American Sociological Association

Velvet Rope Racism, Racial Paranoia, and Cultural Scripts: Alleged Dress Code Discrimination in Urban Nightlife, 2000–2014

Using news stories appearing between June 1, 2000, and June 15, 2014, I explore the nature of African Americans’ allegations of racial discrimination in the use of dress codes at urban nightclubs. In this qualitative analysis I outline the nature of these incidents and the extent to which they represent what I refer to as “velvet rope racism”. I focus on how these incidents are negotiated between patrons and nightclub management, observing that owners who face allegations of racial discrimination turn to cultural scripts to make counterclaims to allegations. These scripts present dress codes as colorblind standards that help owners address legitimate business concerns, while at the same time imply that the accuser is suffering from “racial paranoia” (Jackson). These scripts are powerful tools for deflecting allegations of racial discrimination and delegitimizing the complainants’ experiences, further complicating the use of urban nightclubs for diverse populations.


Reuben A. Buford May





Starting Page


Ending Page