Rainey bar incident an unnecessary reminder that hate lurks, even in Austin

Hate has no place in Austin. It has no place anywhere.

Yet we know it lurks and it simmers, boiling until it explodes, jolting us out of our comfort zones, letting us know in no uncertain terms again that it is there, always there.

We were reminded of this again this week when reports surfaced about racially charged and sexist social media posts allegedly coming from the accounts of a Rainey Street bar. Patrons also complained about anti-Semitic imagery.

Unbarlievable on Rainey Street. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

On Wednesday Brandon Cash, the owner of Unbarlievable, apologized for what he called his “intolerable actions,” issuing this statement:

“To those who I have hurt and offended, I am deeply sorry. My words and actions were wrong, inappropriate and inexcusable. They certainly don’t exemplify the values of a community that I love and care deeply about and my insensitive actions do not represent the views of my loyal and dedicated employees.”

One hopes Cash’s apology is sincere.

Earlier, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it is investigating Unbarlievable over an unspecified incident in March involving language and imagery, KVUE reported.

I’ve heard some say that this proves to us once more that racism is alive in Austin, a city that would like to think it is an exceptional model of tolerance. But we’ve known this for a long time; we don’t need to be reminded again.

Yet, for all the handwringing we do about what incidents like this say about Austin, we should remember that for the most part, our city is a place that welcomes the stranger and the person who might not look like us or vote like us or worship in the same place we do. For every instance of the kind of thing that happened at a Rainey Street bar, there’s more examples of tolerance we can hold up, like the congregations of many denominations across Austin who consistently stand by efforts to bring undocumented immigrants into society.

We can’t begin to understand what goes on in the minds of those who believe they are innately endowed with superiority based simply on the color of their skin, or on their national heritage or their religion, their money or anything else. Our nation holds central the right of free speech, but we also have the right to call out hate and intolerance. Those who took to social media, news conferences and protests this week were right to do so. We should send messages to our community and to our children that we uphold and cherish tolerance and civility.

We should note that the intolerant messages emanated from Rainey Street, for decades a peaceful, working-class Mexican American neighborhood. Now it is one of the city’s busiest entertainment districts, oddly located alongside one of Austin’s cultural jewels, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

The center and the old Chicano barrio were there first, and to many long-time Mexican Americans here, Rainey Street has become a symbol of gentrification, consistent with 1920s city decisions that pushed minority communities east of the highway. Now many older Latino families there are having to move out because they can’t afford East Austin’s soaring property values, propelled by the arrival of new wealth, new condos, new bars and restaurants.

I heard one local radio host say this week that there are greater things to be offended about, and he’s right — there’s a lot in this world that should have us hanging our heads. But we don’t get to be the arbiters of what offends others.

Among the vile images that allegedly surfaced this week was a photo making light at the expense of a Latina toddler selling gum, her eyes brimming with hope. Innocent children can’t begin to comprehend the plight of their circumstances and the depths of poverty that places them on a street corner, trying to eke out a few pennies for their families. You’ll have to understand how an image like that might throw hot water on open wounds.