Is there racism within Houston's nightlife community?
Of course there is. It's certainly not early 20th-century racism, but it's still very much there.
In three-plus years of writing the Nightfly column for the Houston Press, I've only ever had one club owner or manager go on record as saying he wouldn't mind terribly if black people didn't bother to visit his bar, and I've asked some form of that same question to just about all of the owners or managers of clubs where it needed to be asked.
The guy who answered yes was black, and he requested that his last name not be used.
As far as recent Houston nightlife goes, racism exists as this sort of ill-intentioned but expected thing. It's not a "necessary evil," exactly, but more an "understood evil."
Things will happen, and people will hear about them, shake their heads, leave bad reviews on Yelp and everyone will act appalled. And then it will happen again and again. Because even we know something to be true, there's a fairly high burden of proof required to officially pin the "racist" note on someone's lapel.
And that's where it gets icky.
As far as I can tell, two variables have always made it impossible to conclusively verify that a club's management/ownership is racist when they're saying otherwise:
- Someone denying you entrance to a club doesn't automatically make that person a racist. Rejection and racism are not the same thing. Maybe you showed up with one too many guys. Maybe the doorman didn't fully understand the thoughtful irony behind your dirty pair of 1994 Reebok Kamikazes like the doorman at Poison Girl would have. Or maybe you're just not attractive enough. Did you ever think of that? There are a lot of reasons a doorman can give for not letting someone in, and they're almost all subjective, which means they're impossible to argue against.
- Not very many clubs have a nice, neat mixture of races in their crowd. Simply because a club has a crowd that is predominately white or brown or yellow or black doesn't mean that club's management is racist. The crowd at Grooves, for example, will almost always be 98 percent black. But that's not because they're racist against white people. From what I understand, they appreciate white people's money just as much as they appreciate black people's money. White people just don't go there.
That's largely why so many probable racists have wiggled their way out of the stockade, and what makes this whole Hudson Lounge thing so intriguing and dissectable. For the first time I can remember, both professionally and recreationally, the circumstances surrounding the "Hydeout at Hudson" party have effectively removed both components from the equation.
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You didn't have a club already full of one race when several members of another race showed up and tried to get in; this was a scheduled private party booked in advance. And no one was denied access to anywhere; everyone was allowed in and then, for reasons that have yet to be sorted out or adequately explained, asked to leave.
If what some people are claiming is true, that a mostly black crowd was kicked out of a "white club" and told that the club was closing early only to re-open later on the same evening and serve white customers, then 2010 ended with an abhorrent, explicit display of wholesale racism.
Everyone pretty much agrees: Racism exists and it's not good, but it's not going to disappear simply because everyone knows that it's not good. Racism is everywhere and it tinges all things, both implicitly and explicitly.
But that still doesn't make it okay.