"The dress code is gone," Jaberwoke restaurant co-owner Anderson McClure declared yesterday afternoon during an at times contentious public meeting on the issue at the restaurant.
This follows a controversy that exploded in the pages of the student run Cavalier Daily and the creation of a Facebook group titled "Hoos Against Jaberwoke" that claimed the dress code targeted African Americans, and McClure (who operates that restaurant in addition to The Virginian and West Main with his brother Pat McClure) says he's rethought the regulation.
"The dress code apparently alienated some of my customers, and for that I'm truly sorry," he says today in an interview with the Hook. "I wasn't trying to offend anybody, I was trying to solve a problem.
That problem, McClure says, is rude and sometimes violent customers. In his experience, he says, the offenders often wear the same outfit: large white t-shirt, baggy jeans, and hats without brims. Other verboten garments: sleeveless shirts for men, camouflage on non-armed forces members, hoods worn up, and sweatpants. McClure says he's had problems with various ethnicities wearing such garb, but declines to estimate what percentage have been black.
On Tuesday, March 19, McClure attended a student council meeting at which his dress code was discussed and a resolution issued. On Wednesday afternoon, McClure closed Jaberwoke from 3-5pm to host a public forum on the matter. Approximately 50 students– many members of the school's NAACP chapter– attended that forum and insisted that the dress code was actually thinly disguised way to keep blacks out.
"The policies you've implemented are flawed," said one female student, an African American.
"Making assumptions about these clothes is wrong," said another.
McClure came under particular fire during the meeting from former UVA Dean of African American Affairs and current local NAACP president Rick Turner. "You're really not being honest with yourself," Turner said to McClure. "You don't want black people in your bar."
McClure denied Turner's accusation, citing a diverse staff and multi-colored clientele. "If you knew me," he says today, "you'd know there's not a racist bone in my body."
A young African American man who bartends at a different corner establishment was the only one who spoke in support of the code.
"There is a trend, and you really can't ignore that," he said of his own observations working late at night. White t-shirts, baggy jeans, and hats without brims are the outfit of choice for many trouble makers, he agreed. The real problem, he said, is unfair application of the dress code by bouncers at the door. He cited an Asian man who had been permitted into Jaberwoke in prohibited clothing items.
The confrontational tone of the meeting "made me sad," says McClure. "It wasn't productive at all." He wishes the group had focused more on a mutually agreeable solution than on accusing him and his establishment of discrimination.
"It seems like no matter what I do, I'm going to be attacked," he says. "It's really, really disconcerting."
UVA spokesperson Carol Wood declines to weigh in on the controversy. "The students are doing a good job of stating their opinions on it," she says.
Students have planned another meeting on the dress code for Wednesday, March 28 in Clark Hall, Room 107, at 7pm.