Are event prices a public accommodation or a form of free speech? Alas, we may never get the opportunity to find out. After getting ripped by one of its scheduled performers for racism, the Detroit AfroFuture Fest has rescinded its original pricing scheme to charge white people twice as much as “POC” (people of color). Now they will just rely on guilting them into paying more voluntarily:
A local music festival in Detroit has moved away from ticket prices based on race after drawing international attention when a rapper pulled out of the show over the price discrepancy.
The organizers behind Afrofuture Fest announced on their Eventbrite listing last week that tickets for people of colour would cost $20 US. Tickets for “non-people of colour,” however, were priced at $40 US. …
The explanation from organizers went on to argue that “people outside of the community” benefit most “from affordable ticket prices because of their proximity to wealth.”
“This cycle disproportionately displaces black and brown people from enjoying entertainment in their own communities.”
Three days earlier, local rapper Tiny Jag pulled out of the event in protest over the pricing policy. She explained that it would discriminate against members of her own family, which “outraged” her — perhaps especially because organizers never told her about it. In fact, Metro Times reported that she felt “very triggered” by this policy:
“I was immediately enraged just because I am biracial,” Graham tells Metro Times. “I have family members that would have, under those circumstances, been subjected to something that I would not ever want them to be in … especially not because of anything that I have going on.”
Graham says after the festival confirmed the price structure, she immediately withdrew from the event and requested that she be removed from any promotional materials. She says because she had publicly supported the festival without knowing about the discrepancy between the ticket prices, that she had to publicly withdraw her support as well. She did so by taking to Twitter.
She indicated feeling very triggered, and discussed how the pay model would have affected her family personally — specifically her grandmother.
“A lot of the songs that I perform are from my first project called Polly — that is my grandmother’s name,” Graham says. “How do you want me to come to a performance and perform these songs off a mixtape that is titled after this white woman that you would have charged double to get in here? Like, it’s just outrageous from so many different angles.”
Tina Jag was the only performer to withdraw, but not the only one to criticize the organizers. British rapper Zuby called them out as “the very racists you claim to stand against,” and suggested that fans boycott events and organizations that attempt to divide people by race for whatever reason. “Let them get woke and go broke,” Zuby suggested:
This is legitimately offensive to everybody.
Truly terrible business decision…
To everyone asking. Yes it is real.https://t.co/BOsd5oZtMD
— ZUBY: (@ZubyMusic) July 6, 2019
Best thing to do would be just boycott festivals, events, universities, etc. with racist and sexist practices.
I mean ACTUALLY racist and sexist.
This is egregious.
Let them get woke and go broke.
Stuff like this angers me. It's a huge step backward.
— ZUBY: (@ZubyMusic) July 6, 2019
By last night, the pressure had escalated to the point where the organizers had to change their policy. They blamed the issue on harassment generated by “right-wing websites,” and said that the policy change was for no other reason than event safety:
The festival’s organizers declined to comment late Sunday. Adrienne Ayers, who goes by Numi and is the founder and co-director of Afrofuture Youth, told the New York Times that the decision had been made for safety, and “not anything else but that.”
Ever since right-wing media picked up on the story, she said, people had been sending unwanted messages to her co-director’s family and harassing the community farm’s owner. But no other artists in the lineup had backed out, and the response had been largely supportive. So far, 71 tickets have sold, out of an expected 200.
It might relate more to a threat from Eventbrite that would have canceled the existing sales:
The controversy came to a head on Sunday, when Eventbrite threatened to pull down the festival’s listing, which would prevent the group from selling any more tickets on the site.
“We do not permit events that require attendees to pay different prices based on their protected characteristics such as race or ethnicity,” an Eventbrite spokesman told The Washington Post in an email. “When we became aware of the violation with AfroFuture Fest, we notified the creator of the event and requested that they alter their ticket pricing accordingly. We also let them know that if they did not comply, we would remove the event completely from our site.”
Money talks, after all — which was clearly the purpose of their pricing schedule anyway. Would this have violated the law? One civil rights attorney quoted by the New York Times isn’t so sure:
The old pricing structure was “discriminatory” and could have resulted in lawsuits, said Tiffany Ellis, a Detroit-based civil rights lawyer. But, she said, private organizations have some leeway to choose who they are going to do business with and how they do that business.
“We have constitutional rights as an individual, and the 14th Amendment provides that we cannot be discriminated against because all people are created equal,” Ms. Ellis said Sunday. “When it’s a private actor, those protections are different.”
Really? That might be news to Masterpiece Cakeshop, Arlene’s Flowers, and others caught up in “public accommodation” regulations that force them to participate as private actors in events that offend their consciences. None of those storied (and sometimes vilified) business owners refused to do any business solely on the basis of sexual orientation but rather only wished not to participate in same-sex wedding events. Either public accommodation applies in all instances or it doesn’t.
This episode might indicate that it’s better to leave these to the private sector and market forces rather than have government impose forced speech and association. That seems to have fixed the problem in Detroit.