate and tricky political network of relationships. Maybe there isn’t any place that has a true meritocracy any more and that’s another of America’s fantastical narratives, but the word alone is not one you hear in Austin very much. If people like you, if you make them laugh, if you don’t make them uncomfortable, you have a shot at being One of Them. If not, well, you just don’t know what to do with all this Austin goodness.

Black women know this story well. We try to climb closer to terra firma in these social dynamics, delicately, lest we be interpreted/read as so different, so difficult and alienated that we are beyond being cultured enough to really understand how things work. To be a black woman is to live constantly in a house at the intersection of Mansplaining and Universal Condescension. If we are not One of Them, it is because we have not done enough work, because we just haven’t looked in the right places. In a life replete with all kinds of paid and unpaid work, the tense smile, the awkward silence says what the general culture always says to black women which is, If only you weren’t so Black Womanish, you could find a place to be happy. *shrug*

So while Austin is a comfortable place, it is not at all relaxing for black women. For those with containers — romantic relationships, school, office jobs, family; all of the above, one of the four — the search for kindred spirits and community is not quite as difficult if you work actively to build a silo of sanity for yourself.

But the emotional cost outside of those containers is a kind of subliminal, aggressive hostility that should be considered, and not just for the sensitive or sentimental among us. The hostility is not directly specifically at black women, but as the presence of black women in this space as avatars of change. Our hypervisible invisibility in spaces like Austin portend a demographic shift that a country that will tell our president to go back to Africa is obviously not equipped to process. To be the sole black person in any space brings its own challenges. But to find yourself as the sole honest black friend to numerous white people is more than a full-time job. It becomes a second identity, a shadow.

It is work for a number of reasons, but mainly because the discernment, concentration, the sporadic silence require deep and serious compassion, strategy and thought. Regularly. Like, every time you are outside of your home.

Black women are always confronted with the lessons of detachment versus engagement. We are aware of double standards, which are stitched into our emotional DNA. Austin, like Texas, likes petite cheerleaders in its women, and if we cannot be that, if we insist on bringing all of ourselves everywhere, we should be black women who smile easily, who are of good cheer and countenance. We should not talk overmuch about race, gender, class, gentrification and the like. Shorter: Stick to the good script, girl.

Honesty in conversation with my friends, 90 percent of whom are not black, require that in order to have a nice, neutral time out, I should couch my observations in niceties and caveats and disclaimers before I can get to my truth. I have been told some of this is my fault because I’m too nice, but that’s not true. It’s not because I’m nice. I would love to be nice, I love all of my nice friends. I love humanity but it’s harder for me to love humans.

It’s because I am probably overly self-protective of my emotions and energy after a long while of not even thinking about what it meant to keep some space for myself in conversations where I heard people asking for the truth and didn’t understand that they would have preferred a version of the truth instead of the actual truth.

Privilege is the unspoken luxury of whiteness, regardless of class. To acknowledge its power is not to disavow oneself of the privilege, and proclaiming weirdness doesn’t negate how privilege alienates us from one another. The privilege, for example, of not having to translate microagressions, intraracial racism, benign racism, everyday racism, and why or how they looms larger than any kindnesses because of their wide and large silence hanging like a curtain over every interaction, must be so relaxing and nice. As a part-time introvert, I can only imagine what it will be like, what it *is* like to direct the energy that goes to thinking about these things totally devoted to writing or being with my family and friends.

I once thought that the combination of a virtual and in real life community of good friends in Austin, combined with my characters, would sustain me. The sentimental girl in me believed I could build a fortress of love and support between virtual and flesh and blood lifelines, but time and prayer showed me that making a makeshift world is only a third of the battle for black women here. Nor is it the life I want.

As much affection as people have for strong black women, the strongest among us need places where we can take down the full armor of God, where we can be seen without being ogled, mistaken for famous black women we look nothing like (I am not Tracy Chapman!) where we can laugh and build community inside a context that doesn’t demand — with snark, with a smile — our silence on the things that make us weary, weak and vulnerable.

