Club Discrimination

Sociologist Lauren Rivera knows what it takes to get behind the velvet rope. She recommends, “Know someone. Or know someone who knows someone. If you’re a guy, bring attractive women—ideally younger women in designer clothes. Don’t go with other dudes. And doormen are well versed in trendiness, so wear Coach, Prada, Gucci—but don’t show up in a nice suit with DSW shoes.” …

Bouncers [at exclusive clubs] ran through a hierarchical list of qualities to determine in seconds who would enhance the image of the club and encourage high spending. Social networks mattered more than social class, or anything else for that matter. Celebrities and other recognized elites slipped through the door. And people related to or befriended by this “in crowd” often made the cut, too. Wealth is considered to be one of the strongest indicators of status, yet bouncers frowned upon bribes even though bribes are obvious displays of money. “New Faces,” as the bouncers called unrecognized club-goers, were selected on the basis of gender, dress, race, and nationality. Sometimes the final call boiled down to details as minor as the type of watch that adorned a man’s wrist. …

Bouncers weighed each cue differently. Social network mattered most, gender followed. For example, a young woman in jeans stood a higher chance of entrance than a well-dressed man. And an elegantly dressed black man stood little chance of getting in unless he knew someone special. The fact that women ranked higher than men in the pecking order testifies to the idea that judgments of status depend on context. … The bouncers (many of whom are Black or Latino) claimed that letting Black or Latino Americans in might jeopardize safety at the club. … At a nightclub, the distinction between Prada and Levi’s can determine who hobnobs with the upper echelon. (more; HT Alex T)

So nightclubs routinely and frankly discriminate by gender and race.  Country clubs have been sued for such discrimination; so why doesn’t anyone sue exclusive night clubs? It should be easy to document such discrimination – just video the front of the line and collect stats on features of folks accepted vs. rejected. Is it that we see such clubs as mainly about sex, where we are fine with discrimination and inequality, and not about business or careers, where we object much more?

Added 23June: The media seems amazingly ignorant of their transparent hypocrisy; they assume “race/gender selective country clubs bad, city clubs good.” For example, the Post.

Added 6Sept:  Someone did sue clubs for discrimination, and was rejected because “The court … said nightclubs weren’t `state actors,’ and dismissed the action.” You see, this suit was based on the constitutional Equal Protection clause, which only applies to the government, and sporadically to anyone regulated “enough” by the government.  (Such as a bar that had refused to serve women.)  Not clear why they didn’t sue via Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination by employers (not employees) and “hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations.”  Apparently that approach has worked at least once.  (Many huge hat tips to Carey Lening.)

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  • http://kboreilly.com Kevin B. O’Reilly
    • Stuartpinker

      You all would have been people sitting in the all white restaurants, with no regard. The shame I see reading your coments disgusts me. “You can trade up your looks.” Thats as bad as asking a African-American to lighten there skin.

  • noematic

    In the calculation of whether to sue is also a question of compensable damages – what has a person actually suffered by not being allowed into an exclusive night club? Probably the opportunity to procure high status/ high status company or sex. It could easily be argued that they could have easily mitigated any damages by attempting entry into other clubs, and that even in the event that they were permitted entry, they may still not have been able to procure the desired status or sex. It is also relevant that these things may be procured through other means with relative ease. It seems that it is only a question of a loss of opportunity, with limited consequences.

  • http://cephalicfurrow.wordpress.com PeterW

    Clubs exist mainly as venues to facilitate mating, and have few other purposes. So our attitudes towards them mainly reflect our attitudes when we’re thinking about sex and mating. As I’ve argued previously (http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/02/mate-racism.html#comment-443020), we’re tolerant of a lot of blatant Darwinian thinking when we’re mating-primed, even though we’d castigate the behavior in any other context.

    • stevesailer

      Country clubs had a lot of mating purpose: to give the offspring of members an exclusive and romantic setting. Country clubs in America worked much like English country estates in Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse stories. Indeed, Wodehouse wrote dozens of romantic comedy stories set at golf clubs for the Saturday Evening Post.

      Birthright Israel, for example, is a covert endogamy-facilitation organization, with kids who go on it 50% more likely to marry within the Jewish ethnicity than kids who inquired but didn’t go on the trip.

  • http://cephalicfurrow.wordpress.com PeterW

    Another thought: the racial equalitarian movement never really took off when it was composed only of the underprivileged group and moralizing whites. It achieved and maintained its modern prominence when one clique of the dominant group (whites) noticed that it could use racial equalitarian rhetoric to lower the status of another clique within the dominant group.

