White on Black

The first chords of Color Me Badd's "I Wanna to Sex You Up" blare through the sound system. We find a (relatively) open space on the dance floor, streaked by the scent of colognes too numerous and varied to catalogue. "When I say high, you say low," the DJ shouts through the loudspeakers. "Hiiiigh," he challenges.

"Looow," the dancers shout back as one.
Williams, whose father works for the U.S. Postal Service and whose mother is a teacher at a local high school, graduated from Ransom-Everglades School, a predominantly white prep school in Coconut Grove. He says his experiences in that environment - succeeding, yet feeling like an outsider - helped solidify his identity as a black American. He'd like to see more of a rapport between the races, which would extend to social activities, including nightclubs. "I don't use the term integration because I associate certain negative connotations with that word. It brings to mind the image of a black man losing his ethnicity, his connectedness with the black community. The burden should not be placed on the African-American to integrate into the mainstream experience. The question should be: Why can't members of either group feel comfortable in either setting?"

Brannard Campbell, brother of 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell, manages another popular night spot in an entirely different setting - Miami Beach. A pastel and neon monolith that illuminates the corner of Fifth Street and Lenox Avenue in South Beach, Luke's employs off-duty police officers, along with tuxedoed doormen, to greet guests. On a typical night, about ten percent of the patrons who hand over the ten-dollar cover charge are white, says Campbell, adding that he "bends over backwards" to make nonblacks feel comfortable at Luke's.

The steep cover helps to weed out "undesirable elements," as does the club's comparatively stringent dress code. "You don't go to a Volkswagen lot looking for a Jaguar," says Campbell, showing me around his third-floor office, reached via a staircase in a corner of the mirrored, tri-level club. "First of all, when people see policemen, they know they have to act accordingly." Campbell, who formerly managed Strawberries Too, a predominantly black club in Hialeah, is familiar with the perils of a clientele that doesn't "act accordingly." The Campbells closed the doors of Strawberries Too this past year after scuffles with city officials over licensing problems and violence at the club. "Hialeah didn't give us police protection. Miami Beach does," Campbell says bluntly. "We also enforce a strict dress code. We don't allow thick gold chains, sweats, sneakers. It just has a tendency to tell you what that person's profession is - people have a tendency to act the way they dress."

And yet it seems that the hint of anything black in an up-and-coming, ever-whiter neighborhood, invites stereotypical reactions. "I was talking to two Canadian girls the other night," says Campbell, "and they had been told not to come here because it's a black club and they might get hurt here. They were told it was dangerous because it's a black club. They came anyway. And they said they had the best time here."

Campbell says he and his brother made a conscious decision to open their club here rather than in a black community. "We didn't want to have a business right in the heart of the black neighborhood because we knew we'd have problems," he says. "If you want to make a profit, you have to put your business in a nice area. We want to educate the black people. We want to make them go to Aventura Mall and to make them feel comfortable on Miami Beach. It bothers me a lot that blacks don't go to Miami Beach because they feel unwanted. I've been to places and they ask you for four or five IDs, when a driver license should be sufficient. I say `Man, I'm getting the fuck out of here and going home.'"

In January, 26-year-old Jacqueline Davis opened the Neighborhood Sports Pub at 4930 NW Seventh Avenue, just around the corner from where she grew up. She says the decision to open the bar in a black neighborhood was a deliberate one. "How many guys in the area are going to go to Hooters?" she asks rhetorically above the cheers of twenty-odd customers watching the NBA Finals. "It's just too far to go." Davis's small pub contains four television sets, but no Hooters' Girls. Service is provided by a single bartender, who introduces himself as Freeman. During special events, such as prize fights, Davis installs a big-screen TV set outdoors and offers barbecue on the patio. "Everybody's here to watch the games, not to dislike anybody," the young bar owner says. "If anybody starts trouble, we show them to the door because they mess up business for us. Most of the people call me the House Lady. They know who I am and they give me respect."

Davis is quick to admit that owning a business in this area has its serious drawbacks. "Crimewise it's bad. But if you're going to get robbed, it can happen right in front of your house," she says. And so far, her clientele has been exclusively black. "If we see a group of white people, especially older people," she says, "we'll tell 'em, `Look, you're in a bad area. Get out from over here.'"

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