The bias, once internalized, is enough to make you feel paralyzed, depressed, suicidal. I felt melodramatic to even suggest that, and certainly didn’t want to admit it considering my family history. But watching bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry in conversation after talking to my wise sisters and friends validated for me what Austin and Texas will never be able to.

What black women know is that there are no cities or spaces in the world that roll out red carpets or throw parades for us. Whatever brings us joy, from how we talk to one another to how we dress to whom we choose to love, is caricatured, berated, held up as evidence of our ignorance or inability to be as fully complex as white women, then appropriated by hipster culture and sold back to us as brilliant wit. To paraphrase Paul Mooney, everyone wants to be black, but nobody wants to be black.

After more than a year of sorting through those emotions and feelings, I decided that to live in a place deeply attached to that kind of practice is to be complicit. Even if you can articulate why it makes you feel lonely, vulnerable, exposed, afraid, you cannot change the culture or the city. For me, it has been the equivalent of climbing a cultural Stairmaster for 8 years looking for ease and comfort I always felt was located somewhere else – or maybe no place on earth.

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  • Wow. First of all, thank you SO much for writing this. You articulated so much of the invisibility, isolation and alienation that I felt as a black woman in the 8 years I lived in Austin as a graduate student. Over those years, because I had at least one or two of the four containers at any one time (with immediate family down the highway and a close network of friends of white and color who I wouldn’t trade for anything & a job working in a predominately POC area) it took me almost that long to admit that it was the fact that I was a black woman that was what was the issue. Or, more accurately…Austin’s issue with me.

    It was also because I had an attachment. When I moved to Austin I was in a liminal space. I was born there, my parents were UT students at the time. I had family roots, my grandfather was born & grew up there, I grew up an hour away in San Antonio where being a black woman strangely enough feels somewhat….different.

    But no matter how much I felt I belonged, via history, culture, family, connection, it was *me* that never felt right. Not good enough for anyone to date, to get a decent paying job, to be happy. So I realized it was time to leave my beloved Tex-Mex and hoof it to NYC. I’m still deprogramming in Brooklyn, Austin did more of a number on me than I realized,

    Don’t get me wrong, I still love to visit and I consider it one of my home cities, it’s the place of my birth. And I always have fun when I’m there. But I’ll never live there again. I get mad at people who dismiss Texas as uniformly bigoted and ignorant because it’s so much more complex and rich than that, I’m a product of that multifaceted history, but the truth is I had to leave to stop it from holding me back.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read it and to share your experience in Austin. I’ve been surprised and humbled by how many black women and Latinas have shared our experiences. I was telling someone that part of what feels so lonely here for black women but also for other women of color is the lack of acknowledgment that there’s anything about the city or culture per se in part because maybe people aren’t sure how to change it. So few people end up saying anything — least of all black women — that when you *do* you feel like a voice in the wilderness.

      I feel the weariness in what you wrote acutely and I’m looking forward to recuperating back east. I wish you a quick recovery – sounds like you’re well on your way.


  • katie north

    Thank you for this beautiful description of what it’s like for Black women in many US cities. I’m a white woman in Seattle, which has much the same problem. It makes me sad that it’s so hard for so many people in this country to be accepted and treated with basic human respect.

    • Katie, I loved living in Seattle, but it does feel similar to Austin in that way.

  • Great and sad and true and thoughtful and I thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings — and allowing me to listen and to learn.

  • This doesn’t sound a whole lot different from my experience as a black man (a gay black man at that) in Boston.

  • Nikki

    I was born and raised in Austin, and it’s like you’re speaking from my brain. Even as my home, Austin has always been slightly uncomfortable for me. Just under the surface. It’s hard anytime I venture outside my silo of family, friends, and creative projects.
    Thank you for articulating my thoughts so well.

  • LT

    And I thought it was just Me!!!

    I came across this article in the Statesman a few days ago, ‘Austin struggling to recruit, retain black professionals’, it was published October 27, 2012. I felt that the two African-Americans interviewed for the article were completely in denial or trying to give the version of ‘the truth’ they felt most of white Austin wanted to here. What was enlightening were the comments left regarding the article. A few by black women who just never felt welcomed here and therefore left and are now much happier.

