The kaleidoscope of colors at sunset across the hills west of Austin is why our city is sometimes called “the violet crown”. On a clear day, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. It’s one of many things I treasure about this wonderful place we call home. I’ve had a lifelong love affair with Austin, but just as we must face tough conversations with the people we hold dear, it’s high time to talk about racism. Austin prides itself on being progressive and welcoming, but people of color often don’t feel welcomed here, at all.
“It’s not truly a violet crown if everyone doesn’t have a chance to prosper”, Huston Tillotson President Colette Pierce Burnette told the packed audience attending a Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast I moderated in May. She and AISD Superintendent Paul Cruz took the stage as the Co-Chairs of the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities.
It’s a long name. But some say the city has a long history of marginalizing African Americans and Latinos.
Leaders on the task force tackled five main areas where inequities often bubble to the top: education, real estate and housing, health, finance and criminal justice. Task force members proposed ideas and solutions to at least begin addressing institutional racism and inequities in Austin. There are no magic bullets. These are just the first steps in a marathon that still needs tens of thousands more runners heading for the finish line. The only thing you’ll need to train for that marathon is a big dose of self-reflection. Dr Cruz told the group, “Typically we look out the window and say that’s what needs to change. But take a look in the mirror and say what am I going to do to change that.”
I see a middle-aged white woman when I look in the mirror. I consider myself lucky because I had parents who fought for civil rights and educated me about deep-seated issues of race and inequity. Yet, I don’t know how oppression feels. I’ve never experienced it. I have enjoyed “white privilege” all of my life.
Here’s what I DO know. We can’t start solving racism unless we each do our part. We must listen intently with open hearts and minds and do some serious soul searching. Small steps can make a big difference. Perhaps it’s as simple as hiring someone who doesn’t look like you or attending a service at an African American church.
Dr. Burnette told the Leadership Austin audience, “ We all need to be agents of change. As long as you stay in your comfort zone, you won’t experience the magic.”
Let’s all look in the mirror and make some magic happen. Then, perhaps someday, all the colors in the violent crown will glow.