"Austin, Texas easily appeals to the conscience of white liberals."

-Christina Bolden

by Christina Bolden

The term “sanctuary city” came to be during the 1980s protests against federal policies that denied asylum to refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala. In light of Donald Trump’s federal policies, which will deny immigrants refuge and the ability to live here safely, sanctuary cities are once again at the forefront of the immigration debate.

I currently live in a self-defined sanctuary city—Austin, Texas. People in cities like Austin may boast that they reside in an inclusive and safe city, but the truth is that these cities are often nothing more than an appeal to white liberals and their conscience. Living in this sanctuary city makes white liberals feel better about themselves and their “allyship” to people of color, even as they continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness.

Generally, a sanctuary city means that a specific city or county limits its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents in order to protect immigrants from deportation. In some cases, resources are provided to those who are a part of immigrant populations, both documented and undocumented. Austin prides itself on being the “weird” music capital of the world, an open and inclusive harbor for the LGBTQIA+ community, and a refuge for undocumented immigrants.

However, this city often does not feel open or safe for the few Black people that live here, especially when our membership in these marginalized groups gets continually overlooked. When white liberals use the term “immigrant” here, and likely elsewhere, they mean brown people, generally from Mexico and Central or South America. Black immigrants, from these regions and others, are left out of the discussion and their safety is never truly taken into consideration.

RELATED: Immigration Reform Is a Black Thing, Too

Austin, Texas easily appeals to the conscience of white liberals, in part because there are sometimes organized events and discussions about fighting racism. The local government and smaller organizations are aware of police brutality and racism as the “hot topics” that everyone seems to be discussing right now. So, they work with local Black activist groups and white “allies” to organize in-person conversations on how to fight injustice and how to acknowledge privilege.

Attending these eventsor just having a vague awareness of themallows the white liberals here to point to something as evidence for their claims of “I’m not racist.” They believe that attending a Black Lives Matter rally absolves them, especially because they live in a sanctuary city. But from personal experience, I can tell you that they have not absorbed what Black people are saying about the racism that we experience and that they participate in.

The mere mention of racism, especially when it is their racism, makes white liberals angry. 

I’m still forced to debate with the same white progressives who attend these events when they ask questions like, “Why do Black people talk so much about race?” According to them, we make everything about race and racism. Not only does Black people talking about race and racism (in spaces outside of organized events) make them uncomfortable, but our “complaining” will not do anything to help end injustice in the U.S. 

I still have to explain to white progressives why it is racist for them to make statements in support of gentrification like, “I can’t wait until all of those people leave East Austin because they’re so loud.”

In my office building, I am one of only four Black women. Most of the people here identify as Democrat or liberal, but when CNN is playing on the lobby television and showing another brutal killing of a Black man at the hands of law enforcement, all I hear from them is, “He must have done something wrong” or “I don’t know why Black people keep fighting police.” And following the display of the overt racism and white terrorism in Charlottesville, they simply could not understand why we all can’t just get along. Because “We’re all human,” they said.

RELATED: Chicago sues federal government for targeting sanctuary cities

These statements of “I don’t see color” or “we are all human” are common counter arguments used by white liberals, of course. White people always have the ability to call out racism and use their position to help enact change, but instead of stepping up, they use these statements to immediately write off the validity of the situation and silence Black people trying to address these issues.

This is true of white people and white liberals everywhere. But when living in a sanctuary city, their home address becomes their eternal defense against any accusations of racist behavior and yet another way for them to avoid accountability.

Sanctuary cities may boast that they are inclusive and safe for everyone, but do not let that fool you. Until the white people within them are able to acknowledge their continued racismspecifically, their anti-Blacknessthen their sanctuary will mean nothing to Black people.


Christina Bolden is a freelance writer who likes discussing systematic racism and how amazing Beyonce is. If that’s not happening, she enjoys all things food related and watching really bad horror movies on Netflix while drinking cider. She can be found on twitter (@awkwardactivist) and her work can be found at theawkwardactivist.com

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