Asian Nightclubs: Exclusive or Racist?

An Asian nightclub in Manhattan is accused of turning away non-Asians. Is exclusivity the same thing as discrimination?
Circle, a traditionally Asian club in midtown Manhattan, was recently investigated by Fox 5 for its allegedly racist door policy. (Photo: Screenshot, Fox5)
Jun 29, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

Last month, a local news station in New York went undercover to examine allegations of racism by bouncers at Circle, a traditionally Korean club in Midtown Manhattan.

The primary complaint came from Patrick Thomas, an African-American who said he had been denied entrance into the club despite showing up with two Asian girls, one of whom was his girlfriend. When they reached the door, the girls were let in, but Thomas was not.

On the surface, the investigation by Fox 5 reporter Arnold Diaz seems a bit one-sided. Not mentioned, for example, is the fact that many Asian Americans are also turned away at the door of Circle. Nor was it noted that many clubs have employed similarly questionable door policies. As Phil Kim, a Manhattan-based banker explains, sometimes the stringent vetting is part of the appeal.

“I go to Circle when I want to meet other Asians,” Kim, told TakePart. He’s also visited Korean clubs in Los Angeles and Seoul. “If I wanted to be around a diverse crowd, I’d go somewhere else.”

It’s understandable that nightclubs would want to maintain their appeal to a niche market, but does that make their policies fair? “It looks as if the nightclub is discriminating,” said Guy Aoki, Asian American advocate and founder of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, after watching the video.

Jacinta Ma, a civil rights attorney and deputy director of the Asian American Justice Center, agreed. “Based on what I saw [in the video], it looks like discrimination,” she said.

According to Ma, the argument that clubs need to maintain their brand doesn’t hold water and creates a slippery slope. “There have been situations in the past where a store would say, I want to create my own brand, so I’m only going to advertise using people that look typically American, and I only want people in the public customer service area who look typically American,” she said. “That leads to discrimination, and that’s not what we want.”

While Ma understands the desire for both clubs and their clientele to maintain a certain image, she said anti-discrimination laws are designed to ensure equality across all public spaces. Nightclubs, even exclusive ones like Circle, can continue to cater to Asian clientele; they just can’t discriminate on the basis of race.

“This is something that protects all people,” she said. “To the extent that Asians might want to hang out with other Asians, they also don’t want to be excluded from going to other places they want to be able to go.

“There have always been certain neighborhoods or restaurants that are typically Asian, but they’re still open to serving all people and anyone can go live in those neighborhoods,” she said. “These clubs should really be operating on the same principle.”

Do you have any experiences with racism at the nightclub? Let us know in the COMMENTS.

Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung