Monday, June 23, 2014

Racism in Indy's nightlife scene

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Omar Souleyman's 'Leh Jani' - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • Submitted Photo
  • Omar Souleyman's 'Leh Jani'

Last week Indianapolis club culture made news for all the wrong reasons when reports surfaced that a doorman at Northside restaurant Bella Vita had refused admittance to a pair of black patrons. One man, who told Fox59 that he was "surprised and kind of dumbfounded," used his phone to record his conversation with the doorman, who, in the clip, confirms he was told by management not to let in any more black people.

While full details of the incident have yet to emerge, I can sadly say I'm not at all shocked to hear accusations of alleged racism within the Indianapolis club scene. I've been working as a DJ in Indianapolis for around five years. During that time I've heard more racist, sexist and classist comments from club owners than I care to remember.

In the Indianapolis music scene, I'm best known for my work with international cultures. I've been sought out by many club owners to create internationally themed music events for their venues. I knew it was time to start distancing myself from the club scene when I reached a point where I was no longer surprised to hear venue owners say things like, "Don't play any Mexican music here; those people just get drunk and start trouble."

I quickly learned there were several cultural groups the club owners I encountered preferred to distance themselves from. I remember a few years ago trying to reserve an Indianapolis venue for a performance by Syrian musician Omar Souleyman. Souleyman plays an electrified version of a traditional Arabic folk style called dabke. He's critically praised and has attracted an international cult following. Souleyman has been embraced by the vanguard of the European EDM scene, collaborating with artists like Björk and Four Tet. But as soon as Indy club owners heard me utter the phrase "Arabic music," the conversation was over.

I could find no club date for Souleyman in Indianapolis.

Hearing about the situation at Bella Vita sickened me. It made me ashamed of the nightlife industry I'm associated with. And I once again felt ashamed to be a member of the ethnic majority in the United States, one that has so often used the advantage of its privilege against others.

I can't imagine how the gentlemen who were refused entry into Bella Vita felt. I can't imagine because I've never been put in that position. I think that's what bothers me most about this situation. As someone who frequently seeks out musical experiences where white audience members are the minority, I've never been treated with anything but respect. I've been to dozens of African, Asian and Latin American cultural events in Indianapolis where I'm the only white person in attendance. Far from being discriminated against, I've been welcomed and befriended.

As my black, Asian and Latino friends go about their lives here in Indianapolis I would expect them to be treated with the same level of dignity and respect I've received. When I hear about situations like this where someone's humanity is compromised, I'm outraged and disgusted.

But I suppose, to bring out a tired cliché, the show must go on - at least that's what I gleaned from Facebook. I logged in this Sunday to see the same DJs and the same promoters hosting the same party where the incident of alleged racism occurred last week. Perhaps the Romans were right: if you give the people bread and circuses, they will ignore injustice.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long.

Syl Johnson - Is It Because I'm Black
Sly Stone - Skin I'm In
Funkadelic - You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks
Cymande - Promised Heights
Eugene McDaniels - Headless Heroes
Mighty Ryeders - Evil Vibrations
Harlem River Drive - Seeds of Life
Marlena Show - Woman of the Ghetto
Leon Thomas - Shape Your Mind to Die
Rotary Connection - I Am the Black Gold of the Sun
Marvin Gaye - You're The Man (Alternate Version)
Stevie Wonder - Look Around
Curtis Mayfield - We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue
Donny Hathaway - Someday We'll All Be Free
Raphael Saadiq - The Answer

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