    I’ve live in Austin for nearly two years and had I known that Austin was full of liberal racist I would have never moved here. Austin has so many things that I would enjoy in a city, I like working out, spending time with my dog, love the outdoors, I like college rock music, and eating/cooking healthy. You would think Austin would be the perfect city for me. However, I feel that someone sent me a dinner invitation, but when I actually showed up the expression was (Oh I only sent the invitation to be polite, I didn’t really think you would show up). Yes, Austinites want diversity on a very superficial level. The mentality is, I want to live in a mixed neighborhood, but if you don’t look like me, don’t get too close now. This is why I cannot wait to leave and I’m actively working on my exit strategy.

    • LT

      Sorry this should read hear, not here.

    • Ms. Tami

      You took this right to the house with the dinner-invite analogy!!

      And yes, I have a great quality of life here, but it doesn’t mean existing in such a place isn’t painful ya know?

      • LT, I loved that you mentioned the dinner invitation. This happened, too, in the Bay Area – “We should get together sometime” which is nice filler, especially in Texas. But it sometimes means, “If you contact me and do the work for us to hang out, we’ll see one another” and sometimes it really is just people being polite. And I’m a literal person, so I feel major guilt if I extend an invitation and don’t follow up, but that’s not the culture here and in a lot of other places. And Ms. Tami — the painful part is the part I was in the most denial about and the part that I felt could eventually be the most destructive. In my experience, it is part of the black woman’s experience to survive pain and not complain because we have survived worse but that’s not a particularly healthy course of action. Nor is it sustainable.

    • This is a side note, but when I looked up that Statesman article, two of the top results were from Stormfront and Steve Sailer. Ick.

      Also, I found this quote compelling:

      Cofield said she worries that African-Americans could miss out on opportunities in what she considers the cities of innovation: Silicon Valley, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and Austin.

      “The cities of America’s tomorrows are no longer the hubs of African-Americans,” she said. “It’s not the Detroits. It’s no longer New Orleans. D.C. is always government; that’s cool, but that’s not innovation.”

      The notion that being an innovation hub is correlated with being unwelcoming to black folks is pretty disturbing.

      • Andrew

        Yes April. Tech is supposed to level the playing field for all people. It makes me uneasy that all of these technology hubs are so white.

  • “What black women know is that there are no cities or spaces in the world that roll out red carpets or throw parades for us. Whatever brings us joy, from how we talk to one another to how we dress to whom we choose to love, is caricatured, berated, held up as evidence of our ignorance or inability to be as fully complex as white women, then appropriated by hipster culture and sold back to us as brilliant wit. To paraphrase Paul Mooney, everyone wants to be black, but nobody wants to be black.”

    Yes, yes, and yes!

  • Thank you for this. Austin is my home, at heart, but one I have needed so much space from, and don’t know when I will be ready to go back (I have been in Baltimore for almost 3 years now– it’s own complicated story of race in the South, no doubt). Austin’s struggles with race and class within its growing popular culture certainly color my feelings about going back there, YET as a native Texan, and white anti-racist queer woman, I do love it and care for it, and I feel invested in the struggle to make it something different in terms of these challenges. I really appreciate this that spinsterhood said, “I get mad at people who dismiss Texas as uniformly bigoted and ignorant because it’s so much more complex and rich than that, I’m a product of that multifaceted history, but the truth is I had to leave to stop it from holding me back.” Austin’s struggles with racism can feel so disappointing, stagnate, sad, and really challenging. I don’t know all the answers, but I have really appreciated some very strong articulations of this problem I have read lately — this being one of them — and they help inspire me to continue to strive to find a voice and hope toward change and action.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to the piece. I liked spinsterhood’s thoughts too, and wanted to address the classification of Texas as a uniformly bigoted and racist place. I do think in the larger narrative of the U.S., Texas is picked on and singled out as a place where bigotry and racism are uniquely hopeless. Within that construct, Austin is then considered a site of hopefulness and progressive thought relative to the rest of the state. But one of the hardest things about the promotion or work toward real change is a kind of superficial and circular discussion, in my personal view, that both distances Texans and Austinites from working actively with people of color and is a gesture instead of a movement. So the piece about things being stagnant is related to that. I was telling a friend this morning, who is a white male pastor and who has noted some of the same things, that there are some key players in the city that pay lip service to diversity but are anti-diversity, so that seems to be a big barrier to lasting change. I also think it’s unfair to make Texas the avatar for that, when it’s also true in California and in New York — but I think because Texas has a longer visibility and history as a racist state and a site of conquest, it’s easier to pick on. Less easy to figure out how to change.

