Sticker shock: On Dawnna Dukes, Adam Reposa and Rare Trends

dawnna-1

Good morning Austin:

Before I get to today’s post, the big news of the day, of course, is that Ted Cruz is announcing for president with a speech at Liberty University this morning. He is scheduled to speak at 9:25 a.m., Central Time.

Cruz made it official with a tweet at the stroke of midnight last night.

Beyond Cruz, the very good news is that SXSW passed without anything really bad happening. Last year, it was the scene of a terrible tragedy. This year it was only marred by something approaching farce.

I am referring to the White People stickers that appeared on the windows of some East Austin businesses on Wednesday.

As Ciara O’Rourke reported in the American-Statesman on Wednesday:

Stickers that said “exclusively for white people” appeared on the windows of businesses across East Austin on Wednesday, sparking condemnation and confusion as residents, activists and at least one lawmaker wrestled with what the statements meant — and who placed them there.

“Maximum of 5 colored customers / colored BOH staff accepted,” the stickers read, referring to the “back of house” operations at a restaurant.

They also featured a city of Austin logo and claimed to be “sponsored by the City of Austin Contemporary Partition and Restoration Program,” though no such program exists. The city has said the use of its logo was unauthorized.

City officials also said the businesses did not knowingly display the stickers, which were discovered by employees on Wednesday morning. No one had publicly claimed responsibility for them by Wednesday afternoon.

Nevertheless, Rare Trends, a clothing store on East 12th Street that was among at least seven businesses targeted, received numerous angry phone calls and a visit from the NAACP Austin president over the sticker.

East Austin employees spoke to the Statesman the day the stickers appeared on their businesses in this video.

Ostensibly, aside from the fact that it happened during SXSW, it had nothing else to do with it. But, I will admit that when I heard about it, my first thought was that it must be the handiwork of a radical arts collective from Portland, Oregon, or maybe Brooklyn, in town for South By and engaging in a little ironic, drive-by agitprop. Or maybe it was  the San Francisco Bureau of Gentrification.

bureauofgentrification

 

What seemed crystal clear to me from the start that there was absolutely zero chance that it represented an authentic, straightforward expression of white racism. What was even clearer was that there was a subzero chance that any of the businesses on whose window the stickers were affixed, affixed them there themselves.

There was simply no scenario under which that would make sense.

Nonetheless, this being race and politics, it had to be treated soberly, seriously.

From O’Rourke:

Austin Mayor Steve Adler has condemned racially charged stickers placed on several East Austin businesses Wednesday.

“This is an appalling and offensive display of ignorance in our city,” he said in a statement.

The statement, sent by the city around 2:30 p.m., said the party responsible for making the stickers was not authorized to use the city’s logo or claim the city’s sponsorship.

xxxxxxxxxx

The city has also concluded that the businesses that were defaced with the stickers neither made nor knowingly displayed them, according to the statement.

OK. No harm done, and that cleared things up a bit.

But here was state Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ initial Facebook post on the stickers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.02.42 PM

 

That seemed to me a remarkable post.

Here is a state representative suggesting that a constituent business, based on no evidence or inquiry, is guilty until “some explaining” is done. If the explanation is unbelievable …. They need to be put out of business, ASAP!”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Compare this to the tempered, reasoned response of Ora Houston, the District One council member, a little less than a minute into this report on the stickers on KXAN.

Of those who placed the stickers on the store windows, Houston said:

Regardless of what it’s about in their minds, it’s the wrong action We don’t know who did it, we don’t know really why they did it, so I would not be willing to make a stab at it, I just know it’s not the kind of Austin I’m accustomed to living in.

The story – in its shorthand version – had obvious national appeal, shocking evidence that racism was alive and well, even in liberal Austin.

Here, for example, from Daily Kos. The headline: “Exclusively for White People” – Racism on display in Texas.

It begins:

For those of you that thought he days of Jim Crow and Segregation were dead back in the ’60’s with the signing of the CRA, you could be excused for not seeing this one coming.Racism has always been present in our society, quietly lurking like an undiagnosed case of cancer – spreading from place to place, infecting those unaffected by its pathogen as it goes. Growing up in the South, I had plenty of opportunity to be exposed to that brand of hate, to see the pain an anguish that it causes to the people that it’s directed at. But this…

And here is the report from the Huffington Post, including a video – it’s still up – from which this screen grab is taken.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.54.04 PM

Even as the Huffington Post updated its report as events unfolded, the video remained intact, unchanged.

On Friday, I dropped by Rare Trends and spoke with Caroline Gray, the store’s director of sales and marketing.

“The problem is that people are reading so quickly, they’re skimming. I had a high school newspaper call me from Washington, D.C., last night. She was calling to find out if we were racist and if we had put these stickers up and I said, `Can you explain to me where you found this?’ and she said that she saw an article on the Huffington Post. ”

Of Dukes, Gray said, “I really wish that she had called and said, `Hey, what’s happening here and why is there a sticker on your window,’ because that’s what every other person did who was kind enough to call and then I would clarify and then we could move on.”

