I grew up in Kansas City and also spent a few years in town programming a sports radio station, hosting a midday sports radio talk show and broadcasting KC Royals baseball. Ten years ago, my sports radio talk show - for a short while - competed directly with a show hosted by KANSAS CITY STAR columnist Jason Whitlock on another KC station.
(If I didn’t have a ringer that night, I’d have been behind Whitlock in line)
The 41-year-old Whitlock, in case you don’t know, is by far the most popular (and notorious to some) media figure in KC, and most likely the biggest celebrity inside the city limits, save George Brett. Back when I was doing the radio thing, I was in hyper-competitive mode, so I probably said some things about Whitlock that were unfair and downright distasteful. Since I left KC, I’ve grown to more appreciate his media work and contrarian-yet-compelling perspective on black culture.
So it pained me to see the piece he recently wrote in my hometown paper about the relatively new Kansas City downtown entertainment venture, called the “Power & Light District”. In the column Whitlock, who is black, essentially damns the entire District as a failure because the bouncer and manager of one of the P&L’s clubs would not initially allow him entry on a Saturday night. He asserts in the column that he and his two companions, also black males, were stonewalled solely because of race. (They were eventually let into the club.)
Coincidentally, I myself was at P&L last month and gained entry to the same establishment, called “Shark Bar”. On that Saturday night, about 30% of the patrons I observed inside the bar were black - male and female. That was also reflective of the overall demographic at P&L that night.
Just as important, I saw no signs of black males being unduly turned away at the door, despite massive overcrowding around the entrance. None, at least at the time I was there, were passed in line at the door or being unduly refused entrance while white males were allowed in. All males were treated the same.
I was fast-tracked into the club solely because of my lovely female companion. (You know who.) If I was there with another male, I would’ve expected to stand in line - unless I knew someone that worked at the club.
Whitlock has no doubt frequented night clubs and bars in the biggest cities in America, and around the world for that matter. He knows that everyone who goes to clubs can occasionally be denied entrance for no good reason. God knows I’ve had it happen to me dozens of times!
Whitlock, I would hope, also knows that the bouncer’s job at the KC club that night was to not just let everyone into the bar. His job was to filter the crowd so hot, young, 20-something females got in first. Followed by young, similarly-aged, binge-drinking males. That’s the prevailing demographic of Shark Bar, and most of P&L for that matter. For that obviously preferred demographic, the color of skin, from what I observed, was incidental.
So where does that leave three forty-something black men trying to crash the club?
Nothing is fair about trying to enter a crowded club on a Saturday night. Especially if your group is all male, non-celebrities and outside the prevailing age demographic.
The same would’ve applied that night if three white, well-dressed 40-something gentlemen pulled up at Shark Bar wearing expensive cowboy boots and bolo ties. Odds are, they won’t be in the express lane.
So why would a worldly Whitlock lash out at the bar in such a public manner - in an obvious, albeit clumsy attempt to damage P&L’s reputation?
I think I may know the answer.
First, here’s some of what Whitlock wrote about his experience:
My point is we represent black, professional middle-aged America. We’re not looking for trouble. We might pathetically try to recapture our college days and flirt with a 25-year-old nursing student. But that’s as wild and crazy as we get.
We shouldn’t be on the P&L’s 10 most wanted list.
Russ and Troy politely bickered with the Shark Bar security and manager for about 10 minutes. They were told my shorts were “sagging” below my knees. Troy explained that he made the shorts to hang below the knees and the shorts were no longer than the Old Navy shorts worn by the club’s bouncer. Then they were told that my shirt being untucked was a problem and that it was against club policy for my 23-inch white gold chain to hang outside my shirt.
Eventually the manager relented and allowed us to go in if I would tuck my necklace inside my shirt.
… The manager figured out or Russ told him that I have a column in The Kansas City Star. While they were bickering about the appropriateness of my $500 outfit, I stood at the door shaking hands, chitchatting and posing for pictures with the other patrons waiting to enter.
It just isn’t fair. The overwhelming majority of Kansas Citians, especially young Kansas Citians, don’t have a similar platform to air their complaints.
I understand and agree with the P&L District’s desire to prevent the area from being overrun by the loiterers who damaged the perception of Westport. I used to work concert security when I was in college and I have an affinity for rap music, so I also comprehend the difficulty of playing hip-hop music and avoiding the gangsta, parking-lot-pimping crowd.
And finally, I love and socialize with all races and economic classes of people. I’m highly in tune with the challenges social diversity presents.
The well-intentioned people running P&L have a difficult task in that regard. They’re failing.
From the piece, it appears that Whitlock was upset that he wasn’t initially recognized as a local celebrity - and provided subsequent entrance along with any and all companions.
The irony, lost on Whitlock, is that he complains in the piece that bar management was not treating potential patrons fairly, yet he was happy to eventually pull the unfair celeb card and waltz through the door - apparently skipping people who had waited longer in line.
If anyone proved how unfair club entry can be that night, it was Whitlock!
And then he throws the entire entertainment district under the bus, while providing no suggestions on how to curb the racism he claimed to endure - and that pervades the “failing” P&L.
Based on Whitlock’s own words, the only failure I see in this situation is his ability to recognize his own hypocrisy.