Six black students walk into a bar on a Saturday night. Although that might sound like the beginning of a joke, this is a pretty serious example of racism, as well as the insidious nature of racism and its ability to hide in plain sight. An employee at the bar tells the black student that their clothing is inappropriate. The black students are told that their jeans are too baggy and the bar has a dress code. The black students have no choice but to leave the bar. But in an experiment to see if their race had anything to do with the decision to not let them in, one of the students exchanged his clothing with a white student. The white student wearing the previously inappropriate jeans walked into the same bar right past the same employee. Suddenly, without black skin to taint their appearance, the baggy jeans become acceptable. It turns out that it wasn’t the bagginess of the jeans that was unacceptable, but the blackness that the jeans were being associated with.
This incident happened a few days ago to students of Washington University here in St. Louis, Missouri, that was participating in a senior class trip to Chicago, Illinois. The students were trying to get into a nightclub called Mother’s Original Bar. Representatives of the bar said security concerns and not racism guided their decision to deny access to the black students. The bar people say gang violence was common nearby and was merely erring on the side of caution. But it is rather noteworthy to see those security concerns evaporate when they see white students. The bagginess of the jeans was just an excuse used to turn away students who looked naturally thuggish, code word for too black, in their attire. The black students have filed a civil rights complaint with the Illinois attorney general’s office. A similar complaint has been filed to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations as well as the United States Justice Department. Click here to read more on this story at the Chicago Breaking News Center.
Obviously this is a case of race based discrimination. By the white student donning the jeans and walking into the bar, clothing can be eliminated as the distinguishing factor between admission and no admission. No mention was made as to whether or not the alleged nearby crime violence was perpetrated by black people or what percentage of this crime activity was committed by black people. Nevertheless, by citing the supposedly gang violence happening nearby, the bar is trying to say that it is safe to assume that the black students may have been part of that violence and is therefore a threat and at the same time, safe to assume that white people pose no threat. Because one or some black people commit crime, it is now safe to assume that all black people have the potential to commit similar crimes. But by the same token, all white people are never held in suspicion when one or some white people commit crime. That is by definition race based discrimination. This is a first class example of racism.
But the insidiousness of this case that is truly appalling is the number of people who continue to defend such racism. Many of the comments that accompany the article mentioned above show people’s willingness to label the black students as thuggish in appearance with nothing but the judgment of the bar’s employees to go by. One comment says something to the effect that black honor students don’t have the common sense not to dress like thugs and yelling like simpletons for help because they are being repressed. Another comment implies that these black people got bent out of shape and want to act like idiots. People are quick to label black people as idiots for standing up for their rights and challenging race based discrimination as idiotic behavior. People make no distinction between the black people who commit the alleged crime the bar employees refer to, and the black students who simply want to be accepted as equals in society’s eye.
But if these honor students learned anything is that in the judgment of many, they are not the equal of white people. All it takes is a pair of baggy jeans to take their standing on our society down a peg or two. All it takes is a pair of jeans that are hideous and threatening on their black flesh but at the same time are rendered benign and innocuous on wholesome obviously white skin, before they are collectively labeled thuggish and unacceptable. Some black person somewhere is a criminal and therefore, it is socially acceptable to view them as thugs as well. Their grades don’t matter. Their attire doesn’t matter. The fact that they may have never been guilty of any crime in their lives doesn’t matter one bit. All that matters is that some black person somewhere can be considered less that socially acceptable. And as long as that type of black person exists, all black people are cut from that same cloth unless proven otherwise.