I have not been back to Nellie’s since. I meant what I said when I said I would never be back at Nellie’s. I know people who have gone back, and they’ve said it looks like there’s more Black bartenders. The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter if you increase the number of Black bartenders. If everyone there is not properly trained on how to communicate when they see anti-Black racism, it doesn’t mean anything. There’s a misunderstanding that if you just increase the number of people of color, without proper training among other things, that’s going to turn the tide. This is not an individual issue. This is a structural and systemic issue. That can only be solved by long-term solutions.
“I don’t think Nellie’s cares or has ever cared. I think they were hoping this would be a moment and that people would get over it. In many ways, people aren’t forcing them to care,” Mitchum said.
I live in Ward 1, which is the same area where Nellie’s and a few other queer bars are located, and it is obvious that you’re seeing the displacement of Black residents but also the divestment in Black businesses. The area where I live is whiter than it's ever been. I live a couple of blocks away from Howard University, and a vast majority of my neighbors are white. That should truly disturb people—that one of the largest historically Black colleges is in an area that is now mostly white. That is an issue. Who we elect [as mayor] will continue this tradition of “New D.C.,” which is moving strongly away from Chocolate City and quickly becoming Mocha to Vanilla Latte City. To know the history of D.C., to intentionally move to D.C., and then to be cocky that you’re taking ownership of the spaces that Black people have occupied for decades is disheartening. Given the seeming lack of accountability from Nellie’s, what do you think it will take for things to change?Nellie’s, and bars like Nellie’s, would have to genuinely be willing to invest their time finding the right people with the talent and patience. I think the owner would have to hire Black queer people who have consulted with organizations and community members who can help them cover issues like gentrification, investments, justice and equity and inclusion. This would help them make better decisions about who they are hiring in their front bar and their back bar. It would cover where people feel safe showing up. People like to pretend Pride Month is just about celebration, and it’s not. If that is what we take away from Pride Month, we have not learned anything from our ancestors, who were literally fighting to make a safe space for us. If you’re willing to substitute equity for a $5 drink, then you’ll never care about people who are marginalized. Kristin Corry is a senior staff writer at VICE.
Many of us have noticed that there’s been this systemic push against this one bar that’s supposed to be a space for queer, trans, non-binary people. The question is always going to be: Space for who?