It never fails. The conversation is usually the same during the last couple weeks leading up to the end of February. "Well, you know CIAA is next weekend..." *insert awkward pause* as the speaker scans the closest black person's expression or the table for someone (anyone) who will cosign. Why, you may ask? The CIAA – Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association – an NCAA Division II conference of historically black institutions holds its annual basketball tournament around the end of February or beginning of March in our city every year.
If you're new to Charlotte and you haven't heard the murmurings of bar- and clubgoers expressing some version of lackluster investment, congratulations. The rest of us, however, have been hearing the complaints for quite some time – I'm going on year six. The issue in a nutshell? As much as some folks will argue that "race doesn't exist" in Charlotte, weekends like these reveal that the roots of social division are alive and well.
Usually, I use this particular column to discuss all of the CIAA events I've been to in the past, how much money artists throw at a local strip club, who's performing during the weekend or where are the best venues to go. This year, I want to weigh in on the conversations that a lot of publications choose to focus on, whether positive or negative.
In my opinion – that's what you say when you're trying to maintain some sense of political correctness, right? – it's no different than the "surprise" that's expressed every single time the #blacklivesmatter movement resurges in the city. "I don't understand what all of this about?" some state in exasperation every single time a stone is thrown in the direction of social homogeneity.
The question of whether or not one is going to engage in CIAA events, let alone leave the city, is a question or statement that comes up every single year around this time.
For one, there have been many articles written on the simple fact that the amount of people that actually attend the tournament has continued to decline over the years. Instead, the focus has shifted toward the multitude of day and night parties that take place in the city between Thursday and Friday (check our guide on page 16) and the high-profile violence that can sometimes occur at said events (already there are articles about Young Dolph returning to CLT after surviving a 100-bullet barrage in 2017). And yet, in the grand scheme of things, the weekend generates millions of dollars in revenue for the city.
The larger conversation, most of the time, is much more centered around...you guessed it, race. Let's not tip-toe around the fact that a tournament based around HBCUs is going to bring in people of color. And given our social environment with regards to racial tension, anytime there's a large influx in the city, there's always a perception that drama is going to follow. Hence, headlines like "Why the outrage over CIAA gunfire?" and "Yes, your leaving Charlotte to avoid black people during CIAA is racist."
But can we argue that these headlines, despite the fact that they have a clickbait flair, are getting right to the heart of the dynamics that exist from a cultural standpoint in Charlotte. Just last week, jokes were flying about how much gunfire, hip-hop music and how many motorcycles will be running the streets of Charlotte. But the real question should be, if the city is benefitting from a financial standpoint and we aren't seriously considering it going anywhere else, how do we move forward in a positive way? And then, how do we shift the conversation to the larger view of why there's always a division when it comes to nightlife experiences?
I don't know that there's a definitive answer. I've talked to people from a diverse array of perspectives that are grounded in race, religion, gender and sexuality. Not to mention, I come from a unique perspective with regards to all of those categories and I can say that the allure of nightlife in general has faded as I've gotten older. And I certainly understand navigating different spaces with regards to all of those things despite a certain level of comfortability. As an added bonus, I've worked as a hostess during CIAA and I've actually gone to a multitude of events.
Looking ahead to All Star Weekend in 2019, I begin to think about the fact that there will be yet another event that will bring a familiar dynamic to the Queen City. I am interested to see if we can begin to discuss what it is that fractures our nightlife scene and figure out a way to bridge a variety of gaps.