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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