Fixing Up Waco
April 20, 2019 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the hit TV show Fixer Upper are not the only people investing in the physical and spiritual "restoration" of Waco, Texas. In a long article for Buzzfeed, Anne Helen Petersen investigates who is being included and who is being left out of efforts by members of the Gains's Antioch Baptist Church to transform Waco.
While that phenomenon is broadly referred to as the “Fixer Upper effect” or “Magnolia effect,” it goes far beyond Chip and Joanna. In many ways, the story of Waco is an old-fashioned story of a company town, where the university (Baylor), the biggest church in town (Antioch Community Church, where the Gaineses are members), and one of the biggest businesses (Magnolia) largely dictate how — and through whom — power and prosperity spread and reproduce. And like any town in the throes of transition, there’s a part of Waco that’s wary of promises of salvation if it means sacrificing ownership, literal and figurative, of the community — and handing over control to those who’ve historically demonstrated little interest in preserving that community....

There is, after all, a Waco that you don’t see on Fixer Upper — a Waco that’s over 21% black, over 32% Latino, and where 26.8% of the city lives beneath the poverty line. To some, the Magnolia effect is not just transforming houses and vacant brick storefronts, but smoothing and sanding the actual diversity of town, painting everything slightly different shades of white. Everyone’s invited to the Restoration of Waco. But what if, despite the invitation, you still don’t feel welcome?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious (29 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
as one Waco antique shop owner told me, “Sometimes I just wanna tell Jojo, ‘I liked shiplap for decades’”

I was listening to shiplap before you knew they even existed!
posted by axiom at 2:02 PM on April 20 [9 favorites]


Shiplap was better when they were still Boatlap.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:07 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


When Antioch first began expanding in Waco, a former member told me, “it was really a 1980s version of evangelism — like, ‘beach reach,’ street preaching, and door-knocking to ask ‘Do you know Jesus?’” Gradually, Antioch realized that approach made members seem like a bunch of “Jesus freaks,” as the canonical ’90s DC Talk song put it. So they switched gears.

“They just decided to own Waco instead,” the member told me. “All of the weird evangelizing, it went away. They all became ambitious entrepreneurs. They employed each other. They developed a monopoly on the upwardly mobile class of Waco. If you want[ed] to rise through the social and economic ranks, the only way to do it was through the church.” ....

Following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2015, Seibert, who is Antioch’s lead pastor, reaffirmed the church’s belief that homosexuality is a sin, suggesting that 90% of people in a same-sex relationship were “abused in some way.” Seibert advised local business owners not to soften their stances toward homosexuality, praising those “willing to stand to lose even a deal or two or ten or even lose their business.”

Fascinating, thank you for posting. This kind of southern social politics has always fascinated me, I think seeing it play out in my own family has definitely played a huge part in that. It's not just about the homophobia (though, there's always homophobia) its about the influence and clout that a church can have on a town. It's terrifying. My grandmother's sister served on the school board in a nearby town roughly twice the size of Waco (in both population and area, so around the same pop density). My grandmother owned businesses in both my city and her sister's. They both knew everyone. Went to the right church (also baptist). I remember attending rallies and dinners and things like that as a young girl. I eventually faded away from that scene (thank god), because my mother was the black sheep of her family and we were very poor and that just wasn't the kind of mood you needed to have when you're involved with things like the Jubilee, the [area] Revitalization Commission, and the Civic League.

Anyway, in the next 5 years or so I'll be moving away from my hometown and to another (hopefully southern) town, settling down (hopefully with a wife), and this kind of shit is on my mind all the time. Can I handle living in another city that has, on the surface, everything I need, but doesn't want me there? Do I really need to be a part of the community in order to feel fulfilled, or is finding a home among the fringe (most likely other poor, gay, or trans people) enough? And, lastly, should I consider moving to a town with the idea to try and help "revitalize" it? (For me that would just be making it more LGBT friendly). Gays are born, live, and die in the south, but more than not they just flee it. Who really gets to say who belongs where?
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:36 PM on April 20 [29 favorites]


What a weird article. The premise seems go be that one church is secretly taking over town for nefarious, likely racist, reasons. But then they go on to show many, many examples of how that's not what they're trying to do at all. Have we really become so removed from normal civilisation that a group getting into development and governance to improve the communtiy feels like an evil conspiracy? I mean, I know metafilter kinda has but have journalists too? That's how most nice towns were built, a lot of people worked together for a long time.

