As you may have read in this issue of Creative Loafing, the Uptown eatery/bar Therapy Café recently ceased operations.
The closing occurred shortly after Kirk Brown, CEO of the African-American-owned promotion company Six Figure Entertainment, sent an e-mail to reportedly thousands of people alleging that Therapy routinely added a 20-percent gratuity to the bills of patrons at events popular with African-Americans. In the e-mail, Brown claimed that the group was ending its contract with Therapy because the bar's management said "black people don't tip." Brown asked people to boycott the venue and Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree, with people voicing their frustrations with Therapy and other upscale establishments in the Queen City.
According to former general manager Adam Rees, Therapy — which is also facing a lawsuit for an issue with a promoter during the CIAA Tournament — buckled under the loss of clientele.
But, I'm less interested in Therapy's closing — and more interested in how African-Americans in Charlotte used new media, especially social media, to take action against a business that allegedly mistreated black folks. (Before you start the hate mail, I have been to a number of "upscale" establishments in Charlotte and have been treated poorly. Most recently, a woman at a door sneered at me on sight to such an extent that my non-black friends even questioned what was going on, but that's another article.)
What is great about this story is not that Therapy closed — because at the end of the day, who cares about a café that possibly mistreated any of its customers? What does matter is that black people in Charlotte came together to finally fight back. In my mind, working together to let people know that you matter, that you will not be mistreated and that you are a force to be reckoned with is paramount.
I must say that I felt a sense of pride when I read that people were standing up for themselves and voicing their concerns in this matter. But part of me also wondered why we don't do this when it comes to other issues. Why aren't masses of black folks sending out e-mails to thousands of people when CMS gets rid of hundreds of qualified teachers? Why aren't we on Facebook to this extent when public libraries are closing? Why aren't we mobilizing and organizing through social media when the light rail plans call for trains to bypass our neighborhoods, even when it is en route to high traffic establishments like the airport?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about all black people; I'm talking about a collective group organizing to create change that will impact and improve the Charlotte community. While I'm sure there were other factors that contributed to the closing of Therapy, the fact that they lost so much business after the e-mail went out, the boycott went into effect and people went slap-off on Facebook speaks volumes. Imagine what could happen if we used our abilities to mobilize for something other than going after a local restaurant.
The ability to create this type of result challenges notions of a digital divide. There may be issues of access along racial lines, but when those who have economic power have access to the Web, then it may not matter.
Essentially what happened with Therapy is that black folks voted with their dollars. Instead of spending them at Therapy or some of the other allegedly "discriminating" establishments, we chose to put our money elsewhere. That is what did the damage. We decided that we were not going to pay people to mistreat us because they may have narrow ideas about who black people are. We'll stay home and spend our money in cities like D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami and New York, where the notion of upwardly mobile blacks is not foreign.
What African-Americans must do as a community here in Charlotte is to make sure that we use our technological and economic resources to make a difference for our entire community, not just the partygoers. If we do that and continue to vote with our dollars, then we truly will be a force to be reckoned with.