South by Southwest (aka – SXSW) – Who Switched The Price Tags

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(Photo – Brianna Smith/Facebook)

Traffic! Austin, TX is crawling with folks in town for South by Southwest (aka – SXSW). The SXSW film, interactive, and musical festivals and conferences began in Austin 1987. I remember hearing the sound of music along auditorium shores. Since that time, SXSW has experienced phenomenal growth in both scope and size. Today, SXSW Music is the largest musical festival of its kind in the world. This year there are over 2,200 official performers and bands playing in more than one hundred different venues. Downtown Austin is literally busting at the seams with cars and people. The term “crawling” fairly reflects the movement of traffic; both pedestrian and automobile.

Did I mention that I don’t like crowds? Although has been almost 40 years, I remember my first and only concert at the Armadillo World Headquarters located across from auditorium shores. The place was packed with avid fans and the place soon filled with a low-lying purple haze and a strange smell. Of course, the purple haze could have had something to do with the concert lighting. However, according to folks in the know (I wasn’t one of them), there was only one reasonable explanation for the smell.

I guess I have a tendency to be cautious. I don’t want to be in the middle of a crowd in the most predictable of circumstances.   Add a couple of variables including alcohol and a strange smelling purple haze and the formula could represent trouble. In fact, with the right kind of manipulation a crowd might be enticed to do who knows what?

SXSW has been in the news this week. It is a crowded venue that adds to the ambience of the city and has a tremendous favorable financial impact to local economy. Unfortunately, not all the news associated with Austin this week has been favorable. Perhaps I should rephrase that and be more specific. The National news related to Austin this week is calling attention to something other than music at SXSW.

Some think the origin was intended as a joke. If so, it wasn’t funny! Other’s think something more sinister is at work. Regardless of intent, the issue carries with it the potential to become a Molotov cocktail related to race relations and carries with it the potential to incite violence.

According to yesterday’s posting on the Huffington Post in an article written by Lilly Worknah, “At least six businesses in Austin have been plastered with stickers reading ‘Exclusively for White People’, drawing condemnation from the state’s residents, lawmakers and NAACP representatives”.

The sticker actually reads: “Exclusively For White People. Maximum of 5 colored customers. Colored BOH staff accepted. Sponsored by the City of Austin Contemporary Partition and Restoration Program.” (“BOH staff” refers to “back of house” workers, employees who do not usually interact

An electronic posting of the Statesman yesterday at 2:45 p.m. made reference to the same issue: “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”.

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

Reportedly, a Texas lawmaker wants a finding of facts before reaching a conclusion. According to the Statesman, one Austin lawmaker posted “ If this is a joke at all, it is tasteless. … I will be damned if this will occur in my House District … in this historical black community or any community.”

“She wrote that city officials are investigating the origins of the sticker but urged people to not support the store until  ‘some explaining’ is done.”

“If the explanation is unbelievable …. They need to be put out of business, ASAP,” she wrote.

Another lawmaker is quoted, “I’m waiting for the facts on it—who, what, where. It kind of sounds like some fraternity prank to me. But doing something like that is not funny at all…Institutional racism is what it point to.”

In Tony Campolo’s book entitled “Who Switched The Price Tags,” he tells of a time in his boyhood when he and his best friend devised “what we thought was a brilliant and creative plan for mischief. We decided to break into the basement of the local five-and-dime store. We did not plan to rob the place (Sunday School boys would never do that sort of thing); instead we planned to do something that, as far as the owner of the store was concerned, would have been far worse. Our plan was to get into that five-and-dime store and change the price tags on things.”

“We imagined what it would be like the next morning when people came into the store and discovered that radios were selling for a quarter and bobby pins were priced at five dollars each. With diabolical glee, we wondered what it would be like in that store when nobody could figure out what the prices of things really should be”.

I agree with the lawmaker. There should be a finding of facts before conclusions are reached related to the investigation. However, in the interim (representing John Q Public), I am choosing to hope that the lack of civility and respect will prove to be nothing more than the thoughtless acts of youth who failed to recognize the inappropriateness of their actions.

All My Best!

Don

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