I do think the author is protecting her own issues with religion and small towns onto this community. I mean, I'm not religious and would not choose to live in rural Texas, but people are and do. Lots of gay people want to be Baptists, I don't understand why but I don't judge them for it. It really sounds like everyone in the article is trying to build a better town, and even more they are trying to communicate with each other. They talk about quality of life and community and serving the poor instead of making money. As a west coaster who's been sequentially displaced from most places I've lived, that sounds OK to me.

There is, after all, a Waco that you don’t see on Fixer Upper — a Waco that’s over 21% black, over 32% Latino, and where 26.8% of the city lives beneath the poverty line.

I think that's pretty clear in the show though. Joanna is mixed race, a lot of their crew are Latino, the home buyers are about as diverse as I'd expect for middle class rural Texans in a Bible college town and I know Waco is poor because have you seen what you can buy for $100k?? And how cheap the renovations are? I just laugh and laugh when they say a new kitchen will cost $12k or a roof $8k.
posted by fshgrl at 3:07 PM on April 20 [4 favorites]


And, lastly, should I consider moving to a town with the idea to try and help "revitalize" it? (For me that would just be making it more LGBT friendly). Gays are born, live, and die in the south, but more than not they just flee it. Who really gets to say who belongs where?

I'd do it. Communities are built by people. Not too many are willing to put the work in but if you think you are, it'll be incredibly rewarding
posted by fshgrl at 3:09 PM on April 20


“They just decided to own Waco instead,” the member told me. “All of the weird evangelizing, it went away. They all became ambitious entrepreneurs. They employed each other. They developed a monopoly on the upwardly mobile class of Waco. If you want[ed] to rise through the social and economic ranks, the only way to do it was through the church.”
I've been thinking a lot about this too, lately. Around here if you don't go to the right church, belong to the right service organizations, and, it goes without saying, belong to the right political party, you might as well not exist. The sneering class — which includes basically the entire local legal system, business leaders, lay leadership in the one or two acceptable churches, and politicians — make all the decisions about what is and isn't "respectable" and if you can't meet every jot and tittle of their definition, you're fair game.

I'm reminded of a Times piece from last month, “Go Home to Your 'Dying' Hometown.” That sounds great, but it presupposes the powers that be aren't totalizing megalomaniacs who believe that anyone who doesn't agree with them is either from the devil or a commie.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:23 PM on April 20 [27 favorites]


the home buyers are about as diverse as I'd expect for middle class rural Texans in a Bible college town

I haven't watched the show, so maybe I did get a wrong impression from this article. Are you saying 50% of the buyers shown on the show are African-American or Latino?
posted by muddgirl at 6:44 PM on April 20 [8 favorites]


Have we really become so removed from normal civilisation that a group getting into development and governance to improve the communtiy feels like an evil conspiracy?

If that group is powerful but also insular & exclusive, predominantly White, believes LGBT people are damaged and treats them as 2nd class citizens, and also expects its members to subscribe to a particular religious sect and be anti-abortion? Yeah, I start to think their ideas about how to "improve the community" are not going to be in my best interests or the best interests of people I care about, and it starts to feel like an evil conspiracy.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:01 PM on April 20 [35 favorites]


I've been back to my hometown, (suburban Kansas City on the Kansas side), and, just, no...

Would be cool to come from a smaller town, that you could really impact and help. But, not my story.
posted by Windopaene at 8:11 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I do think the author is protecting her own issues with religion and small towns onto this community.

She lives in a town smaller than Waco, FWIW. In Montana, not Texas, but still. And she grew up in Idaho.
posted by asterix at 8:39 PM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Are you saying 50% of the buyers shown on the show are African-American or Latino?
No of course not, because 50% of a towns population does not equal 50% of the home buying or major remodeling population, nor would all be considered 'good enough' for TV. But they have featured couples of many races, and maybe even a same-sex couple once (I really don't remember).