  • I can relate to this post too well. I’ve tried to gather my thoughts on this, but I still don’t think they’re solidified. Anyways, here are some things this post makes me think about.

    This right here: “As in its liberal cousin hubs, like Berkeley and San Francisco, I feel a hypervisible invisibility in Austin. ”

    Very true. There is a weird paradox. You’re noticed because you’re the lone or one of the few Black people in the vicinity, but at the same time, you’re overlooked when people have conversations or when passing someone in the hallway (why is it so hard for some white people to say hello or hi, as they see you pass them in the hallway?). People will have conversations where they are physically standing in a circle, making it where you have to do something rude,like physically or verbally butt in, to join the conversation. Yet, when it’s time to talk diversity or race/ethnicity, they want to put you on display or come to you for information. It’s like you’re a walking wWkipedia for everything Black.

    “If people like you, if you make them laugh, if you don’t make them uncomfortable, you have a shot at being One of Them. If not, well, you just don’t know what to do with all this Austin goodness.” and “Honesty in conversation with my friends, 90 percent of whom are not black, require that in order to have a nice, neutral time out, I should couch my observations in niceties and caveats and disclaimers before I can get to my truth.”

    This reminds me of the conversation between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry that took place on Friday when they touched on being “covered” by white people. To get such cover, you have to self-censor to a degree, yet that protection is so tenuous. Expressing a common opinion – something benign as racism is a stressor – you risk being shunned. You’re constantly walking a fine line to not inadvertently tick someone off so you can have some semblance of a support system.

    Lastly: “What black women know is that there are no cities or spaces in the world that roll out red carpets or throw parades for us. ”

    This right here is a sober realization that I had a few months ago. There are a few places in the US where I feel very comfortable, and most of them are on the East Coast and (very) select places in the South and Midwest. There are large swaths of the country that I have zero interest in moving to. There are even some parts of the US that I have no interest in even visiting cause I anticipate being treated as less than. Perhaps, I’m paranoid, but I’m honestly not willing to test whether my concerns are true or false. I honestly don’t think a lot of white people get this – that there are many major and mid-size cities, regardless of their political leanings, where Black people have a lukewarm welcome. When I read lists like “Best Cities for Single People” or “Most Liberal Cities,”I know that I am not included in that equation. There are very few cities in the US where I’m willing to live because I want to have an active social and dating life, and I want to see a good number of Black people in and outside my job.

    • I was nodding in recognition when you talked about people passing you without saying hi. I’ve had this experience many times at Auditorium Shores and along Lady Bird Lake on the trail, before I found Black Girls Run, which was a godsend and a relief. I feel like there might be an inability for some in liberal cities that are majority white to interact with black people in a role that isn’t a pundit/Wikipedia role that also doesn’t counteract or assuage their guilt. In other words, I think really seeing us brings up something for people in the city in a casual, everyday racism kind of way that makes any smart, liberal person (the majority of people who come to Austin) pause to confront why it is that you or I might be the only black person they’ve seen in the past 48 hours or more. I don’t know how much of that is projected — I do know that I’m almost six feet tall. So you have to go out of your way to pretend you don’t see me.

