Commentary: In Atlanta, Chivalry or Racism?

Commentary: In Atlanta, Chivalry or Racism?

A new civil-rights hearing is asking whether a Georgia business is racist or just polite.

Published September 13, 2011

A civil-rights lawsuit five years in the making started in Atlanta this week. And though the case is a half-decade old, the issues it encompasses are still as topical and recent and as they’ve ever been: bigotry and chivalry.


Former NBA player Joe Barry Carroll and his friend Joseph Shaw, a lawyer, went into the Tavern at Phipps in August 2006 and sat at the bar for some drinks. Located in Atlanta’s popular Buckhead neighborhood, it wasn’t long before the bar was full of patrons. What happened next is the dispute at the heart of the lawsuit.


According to the Tavern, it’s customary for men seated at the bar to give up their seats to female patrons when the venue is at its busiest. In keeping with that tradition, Tavern staffers asked Carroll and Shaw to stand so that two women could sit. Carroll and Shaw declined, at which point bartenders offered them free drinks if they were to stand. When Carroll and Shaw declined again, they were escorted out of the restaurant. Carroll alleges he was told, “That’s that way we do things around here,” as he was being led out.

Both Carroll and Shaw were obviously humiliated by their dismissal, and now they’re claiming via lawsuit that they were kicked out because they are African-American. But is that true?


According to the bartender who was on duty at the time Carroll and Shaw were asked to leave, there were no other men seated at the time of their ejection. Tavern staff has also said that “thousands” of other male guests have complied with requests to stand for ladies, even one of Carroll’s NBA colleagues, Michael Jordan.


For their part, Carroll and Shaw say they’re sure they were discriminated against, and their lawyer, Jeffrey Bramlett, says interviews with former Tavern staff revealed a systematic effort by the restaurant’s management to keep Black people out of the Tavern.


If that’s indeed the case, and testimony reveals Carroll and Shaw were booted because they are Black, then good for the two men for following through with their lawsuit. But as it stands, it appears as if the duo simply didn’t want the Tavern’s house rules to apply to them. And when they were asked to leave the private business because of their unwillingness to cooperate, they filed a lawsuit. Maybe chivalry is dead.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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