I know nothing about the churches in Waco (other than it still is just a stop on a freeway and that whatever the Antioch Baptist church is, it's still less powerful and cruel than the downtown Dallas Baptist one (google pastor Robert Jeffress if you want some real professed hate)) but it's kind of interesting in that they are of age where they could have easily picked a place in suburbia but instead are place-making, restoring downtown, - they consciously chose urban settings for their major remodels.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:11 PM on April 20


But in Central and South Texas, Hispanics/Latinos do often make up a large minority or even a majority of the middle class, especially in cities like Waco which have experienced white flight as described in this very article. To handwave that hispanics/latinos don't make up the home-buying population is just restating the central issue.
posted by muddgirl at 9:22 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]


Count me in as one of those who despises the Gaines, Fixer Upper, and Magnolia, which my local Target now carries. Their manchild-Chip/maternal-Joanna shtick doesn't appeal to me, and I loathe the fad of putting shiplap on everything; in 10 years it's going to be heavily dated and it's going to be a bear to remove. I was looking to buy a house last year and my only criteria were sub-10 min commute and no shiplap. The latter was a much bigger deal-breaker than the former. They apparently were also exposing their crew to lead dust through unsafe renovation practices, so.

I mean, I guess it's good that they are using their corporate empire to breathe life into a dying town, instead of hoarding their millions, but they're still getting a hard PASS from me.
posted by basalganglia at 4:26 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


I don’t know if it’s changed since the mealymouthed statement mentioned in the article, but at that time, one of the reasons the Gaines were under fire was because they never, ever featured a same sex couple as homebuyers on the show while visibly belonging to a church that espoused deeply homophobic politics.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:55 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


Fixer Upper is not about Waco.
It is about Woodway ( Or, Whiteway as some call it. "The racial makeup of the city was 93.71% White, 2.23% African American, 0.21% Native American, 1.87% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, ").
How many shows were north of the river? And, you cannot count the ones out in the country.
How many shows were east of US 84 in the city of Waco?
posted by davebarnes at 6:03 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


I hope everyone who likes this moves to Waco and never leaves. Which is to say, yikes, what horrible people.

I think "evil conspiracy" is not quite accurate. From my perspective, the white southern culture is an anti-choice, sexist, racist, Christian supremacist, homophobic, transphobic cult that particularly hopes for my destruction. "Evil" is not specific enough, and "conspiracy" implies the will and capacity to be subtle about their vileness.
posted by bagel at 8:30 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


Hello! Please put away the smoke and the mirrors. This is about Money! You can buy houses in Waco for $150,000 that would cost you a million in California. The margin for extreme monetary gains exists in that market. They should be able to realize 100% rise in property value, now, and later even more. I watched their show with an elderly friend while company keeping. I was amazed at what you could pick up down there for very little money, relative to the market, even in the small Utah town where I used to live. I went through Waco in 2006, there were almost a dozen religious colleges in that town. Religion is in the water and there are lots of fish to catch for those fisher$ of men's resources. The Gaines are devilishly clever, and utterly engaging. What was that about the eye of the needle?
posted by Oyéah at 9:26 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Have we really become so removed from normal civilisation that a group getting into development and governance to improve the communtiy feels like an evil conspiracy?

"Improve" the community is a pretty subjective goal. There are lots of people who might consider it a distinct improvement for their community if some of their neighbors just ~mysteriously disappeared~ but barring the ability to arrange that, are willing to settle for just marginalizing and ostracizing them at every opportunity.

Some "traditionalist" conservative religious groups are basically slovenly-dressed Nazis, too; they may not be planning on actually murdering their gay neighbors right this week, but only because their exterminist agenda operates on a longer timeline. Someone whose ideal world doesn't involve whole categories of people, and who believes their faith or religious calling outranks secular commitments like oaths of office, probably shouldn't be trusted with temporal power. There's always a bit of "you knew I was a scorpion when you picked me up..." when people like that suddenly find a way to advance their shitty faith-based agenda via their temporal/secular office.

So... yeah: don't pick up scorpions asking for piggyback rides, and don't trust religious conservatives who want to get into politics.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:26 AM on April 21 [16 favorites]


I spent six years in Waco as a child in the 50's and 60's. I was blissfully ignorant as to the culture, politics and religion of my surroundings. I do know that my dad had to drive past the city limits to buy his cream sherry. And our tiny Unitarian fellowship met in the basement of the sole synagogue on Sundays since they obviously weren't using it. But Waco was OK I suppose, if somewhat sleepy and down-at-the-heels. But where else could you live where you ogle a tent city of believers who had sold all their earthly possessions and were waiting for the prophesied end of the world? Several. Times...
posted by jim in austin at 1:20 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


anyone who doesn't agree with them is either from the devil or a commie.

The ones I'm familiar with would say that commies are from the devil; no "or" there.
posted by eviemath at 4:50 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Knowing next to nothing about Waco, TX (beyond Branch Davidians), my issue with the show has been that Joanna is afraid of color, and redecorates everything in shades of white.
posted by eviemath at 5:22 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


After reading the article, I get the sense that Antioch Community (Not the Baptist church where the black folks go) is more about colonization than ministry: selling people Jesus while trying to take their houses for as close to nothing as possible.