Here is more from Caroline Gray.

 

Rep. Dukes wrote subsequent posts that explained that businesses were victims, not perpetrators, but she left her first post up and never explicitly retracted or apologized for her initial post about Rare Trends.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.25.24 PM

A number of people, including James Hush,  posted on Dukes’ page, suggesting she amend her original post.

James Hush I really hope you would consider amending this post so that the very top clears Rare Trends of culpability in this. Your followup post shows that you accept that this was a disgusting act of vandalism, but to read this post it still seems like Rare Trends has “some explaining” to do. I also work in a business that was victimized by these jerks. It happened in the middle of the night and we removed and destroyed the sticker the second we saw it. I was sick that night thinking that some of our customers might have seen the sign and thought that we were supporting this kind of garbage. I can’t even imagine what it feels like to have been accused by our own Representative of supporting this. This post is still being shared by people and Rare Trends’ name dragged through the dirt. You were entirely right to stick up for equality in your district but now a small business in your community is suffering because of this post. I’m not asking you to apologize, just please use this very post to publicly exonerate the victims of this crime.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.30.07 PM

James Hush Again, Representative Dukes, thank you for now addressing these acts as vandalism and not store-sponsored racism. However, until you amend the post you made at 12:25 pm, one of the businesses in your district is continuing to be accused of racism by their own State Rep. Not everyone that saw your original post is going to see this statement of absolution. In fact, the 12:25 post has been shared 20 more times since I last requested that you amend it. If each of those FB users has 100 friends, that’s 2,000 potential customers left to think this was intentional. Now let’s be honest, who do you know that has only 100 friends? There are thousands and thousands of people ready to call for the head of Rare Trends and more will be poisoned by this factual error over the rest of the night, as I assume you don’t have staff checking your FB at 10:30 pm.I understand your reluctance to apologize, as it could be misconstrued as an apology for standing up for your constituents, as so many other things in this situation have been misconstrued so far. However, you can correct this wrong without apology or a mea culpa by simply amending your original post to be headed by something along the lines of “Thanks to available information, it is now known that Rare Trends is one of a number of businesses which were vandalized by these stickers and it was not an act representative of the store or its employees. It is truly shameful that these businesses and their customers were targeted by someone purporting to act on behalf of the City of Austin. Austin police are working to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.”

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Steve Coyle One of the quirks of the FB algorithm is that posts don’t necessarily show up in your friend’s news feed sequentially – it is based on traffic so many people will see this post for the first time and might never see later clarifications. I have to keep in mind that when I’m looking at my own FB page I see it neatly structured in sequence but others are seeing small pieces often out of context. As an example one often sees calls for an upcoming concert or political action days after the event has occurred popping up again and again. As long as there are comments, shares or likes clicked it will show up as an item in someone’s feed who if they don’t frequently check their social media may be seeing it for the first time and assume it is current real time posting. I’ve found that if I hit a wrong note in a post ( and like everyone I’ve done that more than once.) I find it useful to replace the post in its entirety and not assume that people will track clarifications in progress to minimize confusion.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 10.34.15 PM

On Friday, the man who Dukes predicted would be a “narcissist and a bully,” stepped forward, via two videos, to claim credit, or so it seemed.

As O’Rourke reported:

Austin lawyer Adam Reposa appears to be taking credit for the “Exclusively for White People” stickers that were plastered on the windows of East Austin businesses Wednesday.“Why I did it is pretty clear,” Reposa says in a video called “Why I did it” that was posted on YouTube on Thursday. “Because it would be obvious that even though people know the real problem — and the problem is people without money are getting (expletive) — they’re getting pushed out, and pretty quick, this area of town is turning into whites only — not by law, like it used to be. And everyone’s going to jump on, ‘That’s racist; that’s racist.’ Man, this town, the way (expletive) works is racist. I knew that I could just bait all y’all into just being as stupid as you are.”

xxxxxxxxx

In the video, Reposa appears shirtless, standing in front of Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop on Manor Road, one of the affected businesses. It ends after nearly two minutes with Reposa saying he uses “The Technology every day to create possibilities.” He then directs people to “apply The Technology in your life and stop worrying about getting snitched on.”It’s not clear what “The Technology” is in the video or another video that appeared on a Facebook page with the same name.

In that video, posted to YouTube on Wednesday, Reposa criticizes state Rep. Dawnna Dukes for initially telling people to “refrain from supporting” a boutique where one of the stickers was found until “ ‘some explaining’ is done.”

<

Suffice it to say that Reposa is doing more than his fair share to keep Austin weird. I suspect that when most people talk about keeping Austin weird, what they have in mind is keeping Austin a bit more liberal and bohemian than the rest of the state – as any university/government town almost always is – with, say, a high tolerance for a bicyclist in a thong, but not, perhaps, a lawyer in his boxers and with his cat on his lap making a YouTube explaining why he put mock racist stickers on businesses to lay bare gentrification and public hypocrisy.

