25 May Why Calling Out Tiger Tiger is Not About Dwelling On The Negative
The problem with the infamous nightclub Tiger Tiger is not the scantily dressed bartenders. It’s not the terrible music or the vomit-stained carpets either. What it is, however, is the normalised racism, gendered dress codes, blatant homophobia, slut shaming, body policing, sexism and worst of all: complete indifference from those who allow all of it to continue.
No, this kind of party culture is not limited to Tiger Tiger. And no, it’s not only the club owners who are at fault. As Henry Fagan wrote for On The Line last year: “Tiger Tiger’s patronage is typically dominated by young white men and women. The reason for this, one might speculate, is because of the club’s close proximity to privileged, predominantly white areas. The fact remains that racial tension and antagonism is still very much prevalent in wider society. And perhaps it manifests most unashamedly at the gatherings of privileged white youths. Tiger Tiger is such a place. But I would thus argue Tiger Tiger is simply a symptom – it is not itself the disease.”
People who suggest that anyone who dislikes Tiger Tiger should simply “go somewhere else” are the same people who refuse to acknowledge existing layers of oppression, and how discrimination can affect members of society differently. Consider how your experience may differ to someone else’s. For example, if you are a white heterosexual cisgender man or woman (i.e. an individual who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth), the likelihood of enjoying a night at Tiger Tiger is far greater. Chances are, you won’t be turned away at the door for reasons unbeknownst to you (spoiler: it’s usually racial profiling), beaten up or urinated on. While Tiger Tiger does not actively advertise all of the policies that make it so problematic, it creates an exclusive space in which only a certain kind of individual is welcome. And if you don’t fit the bill, you’d best assimilate to the culture or get out, quick.
Even if you are someone within the club’s ideal ‘target market’, it’s not to say that you won’t be turned away, ridiculed or assaulted somehow. I have heard stories of women being turned away because they wore flat shoes and lesbian couples who were thrown out for holding hands. Then there are the public scandals which range from a former Boss model urinating on a black taxi driver – who defended his actions during trial claiming he was ‘being funny’ – to three young men almost beating to death a cleaner at the vicinity.
One would think that the owners of Tiger would have thrown in the towel by now. At least, that’s what they should do. It’s evident that the pain and tears of all those who have been discriminated against in the safety and comfort of Tiger Tiger is not as valuable as revenue. Those who profit from creating this kind of space, are privileged enough to overlook these “inconvenient” accounts.
Make no mistake about it. The action that Tiger’s owners have failed to take sends a message. It says, “your suffering is not important enough for us to address or take seriously.” And that is a testimony to privilege if ever there was. Despite the hundreds of people who have taken to Facebook to share their horrific experiences on the wall of Tiger’s re-launch party, the club owners have remained silent throughout it all. This silence has a voice though, and it speaks to a deeper problem in our social system – the ability to look away from the things that don’t infringe upon our own well-being or happiness.
You see, the thing about privilege is that it becomes toxic when it continues to go unchecked. Victim silencing, tone policing, gas lighting – there is nothing that Tiger Tiger supporters won’t do to preserve the benefits of a space that purposefully excludes individuals who do not fit its warped status quo. And the managers of Tiger Tiger are well aware of this. Even with its ill reputation, Tiger Tiger understands its fan-base well enough to know that violent behaviour is socially acceptable within these circles. If this wasn’t the case, instead of re-launching with the same name that fills many individuals with pure disdain, they would have completely detached from the notorious Tiger image.
To paraphrase Henry: “. . . perhaps Tiger Tiger’s policies are somewhat to blame. Perhaps they are attracting – among the broader range of people in attendance – people who favour prejudice, whether consciously or otherwise. Indeed, it is the club’s notoriety and seedy reputation which has made it susceptible to the media frenzy in the first place. Though not openly racist, I would argue it perpetuates sexism, heteronormativity, and patriarchal values. Certainly it promotes the objectification of women: an annual competition for breast-implants to the value of R30 000 exemplifies this.”
But expect no apology from Tiger Tiger’s representatives. Not any time soon. Recently Tiger’s Facebook page released a post expressing how excited the club is about the positive changes ahead, despite those who are critical and “dwell on the negative”. If only Tiger would acknowledge that the real negativity in this matter is the disgusting way it conducts business and the gross discrimination that it trivialises, rather than the individuals who have chosen to spectate.
If you still support Tiger Tiger after reading this then I am going to take a wild guess that you are not someone who has been routinely marginalised for being too black, too disabled, too queer, too fat, too slutty or too different to “pass” in this kind of establishment – or anywhere else for that matter. Someone commented on the event wall that “hatred breeds hatred” and they are right. But who is being hated and who is doing the hating? It seems that any time a victim voices their opinion, they are blamed instead of listened to or respected. The same thing occurs in most white-dominated spaces. People, mostly cisgender hetero men, are quick to offer their own self-righteous “pearls of wisdom” (read: mansplain) while actively dismissing the concerns of those who have personally been victimised.
It’s not uncommon for white people to feel uncomfortable when being called out for behaviour they might not have realised is problematic. Still, as a white person, I have to stress the importance of learning to listen to these complaints and expressing empathy instead of making it all about ourselves. If you are not actively trying to uplift those who do not share the same privileges as you do, then you are playing an active role in keeping said individuals oppressed. Our need to justify ourselves and defend our egos in the name of pride in any given situation highlights the selective solidarity which so many people of colour bear witness to each and every day.
Sure, it’s your choice whether or not you want to support Tiger Tiger. But know that when you do, you are also supporting discrimination against real human beings. By remaining silent and by doing nothing, we perpetuate patterns of violence and hatred in society which directly contribute to the kyriarchy – a social system which keeps all intersecting oppressions in place. And when we decide to hijack a conversation to complain about our own hurt feelings while institutionalised and systemic oppression are being discussed, we are saying that we do not care – not enough to let our pride take a back seat.
EDIT: Tiger Tiger posted a statement which you can view here. Unfortunately, it completely misses the crux of the issues that need addressing, as we expected it would. For those who don’t feel like reading it, we summarised their response in meme-form: