Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blacks Aren't Welcome At a Bar

 'no more hate' photo (c) 2005, Blake Emrys - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Yesterday Philip Christman posted an account written by his former student Jonathan Wall regarding an incident in which he was physically thrown out of a bar and grill.  It's is Wall's contention that this is a race based issue and the comments of the post itself include several others complaining about receiving the same treatment at the bar in question based in race.

I am going to get you started on Wall's account, but you need to read the whole thing yourself. 
My name is Jonathan Wall, and I am a 21 year old black male from Raleigh, NC. I was born and raised here, and just a few weeks ago I graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. This fall I’ll be headed to grad school at Harvard to get a Master’s degree in Education Policy and Management. I’m in Raleigh for the summer before heading off to grad school.

As the story begins, on last Saturday night around 12:30am, I and 2 other friends went to Downtown Sports Bar and Grill off of Glennwood Avenue. The night got interesting as soon as we got to the door, and the bouncer told us “you need a membership to come in tonight, I’ve never seen you here before.” My friend Chris and I looked at each other in curiosity, knowing that the establishment was a bar and not a club, and that people in line before us walked right in after showing their ID. The only difference between those people and my friends and I was our race. Still, we stood at the door in bewilderment asking “What?” as he further tried to explain that we weren’t going to be able to come in because of our “non-member” status. However, as he was explaining this, a police officer walked up to where he was standing to tell him something unrelated. As soon as he caught sight of the officer beside him, he said “Never mind, y’all go ahead.” This was the first interesting ordeal of the night, but not the last.

We were downstairs for all of ten minutes, when my two friends dispersed. My friend Chris went to the bathroom, and my friend Kristin went upstairs to get some fresh air. Only a few seconds after they left, what appeared to be a bartender came from behind the bar to clean drinks off of one of the tall bar tables that was near me. After he cleaned the table, it looked as if he was headed back behind the bar when he came up to me and said “Either buy a drink or leave right now.” Again shocked, I replied “I’m just waiting for my friend to come back from the bathroom.” He responded, “I don’t care, get a drink or leave right now.” I said “Okay” and began texting. He walked away from me, then went and sat with his back to the bar as he stared me down. Being non-confrontational, I looked towards the bathroom, waiting to see my friend come out so that we could leave. I also took notice of how many of the people surrounding the bar and the club area didn’t have drinks in their hands. I felt as if I was singled out. The common denominator, again, was that I was the only black person around. After staring me down for about 30 seconds, he walked back over and said “Are you going to buy a drink, or are you going to leave?” I replied, “As soon as my friend comes from the bathroom.” Before I cold utter another word, he grabbed my right wrist and my left arm and threw them behind my head in an effort to constrain me, although I was speaking to him a calm and non-aggressive tone and didn’t once even gesture. He then used excessive force to push me through the crown and out of the club while I was still in this “headlock” of sorts, before pushing me out of the front door. As soon as he grabbed me, I let my body go limp because with the degree of force he was already using, I didn’t want him to think I was trying to fight back. I accepted that he was on an ego-trip, and let him guide me through the club in this position before pushing me out. I was completely shocked and more saddened that this was happening than angry.  [source]
Reading his account and the comments, I can tell you that I was not shocked in the least little bit. I don't think that there is a person of colour living in North America who has not experienced this kind of treatment.   These businesses know that they cannot put up Whites only signs and so they will find any excuse not to let you in, or they will make sure that you are so uncomfortable that you are forced to leave.  Sometimes this takes the form of shitty service, rude comments, or downright threatening glares.


It happens on a daily basis and yet seldom do these instances get the kind of traction that this story is getting thanks to social media. According to Jezebel:
One early commenter, 21-year-old Karimah Shepherd, had a similar experience at the bar — down to the "membership" excuse, the furious manager, and the lackadaisical police response — and started a Facebook group after coming across Wall's story. Less than 24 hours later, it has almost 3,000 members. She told us that their goal is to garner media attention, and it's working: a local newspaper is planning a front page story, WRAL is investigating the incident, and a large protest at the bar is planned for next Saturday. Shepherd said at least 50 people have emailed her about their own horrible Downtown Sports Bar and Grill experiences. "It's shocking how much support we've gained in such a short time," she said, sounding overwhelmed.
I think that it's great that this incident is going to get the attention that it deserves; however, even if they manage to get the policy changed, or the manager fired, this will be a singular good, regarding a racist event that happens daily across North America.

White people don't have this sort of thing happen to them and they are usually ignorant that someone is being mistreated, unless it happens to a friend or an associate. Here's the thing that bothers me about this, if you know that you live in an urban center and you look around an establishment and see that it is largely or all White, that should be ringing some alarm bells for you.  Why aren't they asking where the people of colour are?

Oh I know, they don't see colour and besides being in an all White surrounding despite the racial make up of the area is just normal right? People of colour just happen to decide not to patronize a popular bar or restaurant so that White people can feel safe.  It's a touch of White heaven right here on earth. Taking for granted the repeated Whiteness of a particular venue is racism in action.  Ignoring it and continuing to patronize speaks volumes.

Over at Jezebel they are busy debating the familiar meme of Black people don't tip, as though this has anything to do with this story.  This incident is about ongoing segregation that people of colour face everyday and the collusion of the police in maintaining this policy.  This is about the fact that money does not grant equality.  This is about racism.  Heaven forbid that the Jezebel commenters challenge their assumptions and think about the fact that they remained largely ignorant of this common everyday event because they refuse to look around at the venues they attend and ask one simple question - Why. You don't have to verbally justify these kinds of policies to support them, you simply have to keep spending money at these venues while people of colour are left standing on the sidewalk.