Friday, October 30, 2009

Tavern tries to put bigotry to rest, but should it be that easy to cover up?

Bigotry is bad for business.

That is the lesson to be learned from the behavior of a Near North Side tavern that likes to cater to the tourist crowd that perceives itself as “hip.”

IT WAS EARLIER this month that Chicago had another racial incident – one involving students from Washington University in St. Louis who were in the Second City for an academic conference.

After their official activities in the city, six students (all of whom are African-American) decided to behave like many other out-of-towners who are in Chicago – they did the town, and hit the bars in the Rush Street area.

That is what had them at the Original Mothers tavern, where they were turned away on the grounds that their attire was inappropriate.

Their attire was the hip-hop influenced clothes, particularly baggy pants, which was supposedly the item that had the tavern’s managers all upset.

NOW IN A quirk of the moment, the six commiserated with some other people who happened to be in the area – including some white students who happened to be wearing similar clothing. Those students then tried to get into Original Mothers, and wound up being admitted without hassle or incident.

They then cooperated in telling officials what happened, to provide some credence to the stories of six students from St. Louis.

Now for those who are going to wonder whether the students somehow did something else to give off an ominous appearance, I’m going to admit I don’t know. I doubt it, in large part because Washington University isn’t exactly some dinky community college.

It is academically a top-flight school in the Midwest, and it is highly unlikely that any students there would fit the “gang-banger” image that some people might mistakenly associate with those baggy pants (which I have seen on so many rural white kids who speak with drawls that they no longer carry any racial connotation in my mind).

THERE HAVE BEEN countless stories about the incident in recent weeks, with the tavern getting lots of negative publicity for creating the appearance that they were singling out black people when it came to deciding whom to admit.

But Original Mothers officials showed a willingness to bargain, and that caused them to reach a deal that will keep the six students from filing any kind of discrimination lawsuit or taking any other action that would result in them getting money from telling their story.

They got an apology, along with a promise that tavern officials will participate in a protest march against discrimination scheduled for next month and make the employees of their tavern take sensitivity training courses.

They also will participate in four fundraising events for causes considered worthy by the six students.

ATTORNEYS FOR THE tavern told reporter-types this week that the managers don’t believe they based their behavior that night on racial reasons.

But it all comes down to bigotry being bad for business.

They eat a little crow now, avoid having to pay a legal settlement of any type in the future, and there’s a good chance that by year’s end most people will have forgotten this incident ever occurred.

After all, there’s an excellent chance (I’d say 100 percent) that some other business will do something stupid that will draw the attention of people on the watch for racial prejudice in our society.

BUT SHOULD IT really be this easy to get rid of a negative incident?

I have a problem with the idea that the tavern can make this go away so quickly with a “non-denial denial” that never admits to anything being done wrong (their apology technically is for not showing the six students a good time while they were in Chicago).

It makes it seem like the students are upset because a cocktail waitress spilled a drink on one of them and rudely refused to clean up the mess.

Because it is guaranteed that incident would have snowballed into something much more significant if Original Mothers weren’t willing to take a little abuse right now. One member of Congress, Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., had asked the Justice Department to begin an investigation.

THE LAST THING the tavern would have wanted would have been some sort of case in U.S. District Court against them based on a civil rights violation.

Or worse, the possibility of Congressional hearings into race relations, using the incident as its motivation. Just think of how stupid the tavern, and Chicago by reflection, would have looked with such hearings turning up in newscasts.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Washington University’s chancellor used the incident against six students ( at his school to write a negative letter to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In large part, I’m acknowledging this Chicago incident against St. Louis people out of a sense ( of equal time for an incident I wrote about last month in the St. Louis area.

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