May 29, 2014
By Phreddy Wischusen
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen
There were about 15 or 20 people dancing, playing pool, chatting and having drinks the night of May 15 at the Painted Lady, a dimly-lit Hamtramck dive bar, frequented by metro Detroit rock musicians.
Andrew Miller, who was DJing that night, says a few people had even begun singing along to, “Other thing” by Detroit hip hop group The Anonymous featuring Kresge Arts fellows Passalacqua.
The crowd’s warm response to the song prompted Miller to play another Passalacqua track.
Miller, one of two DJs that night, had dedicated his mix to the local scene, playing a wide variety of genres as long as the music was made by metro-Detroit artists.
As “Sunset City,” a mellow hip hop song about summer days in Detroit — setting up multiple air conditioners, snacking and playing chess with friends — began, Miller heard a man yell, “Oh f— no. Not in my bar.” Miller identified the man as local musician Timmy “Vulgar” Lampinen.
Lampinen reportedly yelled, “We don’t play (rap music) because it attracts a certain type of crowd. That’s also why we don’t serve Hennessy.”
Miller, who is white, perceived Lampinen’s comments to be racist.
Lampinen went to the jukebox, which served as the speaker for the DJs’ music, and played another song, effectively silencing “Sunset City.”
Dr. Kefentse Chike, adjunct professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University also believes Lampinen’s words have racial implications.
“You have these coded racial terms, where a lot of white people will, in a kind of denial of being racist, come up with these terms that clearly have racial implications — they are as racist as if you used the n-word — but (they) can express the same (racist) ethos, but use words that conceal the fact that (they’re) racist, at least on the surface. It’s a lie by omission.” Chike says.
Miller packed his equipment and left the bar. Lampinen followed Miller to the parking lot, where he apologized, but did not retract or acknowledge his statements. When Miller responded it was not the volume of Lampinen’s remarks, but the racism inherent in them that bothered him, Lampinen reportedly yelled, “Oh, I’m racist? F— you. You’re never allowed back here.”
Lampinen is not the owner of the Painted Lady. He is an employee who was not working that night. In a brief exchange with the Michigan Citizen, Andrew Dow, one of the Painted Lady’s owners, made it clear that Lampinen did not speak for the bar.
“African Americans have always been welcome,” Dow said. “(Lampinen) was being a drunk idiot.” Patron Becky Garcia pointed out via Facebook the Painted Lady has organized reggae, funk, soul and Motown nights in the past and doesn’t share Lampinen’s apparent views of traditionally Black music forms.
Lampinen is also a former Kresge winner, having been awarded a $25,000 fellowship in 2010 for his rock music. According to their website, the Kresge Arts program aims to: “enrich the quality of life for metro Detroiters by helping artists provide a broad spectrum of cultural experiences, (and) celebrate and reflect the richness and diversity of our community in all its aspects…”
Miller posted about the incident on Facebook, which was shared by others igniting controversy throughout Detroit’s independent music community. While some vowed never to patronize the Painted Lady again, others suggested the incident did not deserve attention.
In response to one of the shared posts, which has since been removed, Lampinen said the issue was not the genre of music being played but the fact that the music was loud and the door was ajar which could have bothered the neighbors.
He also criticized Miller for “pulling the race card.”
Dr. Chike says Lampinen’s unwillingness to take responsibility for his comments is problematic.
“What greatly impacts race relations and inhibits us from being able to heal some of this stuff is, for the most part, white people do not want to own (their racism). It’s like drugs — if you are never going to admit you are (an addict) you are never going to get past it,” Chike said. “If he was truly operating from a non-racist perspective, he wouldn’t have responded to the gentleman’s comments the way he did. He would have had more of a desire to try to make some kind of amends or extend himself. The Michigan Citizen contacted Lampinen about the incident, he responded: “I love everyone! LET’S DANCE!!!!!”
Lampinen later asked Miller to remove the Facebook post about the incident.
Chike warns African Americans and whites not to overly personalize such incidents by either focusing exclusively on how bad the “racist” person is, or how bad it feels to be slighted. “A lot of times we personalize it, but the racism is systematic and people participate in it without consciously realizing they are participating in it or benefiting from it.”
Brent “Blak” Smith, one-half of Passalacqua, sees the outburst as indicative of larger issues. “When I initially saw (Miller’s) post I wasn’t surprised or upset,” says Smith. “When you’ve been making art in Detroit for a while, you notice the ‘codes.’ It’s similar to the FM radio stations’ boasting they play all the hits without the rap. Black codes, rap codes are almost synonymous anywhere.”