Cross-posted at Scientopia and Racialicious.

Several years ago I took this photo of the posted dress code for Brothers Bar in Madison, Wisconsin.   As an alumnus, I can tell you that the relationship between the college community and the community at large was strained, as it is in many college towns.  The college community was, on average, better off economically than much of the non-college community, with greater (potential) educational achievement, and overwhelmingly white.  There was less mingling between the “town” and “gown” than we might expect by random chance, and some businesses tried to attract the latter exclusively.

This was the case with Brothers Bar. Brothers sits within a block of campus, they wanted to attract the college students but push away young “townies,” as they were derogatorily called.  Of course, it’s illegal to say “Poor Black people keep out,” so, instead, they use symbolic codes to warn especially Black members of the non-college community that they’re not welcome: no crooked hats, no skullcaps, headbands, or bandanas, and no sports jerseys.

An enterprising journalist sat outside Brothers Bar to see just how the dress code was enforced.  Not “strictly,” it turned out.  The people who were turned away were overwhelmingly Black.  Meanwhile, they let in students wearing UW sports jerseys and other Bucky the Badger-themed “athletic wear.”  So much for color-blindness, this was a racist dress code with no reference to color at all.

I was reminded of this incident when Stephen Wilson sent in photo of a similar dress code taken at Kelly’s in Kansas City.  Again we see racially-coded restrictions: the same no crooked hats rule, doo rags and bandanas are disallowed, as are hoods actually worn on the head (but not the preppy hoodies apparently), and “excessively” baggy clothes.

So, sure, Black people are allowed in these establishments, just not Black people “of a certain type.”  If they want to enter, they have to assimilate to white culture.  These dress codes seem to say:

Turn those hats on straight forward or straight back, pull up those pants, and take off whatever’s on your head!  It’s not that we don’t like Black people, we just prefer our Black people to defer to white standards.  See?  Not racist at all!  Cheers!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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