A Colorist, Sexist Night in D.C.’s CopyCat Co.

Pierrea Naketa
Sep 16 · 6 min read

After leaving a silent dance party on H st my friends and I made our way to Copycat to grab drinks. After laughing and drinking, we began our long-drawn-out goodbyes.

As I turned to leave, the bartender who moments earlier was behind the bar had bumped into me. A black man roughly 6'2" with deep brown skin and a dry horseshoe mustache. The bartender aggressively approached two black women sitting at the bar and snatched their plate of food.

“This bitch gotta go!” he yelled.

The two women had been drinking and eating at the bar unnoticed for some time. It is probably important to mention that it is roughly 245 a.m., the last call had rung and the night was wrapping up. The bartender directed his fury into the right ear of one of the women: a beautiful woman with deep dark skin, large brown eyes, and the sleekiest bun. Her friend, a lighter skin black woman equally beautiful, sat to her left: both women, and most people watching stunned with confusion.

“Bitch, you gotta go!”

“Bitch? Why am I bitch?” the woman responded.

The bartender’s hostility was steadily increasing. He launched into a tirade screaming multiple times “YOU BLACK AND YOU UGLY BITCH! YOU BLACK AS F*** AND YOU UGLY!”

There are many different ways to say the word black: to describe an item, to empower and uplift, or as an identity. But the way he said black was none of these, and as a darker-skinned black person, you learn this delivery early. It is said derogatorily to diminish and to devalue, to describe how black someone is in a tone that makes you understand that it is a negative attribute. B-L-A-C-K. Annunciating every single letter to ensure the gravity of the ailment is expressed. It is colorism.

The bartender angered by an incident that happened the last time the woman was there, insisted that she was banned from CopyCat. The woman stated someone she was with got into an altercation with the bartender and they left, but she seemed to genuinely not know she was not welcomed to return. This belief was probably affirmed when she was allowed to buy drinks and food and sit with her friend at the bar. I will not conjecture on what got us here, because it is wholly irrelevant to the colorism conversation. But I will note that I had been in that bar for roughly two hours. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, the two women had ordered and paid for food and drinks and had been sitting quietly at the bar without any problems.

As the bartender is yelling at the woman, a short Asian man, whom I assumed was the manager, approached and calmly directed the woman to leave.

After being humiliated in front of a packed room, she left with more grace than many I know would have. She obliged the request while noting to the manager, “Do you hear him calling me black and ugly? Is that okay?”

The manager did not respond to her, but I had the same question. Is this an establishment where employees could scream at customers calling them black and ugly? I could not help but wonder how differently that interaction would have gone if the bartender was yelling gay and ugly, or jew and ugly when removing a customer. But this was not a gay man or Jewish person; this was a dark-skinned black woman almost a foot shorter than him. He unleashed a colorist rant upon her, and no one said anything.

I followed the woman out, but before I left, I decided to pull the manager to the side discreetly, to make sure that he would address the colorist bartender.

I explained to him that while I do not know what happened before, and Copycat may have had good cause to want the woman to leave, the way she was asked to leave was disturbing. I asked him if he would be addressing the colorist rant with the bartender.

He abrasively said, “What? Do you want me to fire him?” He then noted that the bartender was black too, which sadly is not surprising. I calmly explained that the bartender’s race is irrelevant and that his employee had screamed colorist remarks in front of a room full of people. I told him that my friends and I were uncomfortable and offended.

“So you think he meant it in a racist way?” He said this while slightly chuckling, clearly not taking my concerns seriously. As I began to respond, a young black man who worked in the kitchen appeared from around the corner with a ladle in hand. Wrongfully assuming that I was with the woman who had been kicked out, he yelled, “Man quit talking to these bitches! You been talking to these bitches for 10 minutes! Kick the bitch out!”

At this point, my masculine partner walks up and corrects the cook for calling me a bitch. The manager chuckled a little more while holding the young man back. After being corrected, the cook apologized and then introduced himself to my partner with a firm handshake. A moment not lost on me, but too much for me to dive into right now.

I never addressed the cook but turned my attention back to the manager. I noted for him that Copycat just had two separate employees loudly call two separate black women, who did not know each other, bitches. After he didn’t address my point, I asked the manager for his name.

He replied, “I’m not giving you my name.” I left the bar, realizing I would not get anywhere and planned to call Copycat in the morning and speak to a person higher up. I wrestled with the thought all night: had I not been a dark-skinned black woman maybe my complaint would have been taken seriously. At the minimum, I know I would likely not have been called a bitch, and the manager certainly wouldn’t have laughed.

The next morning, I google the restaurant, and to my surprise, the manager I had been speaking to the night before was one of the first pictures to appear. It turns out he was not a manager but one of the owners, Devin Gong.

The saddest part of this for me is that I did not get the woman’s name. She left humiliated probably wondering where her allies were. I hope this finds her, so she knows that other people know that what happened to her was not right.

Anti-blackness and colorism is a global problem that affects all people. It does not matter who is saying it; it matters that we all do our part to end it. More importantly, as a business owner, you have a responsibility to make sure your customers feel safe and comfortable.

I came to Devin a concerned customer to tell him I was disturbed by the interaction I saw between his employee and another woman. Devin dismissed my concerns, Devin made it clear he saw no issue, refused to give me his name, and then did nothing but chuckle when another one of his employees called me a bitch.

I refuse to believe that asking a business owner to ensure his employees are not screaming racist, sexist, colorist epithets is an unreasonable request.

If you read it, please share it. I hope that I will find this woman.

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone sharing. Too often it feels like people are indifferent when things like this happen.

A couple of things I want to clarify:

I do not know the young woman who was verbally assaulted in CopyCat. I was there for one of my old co-workers birthday, and have never seen her before in my life. I am hopeful as this article continues to be shared we will find her.

I know Devin has indicated he is open to dialogue, I want to point out that he had multiple opportunities to address this. Even after bringing it to his attention that night, I called CopyCat and asked his manager that he return my call. Had the dialogue taken place, and the owner appropriately responded the article wouldn’t exist.

I tried numerous times to reach out and was dismissed. This was not written in an attempt to end CopyCat, but to expose one example of how egregiously people treat black women. I believe people deserve the opportunity to remedy situations in things they have worked hard to have and maintain. What they do with it after being made aware speaks significantly louder than the incidents themselves.

The solidarity is beautiful, and I am confident it will make people think twice in the future. The love has been overwhelming.

Photo courtesy of Yelp.com

Pierrea Naketa

Written by

Black lesbian, law school grad, organizer, writer. Founder and President of Play In the Sun an anti-colorism organization www.playinthesun.org

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