Are Dress Codes Racist?
In the wake of the discrimination lawsuit against McFadden’s Bar on North Third, which claims racism against both patrons and employees, its been alleged that the bar used dress codes as a means to keep people of color away. Some of the restricted clothing included:
• “Excessively” baggy clothes
• Pendants for show outside clothes
• Athletic jerseys
But is that racist? The most common explanation for dress codes is that they “weed out” problems – not explicitly the race of the person who’s prone to wearing a certain type of clothing, but the type of person who wears a certain type of clothing. In Russia, they call it face control. And bars and clubs all over the United States do it. They say it keeps the peace. Lots of people of all colors – this writer included, at Urban Saloon on Fairmount Avenue, where-I-didn’t-even-want-to-go-in-the-first-place, because that place sucks – have been victims of the infamous dress code controller. (I was wearing Converse All Stars and that wasn’t allowed.)
It’s when such restrictions get out of hand that they perhaps become racist. Like in 2006, when the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Kokomaos, a bar and grill in Virginia Beach, which had barred patrons with cornrows and dreadlocks entry. The owner of Kokomaos said at the time he was simply against what he called the “hip hop look” as it “creates an atmosphere in which violence is more likely to break out.”
A similar incident happened in Madison, Wisconsin in 2004 and led to a brief run of student activism, which is only actually fun when Rick Santorum gets ridiculed. When “sports jerseys, athletic wear and bandanas” were banned at Brothers Bar, it led students to write “End The Racist Dress Code” in chalk out front and mass-protest the bar.
Lucky Strike in Times Square – yeah, that Lucky Strike – was sued back in March when a black patron wearing hiking boots wasn’t allowed into the bowling lounge. The accuser in question was an NYPD officer of 20 years and claimed he’d seen a white patron enter the bowling alley with the same footwear. His statement to the New York Daily News at the time was pretty blunt, and, well, true: “We’re going bowling! You take your shoes off when you go bowling.”
Even Your M. Nutt has declared war on “White T Culture.”
Similar arguments and discussions were brought up recently when now-Senator-elect Rand Paul appeared on the Rachel Maddow MSNBC show to discuss his recent comments about civil rights legislation. Paul claimed privately-owned restaurants should have the right to discriminate against who they wished because of the First Amendment.
Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking. I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.
He told the Courier-Journal in Kentucky, “I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners – I abhor racism – I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should be absolutely no discrimination on anything that gets any public funding and that’s most of what the Civil Rights Act was about to my mind.”
In other words, Paul seems to imply that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unconstitutional because it outlawed some freedom of speech within private places which opens up those private places to losing even more rights and being overtaken by the government. Many lawmakers voted against, and ranted against, the Civil Rights Act. Some, like Al Gore’s dad and Robert Byrd, even filibustered the crap out of it so it wouldn’t come up for a vote. Barry Goldwater, conservative hero and Southern Strategy initiator who’d be crushed by LBJ in the presidential election that same year, voted against it.
In a sense, Paul is correct. The Constitution, as written, allowed all sorts of discrimination, but that’s why the Constitution got a lot of shit wrong and we’ve got the amendments and so forth. Don’t tell a Tea Patriot I said that.
Even as it pertains to schools, courts are divided when dress codes are challenged. FirstAmendmentCenter.org calls the legal landscape over such laws “muddled.”
But what of dress codes for customers of private business? They’re allowed. For now. (Allen Iverson was infamously the only patron in the city allowed in Palmer Social Club with sneakers while he was in Philly.) We’re thinking such allegations are usually “icing on the cake” (or, the opposite of that) when it comes to these lawsuits, as in, “they’re racist in this way, AND in that way.” Whether or not a business is actually racist is often in the eye of the beholder. And the allegation of one manager at McFadden’s texting another manager, “We don’t want black people. We are a white bar!” – that is a-whole-nother story.
But then again, loopholes are what make American law go round, and this is arguably one of them. The argument that dress codes are loopholes to allow racism within private businesses could, if found to be the case enough, lead to some problems as it pertains to defining bar clientele.