Highland Mall Takes the Low Road

Over the weekend, the city of Austin hosted the Texas Relays, an annual track & field event that brings in athletes from high schools and colleges across the state. Just a week after the SXSW festivities, the city seemed no different: traffic jams, street closures, and downtown parties raged on. The only noticeable difference between the hipsters of last week and the athletes of this weekend were their quadriceps and lack of incessant self-important twittering (I can say this because I do this).
As a self-proclaimed bar fly, I've found myself downtown (usually on the popular bar-crawl area of 6th Street) every year during the Texas Relays since 2005. One year I think I got a piggy-back ride down the street from a 6' high jumper in Nikes. Last year I have a distinct memory of posing for pictures with a relay team from…well, somewhere, on the corner of 6th and Colorado, passing a Sprite bottle as a baton. During these times, I've always felt like a bit of an Austin ambassador, sending the athletes on their way, drawing maps to the best bars on receipts and offering breakfast hangover recommendations for the next day. After all, I'm a native and I used to run (not very fast) the 400M in high school. And on Texas Relay weekend, those are really the only credentials you need.
Highland Mall, apparently, did not get the memo. Known for its general disrepair and the first mall with a JCrew in Austin, Highland Mall just can't seem to get it right. On Saturday, Highland Mall closed its doors at 2 PM due to "security concerns" relating to the Relays. This reaction had some saying that "security concerns" was just a euphemism for "racism."
This morning I tuned into KVET's Bucky & Bob talk show, where they were interviewing Councilman Mike Martinez about various local issues -- the budget, the "no refusal" DUI blood draws -- when the subject of Texas Relays came up. Bob then read an email from a woman in San Antonio who had come to Austin for a "benefit," and found herself sitting in traffic at 2:53 AM, feeling "unsafe." The woman proclaimed she'd never return to Austin again on a weekend.
Bob wondered aloud "Where were the police?" and Councilman Martinez smartly responded that there was so little context to the woman's letter that it's hard to say if police were even necessary.
But I had to wonder this: Would she have felt unsafe if Highland Mall hadn't been closed? And if she'd felt unsafe, would she -- could she? -- have felt justified in writing a letter to a radio show about it?
Fear begets fear, and racism -- intentional or not -- begets racism. It's the "everyone else is doing it, so it's okay" mentality. By standing by while Highland Mall closed its doors, blanketing their closure with thinly-veiled security concerns, some woman from San Antonio then felt completely justified in her (likely unjustifiable) fears.
We should be careful about what we fear for.

4 Response to "Highland Mall Takes the Low Road"

  • FUBAR Says:

    Note to Highland Mall: I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Based on last weekend, I'll be driving right past your crap ass mall on the way to spend money at establishments which haven't already embarrassed the city.

  • el_longhorn Says:

    This was one of the most embarrassing decisions I have ever heard of in Austin. Seriously. I am pretty jaded, but sometimes things still shock me. This was one of them.

    And what's up with Emo's and Flamingo Cantina closing down, too? I know a bunch of bartenders and bar owners who HATE to work the ROT rally, but they do.

  • Lee Says:

    I think of all the businesses that closed down, Emo's has the best leg to stand on. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that few African-Americans are into the standard Emo's fare, and Emo's said when they previously tried booking a hip-hop act during TR weekend, it was poorly attended and they lost money.

    As for Highland Mall — well, they probably deserve to be boycotted, but given the recent headlines about their business situation, I'll be surprised if they're even in business for the next Texas Relays.

    Something I haven't seen anywhere else: Last year during Relays weekend, Spec's (right by Highland Mall) had a security guard stationed out front. I'm in Spec's a lot, and I have never seen a security guard stationed out front any of the other 364 days of the year. I can't speak to this year – I went straight from the meet to my house.

  • edub Says:

    as a person raised in a state where we actually have black people, i think it is hilarous (in a way that makes me want to vomit) that Austin-ites are so unaccustomed to seeing the African-American types that they get all scaredy-pants when the sprinters are in town. Dont ever go try to live anywhere on the east coast. And the relay folks are top-notch athletes for pete's sake, not even your run-of-the-mill gang-types that it's more poitically correct to be afraid of. Everyone knows whitey cant jump (or run) anyhow! What did you expect...