Racism, really?

Photo from Yester Years Pub and Grill website

Did you know that racism is running rampant in West Allis? 

Yester Years Pub and Grill became the center of breaking news when a bartender and patrons burned President Barack Obama in effigy. Now the bar is back in the news because it’s annual liquor license renewal was opposed by cries of racism.

But is this really racism, or just people tossing the term for shock value?  Has the overuse of the term “racist” taken it to a point that good-hearted people tune out when it is uttered?

When Obama was burned in effigy it was an embarrassment, not because it was racist, but because it was stupid. According to the owner of Yester Year’s it was an incident fueled by too much Cuervo and a dislike for the president’s policies. It became a race issue when over-zealous journalists ran to the local branch of the NAACP and made it a race issue.

There were calls for the closure of the bar or the revocation of its liquor license as punishment. Soon the Secret Service and police determined no laws were broken and the fire department issued a fine for burning indoors, leaving the local news trucks to find somewhere else to park. Then new evidence came to light that irrefutably proves Yester Years and it’s owner, Karen D. Schoenfeld, are harbingers of black hatred.

The evidence? The Yester Years web page header depicts a group of people dancing and partying. It’s right there – a black man with a “broad nose and an Afro” — a typical look for many of the African-American classmates I had in high school and college way back in the 80s. Forget about the incredibly thin, buxom blonde and the others patrons dancing in the background, this stock photo on a modestly designed website is visible proof that this bar, its owner and patrons are all racists that must be stopped.

West Allis officials were notified of this affront by Belinda Lathan, a human resources professional from Milwaukee. She sent a letter detailing the racism running rampant at Yester Years and the need to stop it.

Ms. Lathan’s letter says the website conveys “a bias” and seeks “those of like mind to join her in getting back the ‘yester years’ of the way things used to be.”  She asked the city council to not renew Schoenfeld’s liquor license as a message that this type of behavior “steps outside the boundaries of exercising one’s free speech.” She described the burning as hate speech and an act of implied violence against the president. She also calls the council members ya-hoos if they don’t feel as she does.

I’ll repeat – burning political leaders in effigy is an age-old expression of free speech from George III to Bush and Obama. Death threats have been levied against politicians forever. As for the website picture, I fault Schoenfeld for choosing such a cheesy, dated picture to advertise her bar, but kudos for trying to demonstrate some interracial fun.

Lathan was attending to personal matters when other news reporters called her for an explanation, but she did answer questions for ThirdCoast Digest via e-mail. Lathan said she didn’t want the bar closed permanently, as her letter clearly states. Instead, she said she meant to say a suspension of 10-20 days would send a message to Schoenfeld that this behavior would not be tolerated.

She added, “I believe we all have a right to our opinions. I believe in free speech, protests and marches, and yes, even burning someone in effigy. In my opinion that too falls under the heading of free speech.”

However she was shocked that this event took place in a bar and that it was passed off as something that is typical or expected in West Allis. She said she was disturbed that this reaction was displayed by the bar owner, mayor, council members and citizens in West Allis and that is what compelled her to write her letter.

As for her comments about the website displaying “a bias,” I ask what bias? From the looks of the site, it would seem that Schoenfeld just wants people to come to her establishment and have fun. I’ll admit it, I’ve been to Yester Years — I grew up four blocks from that bar. It’s a shot-and-a-beer place with NASCAR, Packers and Brewers signs along  with the typical beer advertisements. There’s a jukebox, an occasional DJ and karaoke. The patrons are blue-collar and yes, some may have the wrong view of African-Americans.

But does that mean the government should shut down an establishment that provides jobs in the community and a place for friends to gather for fun? No. It does mean that Schoenfeld should fire this bartender and make it known that this type of stupid, reckless behavior is not welcome in her bar.

Luckily, the city council looked at the totality of Yester Years’ record and apart from the “burning Obama” this bar has been trouble-free, leading to a renewal of the bar’s liquor license.

Hopefully Schoenfeld has learned a hard lesson and proud Westallians will quickly repair the bad feelings toward our town.

Did the West Allis City Council do the right thing? Did Lathan do the right thing with her letter?  What should happen to Yester Years Pub and Grill?  Let us know what you’re thinking.


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