I spoke very briefly with Reposa over the weekend. He said was out of town but would be back this week and would hold a press conference Friday, probably on East 7th, when all would be revealed.

I suspect that Reposa may be overestimating the shelf life of this story. But, if as Austin police told O’Rourke,  the person responsible could face charges of criminal mischief, which can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on a victim’s financial losses, Friday might be a good opportunity to check in with him.

In the meantime, if Rare Trends wants to try to repair whatever damage Duke’s post has done to its reputation, it can send Dukes a post asking that it be “next” on her list of “businesses in East Austin that I will personally endorse.”

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 1.28.38 AM

 

Here is an interesting take on the controversy from Equilibrio Norte.

In retrospect, what Reposa ought to have done is put his sticker on a Starbucks – though I don’t think there are any in East Austin – because, had he done so, it would have occurred during that fleeting moment of time when Starbucks was encouraging its baristas to engage customers in a conversation on race – an idea that at first seemed a ridiculous and surpassingly bad idea, and, on further reflection, seemed a ridiculous and surpassingly bad idea. Yesterday, days after launching the initiative, Starbucks announced it was abandoning it. Here from the New York Times story:

Howard D. Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, said in a letter to employees on Sunday that baristas would no longer be encouraged to write the phrase “Race Together” on customers’ coffee cups, drawing to a close a widely derided component of the company’s plan to promote a discussion on racial issues.

“While there has been criticism of the initiative — and I know this hasn’t been easy for any of you — let me assure you that we didn’t expect universal praise,” Mr. Schultz wrote.

Having baristas write on customers’ cups, Mr. Schultz wrote, “which was always just the catalyst for a much broader and longer-term conversation — will be completed as originally planned today, March 22.”

That end date had not previously been mentioned publicly, including during Mr. Schultz’s discussion of the initiative at the company’s annual shareholders meeting last week, but a company spokeswoman, Laurel Harper, said employees had been told about it.

Asked whether Starbucks was reacting to criticism, Ms. Harper said, “That is not true at all. When we initially began the Race Together initiative, what we wanted to do is spark the conversation, because we believe that is the first step in a complicated issue.”

 Oh, the pity of it. If only Howard Schultz had encountered the already heavily caffeinated Adam Reposa, who certainly knows how to get a conversation started.

As it happens, without even knowing of  Schultz’s plan, just last month,on a late-night visit to a Starbucks somewhere around Lake Charles, Louisiana, on a long night’s journey from Austin to New Orleans ahead of Mardi Gras, I had attempted to engage my young barista in a colloquy about Norman Mailer’s famous 1979 Dissent essay, The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster, suggesting this passage as a text for our mutual inquiry (and it is necessarily quite brief because, after all, how long could it take to make a flat white).

 So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.

DSC_4237

From Krewe D’Etat’s “Night of the Living Hipster” float.

 

OK. I didn’t actually ask my young barista to explore Norman Mailer, but, almost as ridiculously, I asked her what she knew about Shadows in the Night the new Bob Dylan album in which he channels Frank Sinatra, which they were selling by the register. (from Rolling Stone – Produced by Dylan under his longtime pseudonym Jack Frost, the album features 10 songs popularized by Frank Sinatra, including “Autumn Leaves,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “The Night We Called It a Day” and “I’m a Fool to Want You.”)

She looked at me blankly, and I realized that Dylan, as much as Sinatra, was to her, bygone figures. I bought the CD,  because I love both Dylan and Sinatra, and I had miles to go before I slept. And within a few weeks, Starbucks announced that they had stopped selling CDs because no one consumes music that way anymore. Filling the void, I suppose, Schultz decided to see if Starbucks could help America talk its way out of its racial dilemma.

DSC_4240

 

What may have put me in mind of Norman Mailer, was Best of Enemies, terrific documentary I saw at SXSW:

From Variety:

 It may be difficult to recall (or imagine) a time when an uncivil war of words between politically disparate intellectuals was sufficiently novel to generate massive media coverage and score impressive Nielsen numbers. It is very much to the credit of co-directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon that their “Best of Enemies,” a thoroughly engrossing and surprisingly entertaining documentary about the notorious 1968 televised clash between conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal gadfly Gore Vidal, is both fascinating as a glimpse at the not so distant past, and provocative as an account of what arguably was an early step in the decline of political discourse on television. After limited theatrical play and pubcast rotation, the film should enjoy a long shelf life as a teaching tool in broadcasting, political science and communications studies courses.

The Buckley-Vidal debates were fascinating, culminating in a famous scene, below, in which Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi,” and Buckley responded, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I ll sock you in you goddamn face and you ll stay plastered.”

It was a loss cool that the documentary makes clear, haunted Buckley until his death.

Finally, as a point of comparison with Cruz’s remarks at Liberty University, here is an excerpt from Ted Kennedy’s appearance at Liberty in 1983.

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

0 comments