We’ve all said it, that there’s nothing to do for black folks, certain black folks of a younger and more prosperous persuasion, in our North Carolina cities. Lately, those fears were stroked by this article, by Jarvis Holliday, in this past week’s cover story of Creative Loafing Charlotte.
The article is a long read, but a worthy one. I’ll pull out this section that grabs its essence:
The phrase “young professionals” gets used frequently in the marketing of programs and events in Charlotte’s African-American community. It’s not simply a metric in the way it’s used in corporate lingo, to denote a person, generally between the ages of 21 and 40, who is college-educated and has a salaried position. When blacks use the term, that’s a part of it, but its intention is to further distinguish those young men and women who have “made it.” And that de facto badge of honor also implies that this group behaves a certain way.
Typically, a black professional wants it to be known that he or she defies whatever negative stereotypes other groups may have of African Americans. So within the social scene, you’ll find that they dress well, prefer upscale venues and have a taste for the finer things.
But the black professional social scene in Charlotte is often a source of angst for many within it, who lament the dearth of good or welcoming places to go to, or that the so-called hot spots never last. Newcomers quickly tire of not being able to identify where black professionals socialize after work or party after dark on a consistent basis.
Events that do get traction, for example, are Cufflinks & Cocktails, put on by the Charlotte alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and Charlotte’s Favorite Happy Hour, organized by prominent local couple Herb and Felicia Gray. Each takes place at posh venues and is well-attended by black professionals, drawing anywhere from 200 to 400 people, but what those events also have in common is that they only take place once a month (usually at rotating venues). In similar fashion, the Signature Saturdays event takes place twice a month at Vapiano, a trendy Italian restaurant and bar, where local party promoter Eddie Towner puts on an entertaining night featuring a live jazz band followed by a hip-hop DJ.
And what those events also have in common is that each essentially represents “black night” at the venues where they’re held. For that particular evening, night or the occasional day party, the African-American promoter has rented the facility and nearly all of the patrons who come out are black. But if one were to return to that same venue the following night or on the equivalent night a week later, they’d likely find few blacks in attendance. It’s a combination of the result of lack of ownership of these venues by African-Americans, and the segregation that’s common in Charlotte regardless of who owns the place.
When I googled Black Social Scene in North Carolina, before I could type the state name, Google’s autofill directed me to the black social scene in Washington, DC. Once I typed in North Carolina, I found this 2009 article from Ebony that highlights things to do in Charlotte, naming it as having:
…one of the most flourishing stylish and chic Black social scenes. Sure, you still have clubs where ladies have to worry whether about being bombarded by a million sweaty, overzealous guys, however, more and more sophisticated, grown and sexy individuals looking for a step up from that vibe, have found it in Charlotte.
Bonus: there’s an article about the Raleigh vs. Charlotte scene written by a white woman writer in 2007 who was then 39, married and with two children. She wrote the blog at the time with a 39-year-old single black woman. I assume that as of the end of that blog in 2009, none of that information has changed.
And one more cherry on top, by 2009, according to the Washington Post, the Washington social scene was completely integrated.
So what does one make of all of this? Do we have a real answer to the question if there are enough things for black young professionals to do? I’m going to attempt my own, recognizing that one, we are not all monolithic and two, I tend to enjoy a lot of things that aren’t necessarily tagged as black cultural activities, as well as plenty of things that are.
First, I believe that we as urban downtowns do a disservice when we don’t have restaurants, bars, and bookstores that regularly have a mix of different genres of music, as well as places where people can go and see each other’s faces and hear each other talking. Granted, all three major NC downtowns are getting better and a few of the smaller ones have nice bookstores. Yet, what makes DC, Chicago and New York different is that it’s not rare or unexpected. A place like Busboys and Poets can be named after Langston Hughes, sell books, sell passable catfish plates, host talks by known revolutionaries, be owned by an Iraqi-American and patronized by Americans of all shapes and sizes. It can even become a chain and a sign of gentrification. Could Dame’s Chicken and Waffles or Mertz’s do that one day? Who knows?
Second, we have to realize that thanks to the Great Migration, there’s still a not lot of black professional growth happening back down South, outside of Atlanta. If you walk places or use public transit, enjoy random, free jazz every night on every corner, make a higher salary and have a sense that you are 100% part of the civic and leadership picture, it’s harder to want to come South to a Southern city that doesn’t have those things. Now I love my home state. I believe that it can be just as vibrant and is as vibrant as some of the bigger places in certain quarters, but there are things, some that are out of our control as young black professionals, that keep us finding that vibrancy in North Carolina.
And finally, sometimes, we have to look for things ourselves. If I hadn’t checked my Gmail for this newsletter, I would not have seen this post that stated Raleigh as worthy of note as a place that appreciates black literature. Of course, the usual suspects are at the top, but somebody is checking for Raleigh when it comes to black literature. Literature is one of the great cultural arts and the Creative Loafing Charlotte article notes that there are several great places of cultural arts in Charlotte. I can vouch for the Triad and Triangle and say I’ve attended a lot of nice, black-oriented cultural events, both with and without a lot of black professionals, white professionals, and heck, a lot of people period. Also, sometimes, going skiing or to the Hoppers Game or being the only black person (at least in that hour) in Target isn’t a bad thing.
Looking forward to your thoughts on this one and look out tomorrow for me to drop some population stats on you, from the Census and their official records of who counts as an educated black young person.
2017 Editors Note: When I wrote this post two years ago, I was participating in #NaBloPoMo, the time of the year when bloggers come together to pump out daily content and connect. You can learn more about that project and how participated, here and here. Also, since this post gets a lot of traffic, I wanted to create something to go along with it, that would help you sort through your angst. If you sign up for my weekly newsletter, you’ll be one the first to receive it and the companion blog post when they come out on February 21st, 2017. You’ll also get job listings, interesting articles, links to future posts and more.
Oh, and I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my main website, www.kristenejeffers.com.. Support my work on Patreon.