Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2014

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Nevada black leaders upset by blog

African-American members of the Nevada legislature and other leaders in the Nevada black community say they are surprised and disappointed by racially tinged comments posted by a Las Vegas blogger who freelances for several major American newspapers.

In a blog posted Wednesday, Steve Friess, remarking on news that Palazzo would be buying back the Jay-Z sports bar-restaurant the 40/40 Club, wrote: "the surprise was that anybody thought that a place that elsewhere is known for drawing large numbers of black customers would fit in well in a $2 billion resort like the Palazzo where the only minorities they're really aiming to please are Asian whales."

Friess went on to characterize his post as "an objective look at an inappropriate pairing between the aesthetic of a resort that envisions itself and markets itself as the lap of luxury and a place known for being popular among rappers and folks who like a good chicken wing."

The latter comment drew the strongest response from African-American leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Steven Horsford, a Las Vegas Democrat, said the statement is "uninformed and ignorant. That that's the view of what black people want is ridiculous, just absolutely ridiculous."

In an e-mail response to the Sun asking about his remarks, Friess said: "I would never have considered chicken wings to be viewed as a black food and did not write it in order to evoke that sense. Chicken wings are a staple of every sports bars I've ever been in, which is why I made reference to them."

He also said, "Some may view it as inappropriate to view 40/40 Club as a black-oriented business. Those people would be deliberately ignorant."

The Rev. Robert Fowler, pastor of Victory Baptist Church, said the entire posting "borders on being racist." He added: "The insensitivity is amazing to me."

Friess was commenting on a report that the Las Vegas Sands Corp., owner of the Palazzo, is buying back the space leased to the 40/40 Club and converting it into a sports book. In a statement quoted in the article, Jay-Z hailed the deal as "a great business decision" and that he and his partners would be opening additional clubs in Chicago, Tokyo and Macau in the next year.

Jay-Z spokesman Ron Berkowitz called Friess' post "ridiculous. I hope he wouldn't be a racist."

Friess is Las Vegas-based freelancer who regularly writes for USA Today, The New York Times and Newsweek, among others. He writes a column for the Las Vegas Weekly. Friess also teaches news writing at UNLV.

Assemblyman Harvey Munford, a Las Vegas Democrat, said he was disappointed in Friess' use of black stereotypes. Friess also implies that blacks are not good enough to frequent a high-end resort, Munford said.

Indeed, Friess himself seemed to recognize the inflammatory nature of his comments. "Is that a racist statement," he asked in the post, after saying the resort and club were mismatched. "I don't mean it to be."

Rainier Spencer, director of UNLV's Afro-American Studies, said the post recalls golfer Fuzzy Zoeller's racist comments about Tiger Woods in 1997. Zoeller referred to Woods as "that little boy" and urged him not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner.

The post by Friess "seems to suggest that a black-themed club doesn't belong anywhere on the Strip. Where does it belong? Circus Circus or where else? Downtown?"

Horsford agreed. "Black people are not monolithic," he said. "We are just as diverse as any other community. To suggest it is not the right demographic to sit inside a resort is not correct and I disagree with it."

He added: "The African-American community is an important demographic. We market to all communities, particularly growing, diverse communities."

Friess said he was "completely taken by surprise that black people would be offended by what was a business observation. In fact, I made the point of asking rhetorically in my post whether it was a racist statement and then clearly stated my intentions because I know that certain people will always read anything written by a white writer about something related to black issues in that context."

Both Jay-Z and the Palazzo say the deal was good business, pure and simple.

Berkowitz told Los Angeles Times blogger Richard Abowitz, "The club was doing fine. ... What is going on here is that (the space) is valuable real estate, and they came to us with an offer and this was a good business deal."

A Palazzo spokesman said the deal "gives us an opportunity to fill an identified need."

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