It’s a potentially dangerous scenario to be in as a business, to openly make a statement tinged with such political and societal undercurrent. After all, people often purchase and consume along with their values, when given that choice.
“COWBELL WELCOMES EVERYONE. HOWEVER, IF YOU BELIEVE IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO CONDONE HATE, RACISM, AND THOSE EQUALLY ABHORRENT TENETS INHERENT TO THE FAILED IDEOLOGIES OF BOTH THE WHITE SUPREMACY MOVEMENT AND THE NAZI PARTY, WE RESPECTFULLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO DINE ELSEWHERE.”
The message above adorns an online popup on Cowbell’s website. The owners, Krista and Brack May, have put their customers on notice in a way, letting all know that some behavior and attitudes just aren’t conducive to a good dining atmosphere and experience. Beyond that, perhaps they see America and the world at large at a make or break tipping point, where lines have been drawn and people must stand for what they believe in.
I asked The Mays some questions on their public statement, feedback from it, and a hypothetical that’d give some people pause and hesitation. The Mays, however, are grounded and confident:
Bill Arceneaux: What specifically led you to posting the anti-hate message pop-up on your restaurant’s online site?
Brack and Krista May: Specifically, the Charlottesville, Virginia incident on August 12, 2017, in which twenty-eight where people were injured, and Heather Heyer lost her life while peacefully protesting a “Unite the Right” rally. We found the subliminal narrative that within this incident, there were two valid sides to the story disturbing, and the fear many felt to condemn the actions and ideologies preached by supremacists groups predictably on point, and disappointing. To that end, we believe Edmund Burke elucidates our position best; “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We would humbly add “remain silent,” as well.
BA: Has there been pushback from customers who feel targeted by your message? How do you handle such responses?
The Mays: Yes, we have experienced pushback. However, such incidents are relegated primarily to social media platforms, and equally impotent venues. Within the restaurant, I can recall a single incident in which a guest took exception to a piece of art displayed, whose theme was overtly anti-Trump, and chose to leave; The person this guest planned to dine with, remained behind to enjoy a meal. In terms of negotiating such interactions, we choose not to engage should they appear on a social media platform, and in the aforementioned incident, we wished the offended guest a pleasant evening. Overall, everyone is free to think or believe what they choose, but few are prepared to defend their choices via debate or mature verbal communication. We take no issue with either scenario, but reserve the right to determine each guest dining at COWBELL, regardless of political party, creed, religion, etc., has a right to do so without incident, retaliation, or disruption from anyone. We feel it is our responsibility to provide a safe place for all who wish to join us for a meal, and those who are employed, and it should be noted that for every nasty message, numerous people from all walks of life have thanked us in person for our position. We chose to concentrate on that result instead.
BA: Your pop-up ends with, “Fear provides the fuel, Silence gives it a home. TEACH PEACE.” This is most profound, issuing a declaration for other local businesses and figures to follow in a way. Is this a situation where the line has been drawn, so to speak? How would you encourage patrons and friends alike to join you in this cause?
The Mays: While we do not believe that “Fear provides the fuel, Silence gives it a home. TEACH PEACE” is profound, we do believe it represents a succinct statement describing the pathology of hate, and the ease with which many will find themselves contributing, while not intending to do so. Fear is a powerful deterrent; So many everyday folks fear standing up, fear the repercussions, fear the consequences because their daily existence is one in which standing up is a very real risk to employment, family, friendship, etc. We should not judge them, we do not live in their shoes, but we can provide a place, or a statement accessed via our website that states what they cannot, and allows them to feel that for that moment, they are safe and not alone, and maybe they can make it through another day in which their environment hurts them, rather than helps.
BA: Will the message remain on your site for the foreseeable future? What would it take for you to pull it down and declare victory?
The Mays: Silence cushions fear, carves out a place for it, and erodes a person from within, slowly, deliberately, absolutely. While we wish more would speak out, we are not, nor have ever been, content to remain silent in the face of such harm, and will continue to speak for ourselves, and others, even if they remain entirely anonymous. It is those people who do not wish to hear us, or find our message offensive that should hear it with repetitive frequency, and in any negative response given, the effect is the same: We helped you hear what you did not want to, it moved you in some way, and that is our win. That is the only win worth celebrating, but regardless, we have no plans to remove the statement, and believe that in terms of victories, we as a collective society are, in many ways, in our infancy as relates race relations. We have a tremendous road ahead of us, and quite a ways to go.
BA: Hypothetical: If a member of the Trump Administration, or the President himself, came looking to eat at Cowbell, what would you do?
The Mays: As to your hypothetical, should we survive the vetting process, members of the current administration, including POTUS, would be welcome to dine with us. Our intention is not to forbid any segment of society from the premises. We simply request you leave your hate speech in your car.
BA: What resources would you recommend to people in the community to learn more about standing up against hate?
The Mays: There are no specific resources that we recommend beyond the simple understanding that there is more in this world that unites us than divides us; We learn to be divisive, we can learn not to be, too. Teach Peace.