Cortlynn Stark, The Black Bear – Zan, a popular downtown nightclub, has been accused of discriminatory practices against African Americans.
Missouri State University senior, DaLila Blaney, said she had experienced this discrimination personally.
During her freshman year, Blaney explained she and a friend went to Zan and were stopped at the door. Blaney stated she was wearing cheetah print leggings and the bouncer told her they do not allow cheetah print leggings in Zan. Blaney changed her pants and got inside but as soon as she was in, she noticed that there were other girls wearing cheetah print leggings.
“It hurts people,” Blaney said. “I’m sure business owners don’t really care, but it does hurt to not be given a real reason why you can’t get in like it literally feels like it’s 1960.”
Blaney’s story is one of many individuals who have experienced discrimination at Zan. Rynell Martin and Theresa Mwiula, both African American, had a similar experience when trying to get into the club.
Martin said that the bouncer didn’t let him in because of the length of his shirt.
“[The bouncer] said ‘if you can’t lift your arm up and your shirt goes past the top of your pants, you’re not allowed in,” Martin said. “’But I would allow you to come in with a tank top.’”
Martin witnessed several other people standing outside Zan, not allowed in, but said he thought they were dressed properly.
One of Mwiula’s student’s witnessed similar discrimination. She said her student’s boyfriend was wearing combat boots when he tried to get into Zan. He was denied admission. They went to one of her boyfriend’s Caucasian friends, put the same boots on him, and watched as he walked in.
Cheetah print leggings and combat boots are not addressed in Zan’s dress code, which is only listed online on their website under the Frequently Asked Questions tab: “Dress to impress. Fashionable attire is appreciated. No hats, saggy clothing, flip-flops or jerseys. Otherwise dress code is at management’s discretion.”
Dylyn Florence, the organizer of the first protest on Oct. 1, questions what “dressed to impress” truly means.“I’m impressive whenever, I think, I wake up in the morning,” he said.
He said he watched a friend of his, a black international student, dressed “very clean cut”, get turned down at the door of Zan because he “wasn’t dressed to impress,” Florence said.
One major concern of protesters is the vagueness of the dress code and how exactly management’s discretion is applied.
“If you’re going to put a rule, be firm to that rule, make it understandable and clear, exactly what you won’t allow and what you will allow,” Martin advised. “Don’t just randomly make up rules as you please.”
Florence suggested Zan post the dress code by the front door.
As a result of these stories and others like them, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People got involved. Marla Marantz, head of the press and publicity committee for the NAACP, was present at the protest.
“We want there to be awareness too,” Florence said. “We want people to know that that club has some discriminatory practices taking place there.”
Before the march, Marantz asked for those who experienced discrimination to sign up on a form. This form would later be used to contact the individuals to set up a time to fill out formal complaint forms to be sent to the Mayors Commission on Human Rights.
“I think that this is a real beginning,” Marantz said. “So many people have been willing to sign that they would go on record officially as being discriminated against and they have witnesses that witnessed it.”
Two MSU freshmen, Christian Puckett and Kent Bullington, African-American and Caucasian respectively, were at Zan the night of the protest and did not experience or witness any discrimination.
“They were extra nice to me,” Puckett said. “I didn’t hear any racial slurs, no mistreatment of the African-American race. It was fair and equal.”
Some protesters claimed that Zan overcharged them based on their race claiming they were charged $15 to get in while white counterparts were charged only $5. However, Zan actually charges differently based on age.
It costs $15 for people under 21 to get in and $5 for those over 21. There are cheaper deals for those under 21 on special nights like College Thursdays.
The management of Zan never responded to The Black Bear with a statement on the protest.
“We’ve fought too long and hard for equal rights,” Mwiula said. “If it has to be something as simple as a club to stand up for what we believe in then that’s what is has to be.”