Waco Tours is a racist company. As a former employee, and one of the few BIPOC at the company, as I am Korean American, this is my personal account. Waco Tours lures its customers in by offering a local’s perspective of the city complete with Fixer Upper houses and other hidden gems, but who is the local they’re referring to? In addition to experiencing microaggressions from customers and team members daily, the content of the tour itself is filled with mechanisms of oppression such as erasure, distortion, stereotyping, tokenism, and of course, white saviorism. It paints a white-washed version of Waco’s history while completely ignoring the existence of racism that still persists in our community today. One of the greatest examples of this is how they neglect to include one of the most infamous lynchings in U.S. history on the tour even though the murder of Jesse Washington in 1916 is what originally put Waco on the map before “Fixer Upper”.
From the beginning of the tour, you can tell who is being centered and who is being left out. They start out by describing what a thriving metropolis Waco was in the 1950’s as its population was set to outgrow Austin and its economy was booming. Thriving for who, exactly? From there, they point out how a tornado hit the city and destroyed much of the downtown area along with the economy, yet you can see that it has since been rebuilt, at least this portion of town. After making its way through the rest of downtown and Baylor, the tour arrives in East Waco. As soon as you cross the bridge, there is an immediate shift in scenery, to which I was instructed to say, “You may notice that these buildings have a little more character, well that can be attributed to a number of natural disasters (i.e. the tornado) that destroyed this area of town”. Those storms happened over 50 years ago and yet the predominantly white area of town is doing just fine. Rather than going along with this false narrative, I always mentioned that originally this was the segregated part of town and institutional racism still have effects on this community today. Instead of discussing the local East Waco businesses, we then tell the story of Doris Miller, a Pearl Harbor hero, and the only Black person mentioned on the entirety of the tour (Can I get a “tokenism”?).
Moving along, we make our way to Cameron Park where we discuss the landscape, the zoo, and the Native American tribe indigenous to the area: the Huaco Native Americans (although WT would say “Indians”). Staying on brand for Waco Tours, not only do they lie about a Huaco princess who falls in love with an Apache brave (who are not located even remotely close to Waco) all while describing Native populations as if they are extinct, they take the stereotyping a step further by leading a singalong to the country song, “Running Bear”, complete with dance moves symbolizing racial tropes and all. The reason they have this dance break is to distract from the part of town we pass as it is a predominantly non-white neighborhood and therefore they’d have nothing to talk about (minus a Korean restaurant, but let’s put a pin that for now).
After the dancing, we enter North Waco, or as WT describes it, “previously one of the worst neighborhoods in the entire city”, (conveniently leaving out reasons for the high crime and poverty rates [see systemic racism and white supremacy]) but of course all of that changed when some nice white people selflessly picked up their lives and moved in to save this once forsaken neighborhood — including our (and Chip & Jojo’s so they’d have a valid reason to bring it up) church, Antioch! What was once an abandoned grocery store riddled with sin and other treachery is now a multimillion dollar building here to save the community (its members and where they live will definitely reflect that). After talking about all Antioch’s ministries and ways it had saved countless lives, they top it off with sharing the owner of WT’s testimony and how Jesus saved his life and now he owns a successful company (for just $80 a seat, you too can hear “the gospel” unwarranted!).
To finish up the tour, we ask if there are any questions and that’s where the microaggressions flood in: anything from, “you know, you look so much like Joanna,” (ma’am, not all Korean Americans look alike) to, “you’re so articulate,” (spoken numerous times to a Black employee). But let’s make it even more personal. Remember that Korean restaurant I mentioned earlier? Well, on one account, an older white man made a joke about me eating dog. To which my white counterpart simply laughed along with the rest of the guests rather than use his privilege to stand up for me.
Fast forward a couple months into working there and a friend asks to interview me for the school newspaper regarding a recent Buzzfeed article about Waco. She felt I was a good source seeing as I was a fellow student, attended Antioch, and worked for Waco Tours (all of which the Buzzfeed article addressed). I was honest in my opinion on the state of racism in the city and how churches/businesses are complicit in further oppressing the people they engage. I was expecting an immediate response from WT, but then remembered our news cycles were probably drastically different, so it’d be another month before a manager “asked me to lunch”. And who did they send to address the issue but an older conservative white woman: just the woman for the job! And by that I mean she could barely say “racism” without quivering.
So I let her buy me a taco and she proceeds to tell me I need to be more careful about what I discuss in the media. Insert red flag number one. You mean stop publicly denouncing racism whenever possible? It’s gotta be a no from me, but now that we’re on the topic, let’s talk about what an unsafe work environment this is for people of color due to there being zero policies on how to deal with racism in the workplace. Buckle up, Karen. First off, customers consistently comment on my race and how I look like Joanna Gaines, including making insensitive, racial jokes about me.
Manager: Well, how does it even come up? Do you just get in the van and say, “Hi y’all, I’m Meg and I’m mixed!”? Because you kinda look Mexican or even maybe Indian. Cue red flag two. Besides, you should take it as a compliment, Meg, she’s a very beautiful woman! Why didn’t you tell anyone?
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I remind her that I can count the number of BIPOC working there on one hand — none of whom were managers, so who was I supposed to go to? All I’m doing is trying to tell the truth — on and off the tours. Manager: The truth? What do you mean by that? Red flag #3, three strikes, you’re out.
That night after talking to a BIPOC friend and realizing I was not making it all up in my head, I knew enough was enough, so I emailed the managers and owners explaining why I was leaving as well as what had happened at the lunch. I told them Waco Tours is an unsafe environment for BIPOC due to microaggressions from both customers and staff as well as pointed out their practices of racism in the form of erasure and distortion. I ended by telling them they needed to input cultural competency training for all employees seeing as the majority of the tour is spent in Black and Brown neighborhoods.
The response? A classic combo of white fragility and defensiveness. Not only did the owner invalidate my claims of them centering whiteness throughout the tour, he also took the opportunity to let me know that he educated the other manager on “micro-aggressions” (yes, he did in fact use both quotes and a hyphen) because he is definitely well-read and qualified enough to do so. Finally, he shared that he “had previously planned on holding a “Diversity Awareness” training”, but if that was actually a priority to the company, they would have done so from the very beginning.
I never once received an apology from the company or a statement denouncing the behavior by the manager or the guests. Instead, I was presented with the mechanisms of oppression to include: lack of prior claim by them excluding anyone who was not originally included and labeling those who fight for inclusion as disruptive, calls for assimilation in that if a minority employee does not conform there is disciplinary action, blaming the victim by defending the racist acts of the customers and assuming I provoked them, and gaslighting in terms of invalidating my experience as a woman of color, not apologizing, downplaying my feelings, and finally claiming to be an antiracist company, yet their actions saying the opposite. The sad thing is, this story is all too common for minorities in white spaces, and while this is just one account, much can be said about the larger systems of racism in our country today.
So, in conclusion, Waco Tours is, in fact, a racist company.