      To your point about other places beyond/outside of Austin and comforting places to be black women in the world, I once had a conversation with another white male friend when we were talking about visiting places in the Midwest. I went to Minneapolis for a wedding and have great friends in Chicago, but the rest of it I’m not sure I’ll ever see. He suggested that I was missing out. I tried but failed to articulate to and with him that what white people take for granted as a site of relaxation (Not to pick on them but North Dakota, or Nebraska or Wyoming?) are places where I would want to know I would see at least a few other black people in order to feel safe and like I could let my guard down. Otherwise, why pay for what you could get where you live?

      Finally, I feel like we can create those spaces for ourselves wherever we live with people who aren’t necessarily black. So I’d be interested in whether you end up testing your theory and how it works out for you. I’ll be wishing you well.

    • As a visibly Jewish lesbian, I feel you about writing off certain places and the difficulty of explaining that decision to some people with more/different privilege. It makes me really angry sometimes when I think about how my family’s mobility is limited in this way. It’s always good to be reminded though of how that experience isn’t unique to me, or even people who share my identity.

      This piece evoked so many emotions in me (though I’ve never so much as been near Texas): sadness most of all, followed by anger on your behalf. It’s so beautifully written, the ambivalence and loneliness are palpable, and I found myself responding in a very visceral way. I’m definitely going to be passing it along.

  • Extraordinary. I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Even a black girl in A-town with “containers”, like myself, feel the same things you so eloquently described.

  • Ms. Tami

    I read your article at work and fought back tears at my desk.

    I really didn’t think that someone could articulate my feelings about this city, and living here as a Black woman.

    “Hyper-visible Invisibility” captures this in such a poignant way. To wake up every day and know that everyone can see you, but choose to ignore you, or that being one’s self; just existing is a difficult and heavy task.

    People ask me all the time, “Why are you always complaining about Austin? What’s so terrible about it!?”

    Thank you so much for making it crystal clear as to why it feels like social death as a Black woman.

    This weekend I was watching one of my favorite shows, and one of the season guest characters was talking to a young black woman… and he said to her..

    “To be who we are, where we are a dare to stand free. What could be more lonely?”

    I feel like this entire article encapsulated that for me.

    Well done and thank you.

  • Winter

    I am from the east coast. And moved to Austin about 1.5 years ago and this pretty much sums up how I feel. It is lonely here, and very tiring. I was told I remind someone of crazy eyes from Orange is the New Black show, and felt instantly disconnected. I have never felt that way before in that sense, it took me back because people here are nice but not really invested into our point of view. Do you really think that’s okay, to tell a black women that? They don’t even consider it, it’s difficult here. I am constantly followed by police, once straight to my door. Most people in TX, or anywhere for that matter do not know where to place me on their social/economic/political scale. I grew up with both parents, educated, and grew up in a neighborhood away from where they think most black people live. There are a lot of assumptions made about, some true some false, they only way to know is to drop your assumptions and really treat and talk to me as an individual. And, to all the non-black people out there, please stop comparing me Tracy Chapman as well.

    • Winter, I’m really sorry to hear you got Crazy Eyes *and* Tracy Chapman. I can say that it helped me to have a handful of great like-minded East Coast natives and other kindred spirits to help me vent and take the edge off the loneliness. There’s a great Black Girls Run group here, too, that meets on Saturday mornings on the trail — some of the women walk,– and because folks will stare at you on the trail, it is so nice to be around other black women there. It’s a really welcoming group.

  • LaSchon Harding

    God… I’m reading this at work and trying not to cry — because I’m not that chick who cries at work. But I can relate so well. Thank you for articulating this so beautifully. One of my friends posted a link to this on her Facebook page as she is having a particularly difficult time here. Again, I can relate. I spent my first year here in tears. And, as you mentioned, part of the problem is that you can’t even get anyone to *acknowledge* the problem. I’m sooo reposting.

    • Thanks for reposting, LaSchon, though I’m sorry I made you cry. And my heart goes out to you for spending your first year in tears. I hope it is getting better?

