Rich Albertoni's article in Isthmus this week – "Race and R Place"
- was a topic of conversation this morning at my house. The Dulcinea, my bi-racial ladyfriend, asked if I'd read it and I told her that I had. Her response to the article focused on one sentence early on:Tonight is the first time I've been to R Place, 1821 S. Park St., and right now, I'm conscious of being one of two white people in a crowded room.
"Welcome to my world!" she said. "Now he knows what it's like for just about every person of color in this city."
I have to wonder if this article has been sitting on the back burner for a while or if Albertoni, a music writer (and he perhaps wears other hats as well) for Isthmus, actually waited about 2 years before stepping into the club. Even Katjusa Cisar from 77 Square went there within the first few months it was open. What the hell took him so long? Was he, as a white person, scared to go? He doesn't really say but he hints that this is the case: When Richard, the person I came here with tonight, finally joins the jam, I get self-conscious about being a stranger in R Place. This is the south side of Madison. It's after dark, and inside this space, I fret that I won't shake hands the right way.
Yeah, it's the south side of Madison, not deepest Africa. You're a music journalist in a small American city, not Charles fucking Marlow venturing down a river in a Joseph Conrad novel. We're not at the farmers market anymore, Toto! If this attitude is shared by even a modicum of white people here in Madison, it goes a long way in explaining the troubles R Place owner Rick Flowers has had.
While I appreciate the history of the joint that Albertoni gives, I thought that he missed out on a good opportunity here. In addition to an author that didn't feel that the south side of Madison was a DMZ after dusk, I wish the article had more input from patrons about the role it plays in the community. Albertoni quotes one muso as saying, "I think it's unique because it's one of the few venues in Madison that features soul, R&B, jazz, spoken-word and other genres of black music and culture." Is it important for people of color to have a place to go where they are not in the minority? If so, why? What role does R Place play in our community? Why are black music and culture so restricted here? I really wish that Albertoni had tried to approach this profile of R Place from the point of view of people of color in addition to asking why people with the same skin color as his avoided the place. Instead of trying to define R Place by the absence of white patrons, how about approaching it more along the lines of its abundance of black clientele?