    By analogy, then, those of you who want to end club racism would do best not by making a moral stink about it, but by convincing one subgroup of pretty young women that they could steal status from another group of pretty young women by criticizing their status seeking (shallow, etc.) Only by recruiting insiders can you succeed.

    (The downside, of course, is that even the self-righteous women would then have to deal with the consequences of being in proximity to lower-status men. And they can’t do the equivalent of white liberals sending their kids to expensive private schools.)

  • Douglas Knight

    It is explicit in the (common?) law that more discrimination is allowed in social clubs than ones with business purposes. (so a part of golf club trials is whether they have business purposes)

    That doesn’t address the particular case of night clubs, but I think it’s a better example of the genera point.

  • Clayton Roche

    In recent news from Chicago some kids performed a scientific experiment of sorts. After black students were denied entry for baggy pants they exchanged pants with their white friends (who were smaller people). The white friends were allowed in with the baggy jeans. Oops!

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=114215599

  • Newerspeak

    Nightclubs sell preselection-by-status. Suing makes you look like you’re trying to game the status system, which instantly brands you as a total loser.

    People who do challenge nightclub discrimination will do so playfully, to demonstrate cleverness/connectedness, or to show allegiance to an ideal (non-racism in Clayton Roche’s example above).

  • Tom Haslett

    On the legal side, I’d assume it has something to do with the fact that you can always trade up from not looking as sharp as the doormen would like, whereas you can’t become white if you’re black and you can’t be a man if you’re a woman, or vice versa. LeBron James would get in to any club if he was wearing a tattered Simpsons shirt and j-orts; I as a relatively well-to-do caucasian male would fail the test if I was wearing the same or even if I weren’t toting some fine arm candy (which has, without a doubt, put me over the top in DC).

    Especially in th US, I think there’s a sort-of “He was right to reject me” attitude to things like being denied entry to a club, especially those which are literally flooded with the “beautiful people.” And I do think that’s more true when you can trade up. It may be a crappy goal to shoot for, but I think that there is a certain population that is looking to get in to these places on the weekeneds, no matter the cost; and I don’t doubt that those who are in the same line, week after week, do get in at a higher rate than those who’ve just shown up for the night, whether they’re white or black. So for why people don’t sue the owners, there’s that “Never give a inch” aspect to it; if you think you can get there, then you should Never act otherwise.

    I admit I didn’t read the whole paper so if that point was refuted in it, then I de-submit the latter half of that comment.

  • http://www.phoenixism.net An Unmarried Man

    I’ve always believed the evil practice of club entrance filtering and all its attendant lawsuits and/or devastation of ego (not to mention suicide-inducing embarrassment) is regressive in nature.

    I propose that the next time a club admits me into its rarefied confines (speaking of which, a rare event), I will bring a legal suit against the club based on one or all of the following aggravating reasons:

    1) I became “overly” intoxicated and vomited or fell asleep in the parking lot.

    2) My feeble attempts at “hooking up” resulted in unflattering and shaming female non-response, and conversely, in some cases, aggressively humiliating responses bordering on the sadistic.

    3) My conspicuous presence in a crowd of people incomprehensibly and comically more physically attractive than I resulted in extreme amounts of #1, thus, #2.

    The suit will bring the club to task for using extremely poor judgement in admitting me through the door.

  • http://dryhyphenolympics.blogspot.com/ Dain

    Jeesh, do these clubbers have any sincere musical purpose for being there?

    The clubs I go to are concerned with looks too, sure, but that’s not ALL it’s about.

  • http://www.thethoughtfulape.blogspot.com Jay Thomas

    college fraternities and sororities filter potential members along the similiar lines to night club bouncers and we seem fairly accepting of that too.

    • andrew kieran

      from across the atlantic college fraternities and sororities look somewhat creepy and elitist. we don’t have them over here, to my knowledge.

      maybe they do exist in elitist universities down south, but i wouldn’t know about that.

      club discrimination exists of course

      “have you got ID?”
      “yes, here . . ”
      “are those steel-toecapped boots”
      “no, see . . ”
      “You’re not coming in anyway”

      in a somewhat related note, i heard a funny story once of a regular straight club (in edinburgh) that hosted a night with a couple of popular punk bands, but the bouncers were still being their usual idiot selves and wouldn’t let the punks in, so the punks went through the club next door, tore the wall down and smashed the place up

      • Khoth

        I went to an elitist university down south, and if there were fraternities and sororities there, I never noticed them.

