Until now, there’s never been a time in the young life of Mr. Ernest Owens – a sometimes controversial Philadelphia writer, born in Houston, who in October will be age 25 – where he could sit back and say: I told you so! So today, Mr. Owens, who for over a year has written in multiple publications about what he perceives is racism in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, feels vindicated because a video has surfaced of a club owner in that area using the most egregious of racial slurs directed at African-Americans.
So troubling are the remarks of Mr. Darryl DePiano, who owns the gay bar ICandy, that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, and the Mayor’s Office of LBGT Affairs, responded immediately with statements and the date, time and location of a public hearing – October 25th, from 6-8pm, at 112 N. 8th Street – to address incidents of racism and discrimination in the LGBTQ community.
News of the hearing didn’t do much to satisfy complainants, particularly Mr. Owens, who claims to have requested action and a statement from the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs regarding racism and discrimination months ago.
“It shouldn’t take the traumatic experience of hearing “nigger” to get officials to move,” said Mr. Owens, in an exclusive phone interview with Techbook Online, which was held moments before activists from The Black and Brown Workers Collective stormed into ICandy to denounce the video and, more largely, the prevalent racism and discrimination in Center City Philadelphia.
The racism and discrimination that critics are referring to is, among several things, an anti-street-wear dress code at multiple establishments that they feel is meant to deter Black urbanites from entering.
“We know what coded policy looks like,” said Shani Akilah, Founder of the BBWC, who spoke to me prior to the group’s 5pm protest in front of ICandy, which was organized in response to the controversial video, a recording that Mr. DePiano, who today apologized for his “hurtful and racist language” in a Facebook post, claims is three years-old.
Sister Akilah, who along with her comrades was escorted out of ICandy this afternoon by police minutes after their indoor protest commenced, said Mr. DePiano should put his apology where his policy is and rescind the dress code. Regardless of what Mr. DePiano does, however, the BBWC is calling for members of the community to “divest in racist spaces” that are unwelcoming to queer people of color, and those spaces, according to Mr. Owens, who called Mr. DePiano’s apology nonsense, and Sister Akilah, are plentiful.
“The racism is pretty clear in the Gayborhood,” Sister Akilah said.
“I don’t put my stock in what the City does,” Sister Akilah, who today renewed her call for Ms. Fitzpatrick to resign due to her incompetence and penchant for using colorblind language “that doesn’t serve us!”
Mr. Owens, who in his writing has been critical of Ms. Fitzpatrick, wouldn’t comment on whether she should resign, but he did say if her Office, which he claims hasn’t really taken a front-and-center approach on this issue, doesn’t make solving this problem a priority, than the expectation of her resignation wouldn’t be unreasonable.
For the year and some months that Mr. Owens, editor of Philadelphia Magazine’s LGTBQ-focused content vertical, has been reporting on the racial profiling in the Gayborhood – the process attracted him many dissenters who accused him of playing the race card – the City, he said, has been rather indifferent to it. Only when the N-word is used does it then validate a claim of racism, he argued.
“Racism’s standard of proof here is when the N-word is used,” Mr. Owens, who never before has dedicated so much time and editorial effort into one cause and who next month will be honored by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists with their Trailblazer Award, said in tone drenched with sarcasm.
Sister Akilah this evening refused to censor the slur but instead, in a bullhorn, shouted “NIGGER!”
“I’m going to say the word nigger because the bar owner likes to say the word nigger,” Sister Akilah said before walking inside ICandy. “The niggers are today!,” the fiery activist shouted as they swung open the door and roamed around the bar’s downstairs searching for Mr. DePiano.
Now that meaningful action appears to be happening on this issue, Mr. Owens won’t rest on his laurels but now sees his jobs as following up, and writing about, the progress government is making to right the many wrongs he and others have highlighted.
Its “admirable” that the City will hold a hearing, said Mr. Owens, but the focus needs to be on accountability and consequences for those who are proven to have acted or spoken with discontent for individuals not apart of the dominant culture. A mandate with consequences attached it was this moment calls for, remarked Mr. Owens.
“They’re not going to change unless there’s a flame under their ass. The community must not let this issue go, we’re onto something,” he said.
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Photos courtesy of the author.