  • I breathed such a sigh of relief and recognition, reading this. I was processing an interaction in a Women’s studies class on Monday where I went too deeply into the subject of class and privilege (although those were the topics of the day!) and was met with that uncomfortable silence, the very same one you spoke on here. and I was struggling between feeling shame over breaking the unspoken rule of never getting so far into my truth as to make people uncomfortable, and feeling angry that such a rule exists, especially in spaces that are allegedly *about* dissecting the biases in our culture and building toward real inclusion and diversity.

    you hit the nail on the head: “Black women are always confronted with the lessons of detachment versus engagement. We are aware of double standards, which are stitched into our emotional DNA.” it’s like ok, do I begin to delve into this topic (of race or class or sexism) and just hope for the best that what I’m saying won’t kill the vibe or alienate people who have not thought about/experienced certain intersections of these isms/ possibly start an argument or do I spare myself THAT frustration, and instead bear the frustration of biting my tongue, forcing a smile and politely nodding/murmuring vaguely reassuring things? which one? particularly in liberal spaces where we are all so progressive, right? girl.

    I lived in south TX for 7 years myself (in San Antonio) and often visited Austin and knew that though its narrative is one thing, I would experience something else if I lived there. I had the microcosm of family to keep me somewhat comfortable in S.A. but even then I thought often about anti-blackness in the city and how it didn’t feel good to be in a place where people of color were a majority and yet still be acutely aware, as a black person, that my group wasn’t valued by those people of color. I did move to the east coast to a suburb of D.C. and though representation greatly improved and I see black people of all kinds reflected in the street names, the news, at work, on the street, etc., class has proved to be a major impediment/issue here.

    I’m digressing.

    I sometimes think of looking for another “progressive” area like Portland and then think of Austin and give myself a reality check; just because white liberals/hippies/non-traditional folk feel comfortable there, doesn’t mean there’s a place for me. you sum up the struggle so well: “If people like you, if you make them laugh, if you don’t make them uncomfortable, you have a shot at being One of Them.” that is just not something we can guarantee as black women in any particular space (even among other POC/women who are more resigned to mastering that Good POC countenance that you spoke on). like you said, if we insist on bringing all of ourselves somewhere, there is likely to be some portion (if not the entire whole) to make people uncomfortable, and no matter how we fix our faces or bite our tongues, there’s not a lot we can do about that.

    as Grace Paley says, “…if the world wants to trivialize or marginalize you, it will do it. May as well be yourself.” *shrug life* we all we got.

    • At the risk of sounding condescending, I’m proud of you for standing your ground in that awkward moment. It’s not an easy thing to do. I love that Grace Paley quote. It reminds me of one of my favorites: “The challenge is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everyone else.” Keep fighting the good fight.

  • CLC

    I left Austin 20 years ago and have never looked back. Although I’m white and also a native Texan, the area never quite worked for me for whatever reason. I try not to think about it, since it was such a long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten the loneliness and lack of connection I felt practically every day of the 4 years I lived there. I have nothing against the people or city, and have lately contemplated that maybe I just don’t “get” the area (Keep Austin Weird etc.)… but God knows I tried.

    A few days ago I came across a book which says America is really actually 11 nations:

    According to it Austin is located in the region the author calls Greater Appalachia which was settled by the Scots, Irish and Germans. G.A. appears to have residual unresolved conflict that the people of Austin are neither able to understand nor admit, since they consider themselves to be “above” the area and not like the rest of Texas and would never admit to being like Arkansas or having ties to the deep South but instead have fabricated a whole mythology around being special which anyone knows after having lived there even briefly is not true. I would never go back there, and continue to be amazed at how inflated the area’s image of itself is.

  • Thank you for you insightful post. I was born and raised in Austin. I stayed in Houston after college and after 15 years, I’m ready to move back to be with family and live the creative, cultured, unconventional life I always dreamed for myself. I’ve never felt at home in Houston and almost hate it. I showed this to my mom and she said, “Sounds like she’ll never be happy anywhere.” There was a true sadness in her voice. I think at some point she became numb to the “hypervisible invisibility”. I just hope I’ll find my nirvana when I return.