Patti Wenzel

Racism, really?

By - Jun 3rd, 2010 04:00 am
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Photo from Yester Years Pub and Grill website

Did you know that racism is running rampant in West Allis?

Yester Years Pub and Grill became the center of breaking news when a bartender and patrons burned President Barack Obama in effigy. Now the bar is back in the news because it’s annual liquor license renewal was opposed by cries of racism.

But is this really racism, or just people tossing the term for shock value?  Has the overuse of the term “racist” taken it to a point that good-hearted people tune out when it is uttered?

When Obama was burned in effigy it was an embarrassment, not because it was racist, but because it was stupid. According to the owner of Yester Year’s it was an incident fueled by too much Cuervo and a dislike for the president’s policies. It became a race issue when over-zealous journalists ran to the local branch of the NAACP and made it a race issue.

There were calls for the closure of the bar or the revocation of its liquor license as punishment. Soon the Secret Service and police determined no laws were broken and the fire department issued a fine for burning indoors, leaving the local news trucks to find somewhere else to park. Then new evidence came to light that irrefutably proves Yester Years and it’s owner, Karen D. Schoenfeld, are harbingers of black hatred.

The evidence? The Yester Years web page header depicts a group of people dancing and partying. It’s right there – a black man with a “broad nose and an Afro” — a typical look for many of the African-American classmates I had in high school and college way back in the 80s. Forget about the incredibly thin, buxom blonde and the others patrons dancing in the background, this stock photo on a modestly designed website is visible proof that this bar, its owner and patrons are all racists that must be stopped.

West Allis officials were notified of this affront by Belinda Lathan, a human resources professional from Milwaukee. She sent a letter detailing the racism running rampant at Yester Years and the need to stop it.

Ms. Lathan’s letter says the website conveys “a bias” and seeks “those of like mind to join her in getting back the ‘yester years’ of the way things used to be.”  She asked the city council to not renew Schoenfeld’s liquor license as a message that this type of behavior “steps outside the boundaries of exercising one’s free speech.” She described the burning as hate speech and an act of implied violence against the president. She also calls the council members ya-hoos if they don’t feel as she does.

I’ll repeat – burning political leaders in effigy is an age-old expression of free speech from George III to Bush and Obama. Death threats have been levied against politicians forever. As for the website picture, I fault Schoenfeld for choosing such a cheesy, dated picture to advertise her bar, but kudos for trying to demonstrate some interracial fun.

Lathan was attending to personal matters when other news reporters called her for an explanation, but she did answer questions for ThirdCoast Digest via e-mail. Lathan said she didn’t want the bar closed permanently, as her letter clearly states. Instead, she said she meant to say a suspension of 10-20 days would send a message to Schoenfeld that this behavior would not be tolerated.

She added, “I believe we all have a right to our opinions. I believe in free speech, protests and marches, and yes, even burning someone in effigy. In my opinion that too falls under the heading of free speech.”

However she was shocked that this event took place in a bar and that it was passed off as something that is typical or expected in West Allis. She said she was disturbed that this reaction was displayed by the bar owner, mayor, council members and citizens in West Allis and that is what compelled her to write her letter.

As for her comments about the website displaying “a bias,” I ask what bias? From the looks of the site, it would seem that Schoenfeld just wants people to come to her establishment and have fun. I’ll admit it, I’ve been to Yester Years — I grew up four blocks from that bar. It’s a shot-and-a-beer place with NASCAR, Packers and Brewers signs along  with the typical beer advertisements. There’s a jukebox, an occasional DJ and karaoke. The patrons are blue-collar and yes, some may have the wrong view of African-Americans.

But does that mean the government should shut down an establishment that provides jobs in the community and a place for friends to gather for fun? No. It does mean that Schoenfeld should fire this bartender and make it known that this type of stupid, reckless behavior is not welcome in her bar.

Luckily, the city council looked at the totality of Yester Years’ record and apart from the “burning Obama” this bar has been trouble-free, leading to a renewal of the bar’s liquor license.

Hopefully Schoenfeld has learned a hard lesson and proud Westallians will quickly repair the bad feelings toward our town.

Did the West Allis City Council do the right thing? Did Lathan do the right thing with her letter?  What should happen to Yester Years Pub and Grill?  Let us know what you’re thinking.

