By Daniel Starling
Well, last week I wrote that I was ashamed to be from Kansas because of what happened to Dr. Tiller, only to become red-faced again at what appears to have been brewing for some time in Downtown Kansas City Missouri around the Power and Light District. DJ Jazzy Jeff walks off stage and uses the news media to trash Kansas City and the flashy new entertainment district for being racist.
Now the Border Wars might have been 150 years or so ago but they haven’t been forgotten and I would be remiss if I didn’t admonish my fellow Missourians for their apparent reluctance to move into the 20th Century and to abandon arcane segregationist policies—policies that a country with a Half White Kansan/Half Black African President in the 21st Century could be proud of.
I admit that I am prejudiced against stupidity in all forms regardless of race, religion or creed. So to hear once again about a dress code used to keep people out of the Power and Light District, I just cringe. I know why it is happening. It’s been going on ever since I can remember. It’s a system left over from years of self-segregation and willful ignorance on the part of the moral minority along with its reluctance to accept the fact that America will soon be majority Black and Hispanic.
I love rap music. Or I used to anyway when I was growing up in Kansas City and it was difficult to ever hear it on the radio in the 80’s and early 90’s because the powers that be—specifically the preacher politician Mayor Emanuel Cleaver and the local R & B station--declared Rap and Hip Hop music D.O.A. around Cow Town.
Long-winded speeches about the evils of gangster rap flowed in churches while crack and crystal methamphetamine ravaged Eastern Jackson County, without mention of the lingering effects of segregation which left poor African Americans east of Troost Ave. and poor whites north of Independence Ave. Anyone who could afford it moved far away into Johnson County, the Northland or Blue Springs.
Of course, its hard to explain why I had an affinity for Public Enemy, N.W.A., Eric B. and Rakim or the Beastie Boys. I had grown up in suburban Kansas but had spent a good amount of time in Downtown Kansas City, just two blocks from where the Power and Light District now sits—that probably had something to do with it.
Me and my friends were at the Beasties and Run D.M.C. show at Kemper Arena in the late 80’s which was filled with fist fights between black and white rap fans, who had never been allowed to be in the same place at the same time. It was culture shock that erupted in a violent free for all.
I rarely reference other writers in Kansas City as I’ve the occasion to have a drink with a few of the them over the years. I find them generally a miserable and insufferable bunch of malcontents who grew up somewhere else and spend most of their days pondering their current predicament.
So I was reading about how the now infamous DJ Jazzy Jeff sort-of-show at the “Power and White District”--so dubbed by the DJ as told by the Star’s favorite I-was-born-elsewhere sports writer Jason Whitlock.
I went to the DJ’s Twitter site and found 64 pages of comments on Jazzy Jeff’s page that the Jo Co transplant Whitlock said he “didn’t believe.” Some were lamenting how no alternative media was covering the story or recounting their own brush with P&L’s fashion police. One outright racist retorted, “saying we don’t want ******* in Westport either.”
I can’t say I have ever had the unfortunate occasion to have a drink with the bombastic and rotund former Ball Stater, but his asinine column about the dress code at the Power and Light district reminded my of the old days when blacks couldn’t go to Westport and whites wouldn’t find themselves on the East Side after dark—unless they were buying drugs. Those were the days when the Hispanics all lived on the West Side or in KCK, and Johnson County was a place where parents moved to let their kids go to good public schools. Wait a minute: that’s not yesterday, it’s today!
“I understand and agree with the P&L District’s desire to prevent the area from being overrun by the loiterers who damaged the perception of Westport. I used to work concert security when I was in college and I have an affinity for rap music, so I also comprehend the difficulty of playing hip-hop music and avoiding the gangsta, parking-lot-pimping crowd.” –Jason Whitlock, Kansas City Star
Why should someone who is a “homeowner,” a “columnist,” or a “famous clothing designer” feel indignant at what most of us “brown” Kansas Citians have known for years: Kansas City is a segregated place, like 90 percent of America where there is a wrong side or the tracks (where the poor people live) and the gilded suburbs, where the better half resides.
I have to take offense to Jason’s reference to “loiterers who have damaged the perception of Westport” because there was a time when I was one of those guys hanging out late at night trying to catch last call or find an after hours party. Whose perception was that, anyway? Sounds like he is approving of the same nefarious thinking that makes for dress codes--a stealth way of telling people “you look like you don’t belong here.”
It reminds my of another story about a college friend who met up with me at a club in New York City a few years back. My man, who puts on major rock and hip-hop shows in the Midwest, came out that night in one of the those pajama-like designer hip hop athletic suits popular in the early 00’s. The doorman, my friend, politely pulled me aside and explained how my friend’s dress was inappropriate for the club. I understood what he was saying, No ghetto looking brothers allowed!
When I return home to K.C., I usually go out late one night in Westport to see old friends who work late in the service industry and meet up with them after work for a drink around 2 a.m.. Most of my long time service industry friends are resentful at the tax breaks and festival designation given to Cordish and the Power and Light District, which doesn’t have one locally owned business!
Maybe Mr. Whitlock and his well-to-do friends could grab a drink across the street from the Star at the Brick or at Kenny’s Newsroom or stoop so low as to make it to Westport and Dave’s stagecoach. There’s no dress code or bull****.
Many a night, when I worked at the KC Star, staffers and freelancers would find themselves closing out the Buzzard Beach at 3 a.m., mixing with that “gangsta, parking-lot-pimping crowd,” not thinking about the differences they had with the rock-and-roll, stay up all night partying people.
Who would go to a lame place like Power and Light anyway? Its only asset is that you can drink and smoke outside, with music. Shark Bar? A place made by out-of-towners for people who want to be somewhere else but are stuck in Cow Town and don’t want to have to put up with the townie rabble.
I have a suggestion for Mr. Whitlock and friends the next time they want to get into the Power & Light District. Wear a suit and tie and bring dates! And don’t forget your KC Star I.D.