On December 5, the Black Student Union at the University of Iowa announced its boycott of a popular locale in Iowa City, Brothers Bar and Grill. The boycott comes in response to photos posted on the bar’s website showing three men wearing blackface at the bar during a Halloween costume party. One photo shows a man dressed as a pimp and another shows two men wearing Chicago Bulls jerseys.
The bar has a dress code that prohibits attire often associated with African-American males, including loose jewelry, baggy pants, and sports jerseys (except on game days). The BSU cited the bar’s dress code, and its violation by the white students on Halloween, as motivations for the boycott. A letter written by the BSU to the “owners and management” of the bar, and quoted in the University of Iowa student newspaper The Daily Iowan, states that, by their actions, the bar owners were “making the statement that, despite having a dress code that prohibits white T-shirts, sports jerseys (such as those being worn in one of the pictures), bandanas, do-rags, baggy clothes, and large or flashy jewelry … it is apparently acceptable for white students to think that it is funny and creative to don brown or black paint on their body, exaggerating their features to stereotypically reflect those of black people.”
The BSU also expressed outrage at the bar for exhibiting the offensive pictures on its Web site. The pictures were soon taken down from the site and the management said that they have since changed their photo-posting policy so that, from now on, an employee will review each photo before it can be posted. Now the BSU is considering a general boycott of all bars in Iowa City that have dress codes targeted at excluding African-American customers. At the start of the spring semester they will decide on whether or not to extend the boycott, according to a December 7 article in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.
One of the bar’s owners, Marc Fortney, has struck back at the group. In the Gazette article, Fortney suggests that BSU president Vernon Jackson is acting on a personal vendetta against the bar because he had been arrested at the bar in June of 2007 for disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. The article quotes Jackson responding that Fortney’s accusation is “just an attempt to deflect attention from the issue at hand.”