Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: ‘Frosted Blake’s’ and coded racism

A Supreme Court victory provides a boost to any birthday plans, as I found out when the same-sex marriage ruling kicked off the weekend of my 35th. The last weekend in June wound up being an enchanting blur of bar-hopping and giddy, hopeful conversations with strangers, and a personal contentment upon reaching an age where I am undeniably Grown.

Yet my most distinct memory from that weekend was the amiable bigotry I gagged on while finishing my first drink at Blake's.

My friend and I were at the bar when we started chatting with two guys, one of whom was black and celebrating his birthday, and his best friend, a white heterosexual. My friend complimented the beauty of their friendship, and they exchanged tipsy professions of their fraternal love for one another, across categories.

My friend drifted into conversation with the birthday boy, while the kick-ass bestie and I plunged into an intoxicating discussion.

"So what was it like at Auburn?" the white, heterosexual best friend asked. "It must've been sweet, huh? I mean—I don't wanna be That Guy, but you had scholarships, right? As a minority."

I kept my cup toward my face and my straw in my mouth to buy time to absorb the nerve and/or naïveté thus revealed within someone who theretofore had seemed so enlightened.

"I had several scholarships," I said in a clarifying tone. "Some were minority-based, but many weren't. I'd like to think … and I think others would think … that I earned whatever I got. And I guess I will be That Guy and note that a couple of them were from The New York Times."

Truthfully, the New York Times scholarships may have been among the minority-based ones, but he didn't need to know that. Because he clearly didn't know that $1,000 stipends are not the muscle that lifts kids from the ghettos to college degrees at out-of-state-tuition rates, and he was oblivious to any merit or ingenuity that a minority student might exhibit to aid his matriculation through higher education.

"You're a super cool dude and you seem to have a good heart, but that was a dick thing to say," I said. "It's a hurtful presumption, and not what I was expecting from you."

We likewise should not expect a marquee element of LGBT Atlanta like Blake's to use coded racism to steer members of our community away from its establishment—especially as our movement shifts its fight to the realm of public accommodations. The management at Blake's is an embarrassment to our city and our movement, but the short-lived dress code was surprising only in how lazy it was in concealing its intent.

I've been in the parking lot at 10th and Piedmont and seen groups of white guys debate whether to go into Blake's or party across the street; sometimes someone will blurt out something along the lines of "It's too dark in Blake's," but more often facial movements and knowing glances guide the groups across the street. If I witness these encounters as a casual patron, surely the folks who run Blake's are aware of the rising unease among their longtime customers due to the influx of black gay men on certain nights.

The overwhelming majority of black men who (used to) go to Blake's were young and middle-aged professionals, whose experience and merit are degraded when Blake's—the management, and the traditional clientele—classifies their way of dress, and by implication their very presence, as threatening and unwelcome. The crowd at Blake's is willing to get ratchet and yell "Bye Felicia" all day, but let authentic black people and culture arrive in their space, and see how quickly they turn into That Guy.