'Black Austin Matters' podcast aims to push back against the 'erasure' of the Black community in Austin
What matters to Black Austinites? That's the question being asked in a new podcast series launching this week from KUT & KUTX Studios.
Black Austin Matters is created and hosted by Lisa B. Thompson and Rich Reddick as a way to have a sustained conversation about race and Blackness in Austin. Thompson is a professor of African and African diaspora studies at UT Austin and Reddick is the associate dean for equity, community engagement and outreach in the College of Education at UT Austin.
Each episode, you'll hear a conversation with hosts and one or two guests. In the first episode, which is available Wednesday, Thompson and Reddick talk with Wilhelmina and Exalton Delco. Wilhelmina Delco was the first Black person elected to the Austin Independent School District board. She was later elected to be a state lawmaker. Exalton Delco was the first Black person to earn a PhD in zoology at UT Austin. He later had a long career at Huston-Tillotson University and Austin Community College.
The second episode in the series will also be released on Wednesday and features a conversation with Chas Moore, the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition.
Listen to the conversation with Thompson and Reddick by clicking on the player above, or read the transcript of the conversation below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
KUT: What is the goal of the Black Austin Matters podcast?
Lisa B. Thompson: I want to make Black Austin more visible, not only to those who are not Black and living in Austin, but most importantly to Black Austinites, so that those who have been living here for a long time get a chance to hear from the newcomers and newcomers get a chance to hear about those who have been here for generations.
Rich Reddick: The idea to me is to start a community-wide conversation. So, you know, we often talk in our sort of silos. You know, we're in the university, we work in this space, we hang out in this space. But to have all those spaces kind of convene. So maybe the podcast and the radio segment is a way that we actually come together and hear different voices, because I think sometimes we're definitely in different spaces and not able to hear each other's experiences. And there's some universal things that we experience and some things that are quite different, depending on what you do for a living and where you live and that kind of thing.
What is Black Austin to you? Is that a group of people? Is that a place?
Thompson: It's all of those things. I mean, I feel like Black Austin is many people — very different, diverse groups of people. Rich is Jamaican-American. I am African-American. I'm a child of migrants who moved to California, and there's folks who have been here for generations. There's folks who are queer, folks who are straight, folks who are trans, Muslim, Christian.
The Black community in Austin is really diverse in terms of location — that's changed and shifted. And that's part of the conversation, too. Part of the desire for visibility is for us to kind of intervene in that population shift and try to, in some way, at least on the air, push back against the erasure of Black culture and Black community in Austin.
Too often, people think about the Black community as the issues thing. Right? "And now we're going to talk about 'the Black people' and what they're facing." And sometimes it's about, "Wow, where do you get your hair braided? I want to hear about that person and how wonderful they are."
Reddick: Because we want to make it multidimensional. We didn't want it to be like, you know, we're just going to talk about how everything is great and wonderful or how things are so oppressive. But it's really all those things. And that's the experience. It's everything in total, all in the same day.
Who is the audience for this podcast? Is it a white audience, a Black audience? Because I'm thinking the discussion for those groups — yeah, there's going to be some overlap, but might be kind of different.
Reddick: I think I see it as a conversation with our guests, primarily, which means primarily it moves out to the Black community. But being that we operate in such interesting spaces and families are blended and what have you, I think it ends up sort of contacting everybody.
But there are definitely moments where like, "OK, this is a real soulful moment. And so some of you might get lost here, but that's OK. You know, just roll with it," because we experience that all the time. We're often in spaces where we are the cultural outsider. So, I actually think it's kind of good sometimes if you hear on the podcast, like, "What are you talking about? What does that mean?" Good. You know, that's the point, right? We want you to sort of be able to observe these really, I think, resonant moments of cultural connection, which is always fun.
Thompson: Yeah, it really is for the Austin Black community. And I definitely feel like it's for me and my friends as well just to be able to have something that hopefully lasts and is part of the archive for Austin. I mean, considering the way things are moving demographically here, part of my scholarly hat is thinking about that, making sure that these voices are part of the archive. But it really is definitely not a plea to anybody. It's not "Black Austin matters!" No, it's like this is what matters to Black Austin is really how I see that.
Who are some of the people who are going to be your guests? Who are you going to be talking to?
Reddick: We kind of thought about who are the foundational people that people should know. If you moved to Austin, who would I want you to know first and foremost? And it was Exalton and Wilhelmina Delco, who are legends in the city. We got schooled. I mean, Jennifer, we learned some stuff that day. Mrs. Delco, Dr. Delco, just like dropped knowledge. And it was like a family vibe. It was great. I mean, just the great stories they told, the humor.
Thompson: It was like having an audience with the king and queen. They are amazing. And for me, being newer to the city, seeing buildings with their names on it and not really knowing who they were and getting to know them.
And we also got a chance to have our family barber.
Reddick: Joe Harper. You know, that whole episode was about: What are those Black spaces that are spaces that are specifically for us, right? And the barbershop and the beauty salon are those places. Those are the places where you go for a 20-minute interaction, but you could stay there all day if you wanted to. You know, to be an excellent barber like Joe is, you have to not just be skilled at cutting heads, but you have to also be knowledgeable about politics and sports and current events. Just hearing him talk outside of his element — usually he's behind you with the clippers, but we're talking face-to-face about the things that he's experienced — that was a lot of fun.
It seems to me that there are some people who only get interested in race and racism when something big happens, like George Floyd, and they see it on the news and they're like, "Oh, wow, that's really bad, I should learn something, I should do something about this." And then they don't see it on the news, and it just goes out of their mind. How do you keep people engaged and interested in these discussions absent a big event?
Thompson: Thinking about it as a problem-solving show, that's not what it is, right? It's about hearing from your neighbors. You're hearing from the folks next to you in line at Central Market. You're listening to what they think about the world. And it's not always, again, it's not for us about race. Being Black in Austin is about a cultural experience, a political experience, a family experience. It's beyond that.
Reddick: I think we're more of a regular presence, right? We're going to remind you and be present to tell the stories when things are challenging, but also when things are going well or things are just — it's just life, right? And that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to move it away from, "Let's focus on Black experiences right now this second." That will be a nice way, I think, for people to sort of immerse themselves in the totality of our experiences versus, like "Something bad happened. We need to study up on that," versus like, "That's an interesting take on barbecue," or "That's an interesting take on politics." That's what we want people to have, that sort of immersion in the normalcy of what we do, right?
Thompson: Just like we tell students not to cram for the test, don't cram to learn a bit more about the diversity of the city you're in.
Reddick: And we're also reducing the cultural taxation. We talked to folks and heard their stories. So maybe you can do some of your own research versus going up and saying, "Tell me about the Black experience in Austin."