0 thoughts on “Racism, really?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    i love how you keep insisting, insisting that this was not racist. that sort of thing is in the eye of the beholder. in fact, the more you insist, the more i wonder what your deal is with this bar, or stallis or whatever.
    i would much rather always have the NAACP over involved than under involved. so, it’s maybe not really something you should poo-poo and blame on journalists. why such blame? you act as if someone told on the bar to the ‘teachers’. they should be called. do you think they take every case ever presented to them?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Are you actually black and truly offended by this, or a guilty white person who needs to be politically correct. The picture looks like a party from the “yester years” of the 70s or 80s and burning a president in effigy is a historically recognized method of dissent against the government. I disagree with Obama’s policies, not that he is black.
    Sally, how would you change the website picture to make it not racist? Should we just go to the blank Facebook pic to avoid offending anyone? Just wondering.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sally: You are sadly in need of something to REALLY get offended by…perhaps you can search flickr to see if you can find any “racist” photos out there. BTW, the image is Photoshopped together, and has been used in at least 5 different ads (at least on a basic search, I’m sure I could find more).

    But wait, RACIST PHOTOS! I guess all the photos taken in the 70s should be burned…right sally?

  4. Anonymous says:

    First off, people *really* need to stop throwing the term “Politically Correct” around. Here’s a fun fact: the current use of “politically correct” was co-opted by the Right from a term leftists in the 70s and 80s were using as a satirical self-criticism to make fun of themselves lest they get carried away. So of course, the right pounced and turned it into this serious PROBLEM amongst loony lefties. Whatever; it’s a stupid, loaded-on-the-surface-but-ultimately-meaningless buzzword bandied about by the right that they just use to get their hackles up.
    THAT BEING SAID–i do agree that anyone who sees racism in this image is just looking for something to get ticked off about. Frankly, i saw more racism in UW’s patronizingly hack photoshop job on that brochure way back when.
    What is truly a shame is that there IS legit, racist sentiment against President Obama out there, and when a legit, ages-old act of dissent is combined with a silly web page graphic to play the race card, it detracts from legit criticisms of how some of the more hateful and, yes, racist people on the fringe show their opposition to the President. Racism is still a pressing issue in our country and our political dialogue–let’s not cheapen the debate with distracting non-stories like this one.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I hope we can have more white people talk about what is and isn’t racism, that’s my favorite.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I see that my words are yet again being reported out of context, so I provide my actual response to Ms. Wenzel.

    Date: Wed, 2 Jun 2010 16:26:50 -0500
    Subject: Letter to West Allis city council

    Ms. Lathan,

    I am writing a story about racism in the area that will be published tomorrow and was intrigued by your letter to the West Allis City Council concerning Yesteryear’s Pub and Grill. I would like to ask why you were compelled to enter into the discussion? Do you really feel the best way to handle the situation is to shut down the business? What should West Allis and other communities be doing to combat this?

    Finally, what is your background and/or expertise on this subject.

    As you can see from my signature line I am the associate editor of Third Coast Digest, an online magazine based here in Milwaukee. You can visit our site at

    I know you haven’t returned calls from other members of the press, but I would love to have your input into this story. Feel free to email back to me directly.

    Thank you for your time.

    Patti Wenzel
    Associate Editor/Business Manager
    Vital Media Group

    From: Belinda l (
    Sent: Wed 6/02/10 7:06 PM

    Ms. Wenzel,

    I first need to clarify something that everyone I know keeps telling me is being reported. I am not avoiding speaking to the press. When I received the phone messages and one email I received from Fox6 it was too late, the story had already been aired on the evening news.

    The strange thing about this was, from the moment I heard about the incident (from the paralegal of our law office) I was enraged. And anyone who knows me can verify, I speak up when I feel my voice needs to be heard. Of all the slams I am getting about writing the Mayor and West Allis Council, the one that offends me the most is when people imply had the bust had been of Bush that was set ablaze, I wouldn’t be as upset. And that is not true. Trust me, I would have been. Although I believe in every American’s right to burn in effigy whomever they choose, I will admit, when it comes to our presidents, I equate that with spitting on the American flag. There is something that is unpatriotic about that to me.

    So this issue as you can tell from my letter, was a hot button for me. It occupied almost every conversation I had, even through this past weekend. So I knew June 1st was important, I didn’t have to be there, but wanted to attend and then……completely forgot and took care of other issues that were far less pressing. So I wasn’t avoiding the press, I was simply not home to speak with them.

    As for your questions, I will be more than happy to answer them for you.

    Why I was compelled to enter into the discussion?

    What is being lost in this debate over what happened and all of this drama over my mentioning the website, is the primary (and in my opinion) most important issue. The one that immediately left me speechless when our paralegal shared with me the story. And that was where it took place. As I said (and genuinely mean) I believe we all have a right to our opinions. I believe in free speech, protests and marches, and yes, even burning someone in effigy. In my opinion that too falls under the heading of free speech.