      • stevesailer
      • andrew kieran

        i didn’t really think so. i have a friend that went to oxford and he never mentioned it. of course, he’s not the type of person that’d be invited for membership

        i think the same kind of class-selection probably goes on over here, but more subtle-like.

        not having any direct experience of american college life, it seems like a lot of the frat culture is intended to create networks for later professional life. like masonic lodges for kiddies. i guess a lot of deals get smoothed through because people in the participating institutions were in the same club in college

        i would add in qualification that one can probably gain a great deal of wrong information from watching dramas about american upper-classmen. as far as i remember americans in high school are generally 25-30 years old and tend to live in very large houses with swimming pools in the kind of carefree luxury that’d make the british upper classes weep. And all blacks live tragic lives blighted by drugs and violence, of course.

  • http://www.iSteve.blogspot.com Steve Sailer

    Anthropologist Frank Salter videotaped bouncers guarding velvet ropes deciding who gets in and who doesn’t in Australia and German. My article on his findings is here:

    http://www.isteve.com/2001_Nightclub_Bouncing.htm

    Salter found that men and women use different strategies when confronted by doormen assessing whether they are worthy of entry to the Munich hotspot. As men turned the corner and began the long walk up to the wall of doormen, they accelerated, compressed their body language, and looked straight ahead trying to avoid eye contact with the doormen until absolutely necessary.

    Women, in contrast, looked at the doormen, slowed down, and began flirting. The more skin they were showing (Salter diligently measured this off his videotapes), the more they flirted.

    The doormen looked at prospective customers’ wealth, attractiveness, and youth. To judge how much money a supplicant had to throw around inside, they were particularly concerned with his shoes.

    Beautiful women were always welcome, unless they appeared from their excessively skimpy dress, heavy makeup, extremely high heels and slack posture to be prostitutes.

    A man in his 60s could get in if he had a lovely young woman on each arm. Women of that age seldom even tried to get past the doormen.

    There was no racial discrimination, but at some of the bars Salter studied, the doormen tried to filter out homosexuals, claiming that “Gays confuse things.” Salter translated their logic into ethology-speak: “This is a money-making enterprise that profits from people coming for heterosexual mate choice.”

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    Well one type of establishment (country clubs) evoke the traditional, New England WASP/southern aristocrat, while the other evokes the hip, urban, and sexually libertine.

    Guess which ones has more enemies, especially amongst a media greedy for controversy.

  • Sigivald

    And, of course, a nightclub is a place you visit for the night – whereas a country club is a place one joins, pays membership dues at, and uses to build valuable social networks among people – at least traditionally – with power.

    At the nightclub, you get in by already being in the social network, and as has been mentioned, you’re there, for the most part, to find a sexual partner or to drink.

    The personal harms from nightclub discrimination are thus orders of magnitude less important, which is why nobody actually cares.

  • y81

    I guess it varies, but a lot of New York City nightclubs prefer gay men: they drink more, they get out on the dance floor, they stay later, they dress fashionably, they don’t fight etc. Back when getting into nightclubs was on my agenda I always acted as swishy as possible, and it usually worked.

  • Ian Kanchay

    Is there a problem here?

    If you are not allowed in then you do not want to be in. (unleast you are unhappy with your situation and whatnot, then the best solution would be to mimic those who enter. e.g. having surgery to become white or having a bigger company)

    To go back to your question Robin, I think that it is self-explanatory. Different kind of people go to different clubs. Without knowing much, I affirm that an entrepreneur/businessman is more likely to sue than a lad seeking to have fun.

    Anyway we all know how nasty are clubs, so why would unrelated people care about those who won’t have the chance of having the possibility to copulate? As a human I do not give a dime.

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  • ad

    The fact that women ranked higher than men in the pecking order testifies to the idea that judgments of status depend on context
    The club does not let people in because it believes them to be of high status. It lets people in because it belives their presence inside will be to the net benefit of the club. That is not the same thing as “status” in the usual sense.

  • Dave S

    Call me old fashioned, but a nightclub is a privately owned business and has the right to discriminate at will. Rejected patrons have plenty of other places to spend their money.

    There are way too many lawyers and do-gooder social engineers telling everybody else what they can and cannot do. That is why society is in its current screwed up condition.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    I just added to this pot.