Houston nightlife: Where's the secret checklist when you're black?

Houston nightlife: Where's the secret checklist when you're black?

News_Ray Odom Vonn Butler_Checklist
What's the checklist for getting past the ropes if you're black? And why does it seem to be different? Photo by flickr user eatmorechips

We want in.

As college graduates and skilled professionals, we are more than familiar with the admissions process. We are used to hurdles and hoops. We jump them often. However, we’re starting to get the feeling that there is a hidden list of requirements that we don’t know about and might never meet.

Well dressed — check.
Well groomed — check.
Affluent — check.
Professionally successful — check, check.

It seems like we would be the ideal audience for a Houston lounge or club. One might think beautiful, poised people with discretionary income would be an owner’s dream — one would be wrong.

There’s something we’re missing, some other criteria that we’re not meeting. Or, maybe the criteria required to get in is not as important as the one required to keep us out. Is it possible that no matter how many boxes we check, no matter how much we achieve, no matter how many degrees we attain, we will never be able to overcome the box that says we are black?

Does that one characteristic render us undesirable in Houston nightlife?

We want to be wrong. We wanted to be wrong at the Hudson Lounge last week. As a matter of fact, for a moment, we thought we were. We were in. We had finally reached the post-racial America the pundits keep talking about. We had met in-person with the general manager, Keith Thompson, and the events director four times. We had sent our playlist for approval and received that approval. We had sent the invitation out on Facebook and had it linked to the Hudson page for a few days. Our projected 200 guests were welcome. We were welcome.

It was all good . . . for a moment.

Then, the owner arrived. He took one look at us and decided we were not the "right" crowd. He didn’t like “the look” of us. We were confused, because we jumped all the hoops. We checked all the boxes. On paper, we were exactly the right crowd with exactly the right pedigree, but in person, once again, we were not.

He didn’t know who we are. All he knew is what we are, and that was enough to put us out on the curb. It was enough for us to be uninvited.

Some have said we are too sensitive, that an owner has the right to refuse service to anyone. This isn’t racism, they say.

I say it is the worst kind. It is the socially acceptable kind that is easily shrouded in “target” marketing. Club owners claim our presence chases away their “real” customers.

The fact is, if any person in Hudson that night had shown up individually with a group of white friends, they would have been admitted, and allowed to stay. Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities in America, but I say it's not so when it comes to the nightlife. I want to believe we are better, but Hudson showed me otherwise.

As a black man, I have experienced such treatment before at other clubs. Now, if I'm not dressed properly, sometimes I won't even try to get into a spot like Hudson unless I'm with a female. More recently, it usually involves friends with me that are not as "club savvy." The door guy will let me in, but not my friends. This happened recently at Sawyer Park.

My friend was denied entry because he had on Timberland boots . . . at a sports bar! I think about it every time I walk up to an exclusive night spot in Houston.

The next time you go to a club on Washington or a lounge in Midtown or some new hot spot in Rice Village and you see someone turned away, ask to see the secret checklist.

Hopefully, you can tell me I am wrong.

Ray Odom is a Houston social media consultant. He helped organize the Dec. 28 party at the Hudson Lounge, which ended with the bar shutting down early and charges of racism.

For more background, read CultureMap's previous stories on the night:

Tuesday night at Hudson Lounge turns sour: Patrons claim racism

"I am not a racist," Hudson Lounge owner Adam Kliebert says (with update)