Although African-Americans are considered one of the largest consumer groups in the nation, we are still seen by many — not all — as an undesirable customer base.
That philosophy can be seen in action here in Charlotte; just look at all of the trials and tribulations that black folks have faced over the years when trying to spend their hard-earned money in the Q.C.
My thoughts go back to when the CIAA basketball tournament first came to town. I remember the number of businesses that closed for the weekend; the price gouging; how people with tickets to an event were kept standing in line for hours even though there was plenty of space inside of the venues for people to gather; security and workers looking panicked, even afraid, at the sight of so many black folks; and other offenses. I remember writing about it and wondering why Charlotte would be so averse to hosting affluent African-Americans with copious amounts of discretionary income to dump on the city. But after retailers and venues realized the amount of money that could be made during CIAA, all of a sudden, blacks were welcomed.
In spite of that and the influx of affluent blacks from different parts of the country, Charlotte still doesn't seem to get this fact, and it befuddles me. The city has a solid black middle-class — not emerging, not evolving, but an established black middle class. But, instead of embracing black customers, many times we are repudiated.
Look at how many instances of drama have occurred, especially in the restaurant/nightclub arena. Most recently, the now-defunct restaurant/bar Therapy was called out for allegedly mistreating black patrons; the restaurant closed in the wake of the highly publicized incident. And The Charlotte Post recently published an article about the new eatery Kalu, which is supposedly a black-owned restaurant, and allegations that the staff discriminated against two black customers. (I called to verify ownership and for an interview, but didn't received a response as of press time.)
My point is that it seems in 2010, people would realize that money has no color other than green. I have to say, I've stopped going out and shopping in Charlotte because I do not feel the level of service and respect matches the money spent in high-end boutiques, salons, retail stores or restaurants. I've held my birthday party in other cities for the last five years because I want my friends and family members to be treated well and their money to be valued. While I have been treated extremely well at some Charlotte-area spots — like Apostrophe Lounge, for example — I don't always want to go to the same places.
I checked in with LaShawnda Becoats, Charlotte city editor of Uptown Magazine (a publication whose co-founder, Len Burnett, published the book Black is the New Green, about affluent African-Americans, in 2010) about the subject and she had some interesting thoughts: "As an observer, there are plenty of African-Americans here with disposable income. Most of the people that are here are transplants from other parts of the country. There is an expectation — with your money comes a certain level of respect and service. When you come to a city like Charlotte and go to high-end stores and aren't treated well, you take your money elsewhere." Becoats moved to Charlotte from New York City 15 years ago and loves many things about the city, but not the way that she is sometimes treated at high-end establishments.
"If I'm a Northerner, and I am used to shopping at high-end stores, my money is green, so it doesn't matter what my skin color is. Often in this city, unless you're a well-known athlete, politician or business person, you don't get the same level of customer service," she continued. "That is what deters people from spending what they would. Retailers need to catch up and realize that you can't judge a book by its cover."
Therein lies the rub. The color of money is green, not black. You can't know a person's worth by the way that he/she is dressed — and definitely not by skin color. Charlotte needs to get with the times ... sooner rather than later would be better.