As a palate cleanser, here's a story about churches in the DC area who are using their assets to create affordable housing (something that's very much needed in this region).
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 6:31 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


In her newsletter, the author of the piece discusses it and describes what's going on in Waco explicitly as colonization, although I'm not sure she means exactly the same thing by that as you do, CatastropheWaitress:
“You know what that language is code for?” one resident asked me. “They want to come in and fix me. Fix us. But you know what? We’re not broken. Do we want to better ourselves and our circumstances Of course. But that doesn’t mean we need fixing.”

That’s the quote that stuck with me through the entire first draft and all the drafts to come. It’s the heart of the piece — the thing I hope most for both myself and other readers to internalize. Because it’s not just about Waco. It’s not even just about gentrification. It’s a clear rebuke of the 21st century form of colonization. The person who said that to me didn’t feel safe saying it with her name in Waco. But that’s one thing a piece of journalism can do: shout it from the rooftops.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:12 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


To handwave that hispanics/latinos don't make up the home-buying population is just restating the central issue.

I didn't handwave away anything. I said, and I repeat, the the homes they are buying at the budgets are not middle class. Hispanics may make up a huge percent of the buyers in Waco, but they aren't buying and then spending 50-100% of the cost of the home changing it due to factors like redlining and racism, yes. But they aren't doing than in LA or NYC or Washington DC either, so Waco in that regard is not special.

Most of the people featured on the show were management at Baylor University, not middle class. The median home price in Waco is $195k, which is 50% below the US average. The average total purchase + renovation price was above $300k when the show ended.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:39 PM on April 21


I also reject that the show was about 'colonization' in any way that a rational person would see it. Go to Waco sometime. You know what was in downtown, around their silos? Nothing. Downtown Waco is nothing - it's not homes, it's not affordable housing - it's empty. It's dirt parking lots - not even paved. The 'colonization' happened in the '50s or whenever I35 came through. They had silos downtown for godsake! You know, those things to hold grain on the sides of highways next to fields? And coming to Waco - post Fixer Upper and declaring what is now there as colonization is totally wrong.

I've said it before, but Detroit is less depressing.

Maybe the church is about colonization. Maybe they are buying up land, but it's not from Hispanics, it's from absentee landowners.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:47 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I also reject that the show was about 'colonization' in any way that a rational person would see it.

I didn't say the show was about colonization; I said the church was, based on their decision settle in low-income North Waco but develop a congregation of middle and upper calls people. Also this is quote:
“They just decided to own Waco instead,” the member told me. “All of the weird evangelizing, it went away. They all became ambitious entrepreneurs. They employed each other. They developed a monopoly on the upwardly mobile class of Waco. If you want[ed] to rise through the social and economic ranks, the only way to do it was through the church.”

The show was about what every flipping show is about: putting a smiling face on gentrification and spreading bland design ideas.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 4:56 AM on April 22 [10 favorites]


Also, a church with the resources to build a new 5,0000 seat auditorium in a city where a quarter of the population lives in poverty needs to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 5:02 AM on April 22 [11 favorites]


Also, a church with the resources to build a new 5,0000 seat auditorium in a city where a quarter of the population lives in poverty needs to take a hard look at themselves in the mirror.

It is always enlightening to watch how followers of a man who said, "Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33) have no issues defending their right to cling to ostentatious material goods. They'll always argue that co-opting the aesthetics of luxury are necessary to reach the un-churched, much like one of those pastors called out for wearing $500 tennis shoes claims that he does it so he can more effectively minister to celebrities.

What I find fascinating is how the whole Joanna Gaines aesthetic is basically a big love letter to cultural conservatives: The whole farmhouse schtick Gaines has going on harkens back to the agrarian/pioneer myth that Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires immolates in a fury of facts; the assiduous refusal to reference any ethnicity whatsoever in any of her aesthetic choices (from color to patterns to materials) betrays a deep discomfort with anything that might defy the cultural homogeneity of her social milieu.
posted by sobell at 4:20 PM on April 22 [5 favorites]


Wow I'm a little taken aback at all the people calling Waco a town. This is not a rural town. This is a small city of >125K people (actually a somewhat large one for Texas) out in the middle of nowhere on a very busy interstate.

Maybe my definition of a town is just different than y'all's.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:47 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


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