    But this was not done in someone’s backyard, or basement of a home, or patio. This was done on the bar, in a pub, during business hours WITH patrons present. I feel like I am in some type of bizarro world or as if I am being punk’d, just waiting for the camera and Ashton Kusher to jump out from behind a tree. I used the John Hawk’s Pub in my letter to illustrate my point, but I see it fell on deaf ears. Can you imagine going out for a drink and maybe a little bar food and looking over to see the bartender and other patrons setting a bust of the president ablaze? A bust with a make-shift noose around its neck? In a pub, during regular business hours with people around as if the act was perfectly normal? I can’t envision that. And there in lies my anger and confusion.

    Yet for some reason because we’re talking about West Allis, the impression is it is more acceptable to behave in this manner. Whitefish Bay, Elm Grove, Germantown, River Hills, Downtown…countless other communities would not stand for this to happen, yet West Allis…..for some reason it’s okay there. What does that say to the rest of Wisconsinites and more importantly what does that say to those on the outside of Wisconsin looking in? We already made the Keith Olbermann show about this issue, it is only a matter of time for us to become the butt of racist jokes from others. We are the “New Arizona”

    So that is why I felt compelled to write. The immediate pang of “this is not cool” coupled with an uneasy feeling about the website for the pub.

    Do you really feel the best way to handle the situation is to shut down the business?

    On this point I will admit I did not use my words correctly. As you can see I am not succinct. I explain everything in detail and thought this would be the one time my habit of being verbose would pay off. I was wrong. I never felt that her bar/restaurant should be closed. However I did want the council and Mayor to send a message to her where I felt it would hurt her the most, and that would be the wallet. I know for any pub/restaurant, a huge part of their revenues are derived from alcohol sales. I wanted her establishment to be hit with a suspension (as we do in Milwaukee). 10-15 even 20 days if need be. On the surface just reading that you may not think it is a big deal. However I know for firsthand knowledge it would have been a blow to her. And a wake up call.

    True, she did not start the fire. But she hired the bartender that started the fired. The bartender that failed in performing their job by allowing patrons to become overly inebriated to the point they participated in setting a bust of a president they don’t like, ablaze. And as I said before in a letter and on online threads, this speaks to the owner’s control (or lack thereof) over her establishment.

    So no, I did not want to see her business closed, in this economy everyone needs their jobs and everyone should have a right to earn a living. But I feared she would not receive any penalty for actions that took place in her bar that brought about national negative press. Sadly based of the votes at the June 1st hearing I was correct in my assumption there would be no penalty.

    What should West Allis and other communities be doing to combat this?

    I don’t live in West Allis nor do I have friends in West Allis, so I can’t speak to the subject of racism in that area. I live downtown and have for half my life with the exception of several years spent living on the Northside. I can say however I do not agree with the response to this incident by the owner of the bar, the mayor, the council members and citizens of that community that I saw in interviews and from posts on online threads. Very disturbing. I think it sends a message of “dismissal” as though this is a non issue for them.

    This is my two cents on this question which is a big one. This is our first president of color, so we all knew there were going to be a lot of people who have an issue with him governing in the White House. There are genuinely people out there who don’t believe he is a legal American, is a socialist, is a communist, a person that “pals around with terrorists” is a racist himself because of his long time pastor Rev. Wright.

    And then there are people who have legitimate concerns about his way of governing and policies and procedures he is putting in place. All in the name of bringing “change” to a broken way of governing we have become accustomed to. That is my opinion, I think our federal government has been flawed for decades. And because of these strong opinions, people with valid concerns that have absolutely nothing to do with a hatred of President Obama, they simply disagree with him, they get lost in the fog of the nut jobs out there that do hate Barack Obama, but hide behind colloquialisms such as him not being a real American, socialist, etc. etc.

    So when incidents like this happen, we are always left to wonder “what was the true intent here?” That is what I thought. I live a diverse life where I have friends of different races, date men of different races, mix and mingle with rich and poor, gay and straight. So I am open minded and always think first of “intention” instead of snap judgment about people, places and things. And in this instance when I watched the tape and saw the flames, could see something around his neck, heard the laughter from the crowd and realized “hold it….this is happening in a bar!” I knew what I was looking at was wrong.

    Then when I went to the website hoping to get an address to write the owner and saw the home page and the exaggerated Black guy dancing among a sea of White women… cemented my opinion that their intention was to offend some and entice others of like mind.

    Again Ms. Wenzel I must say, I don’t know what the answer is because it appears West Allis is an island onto its own. People who believe they can behave anyway they want without any regard or fear of repercussions because their Mayor, police and common council have all shown there will be no penalties for bad behavior.

    Ask me this question again when a bartender in Whitefish Bay or at Elsa’s downtown decides to use a bust of the President as a over sized match. As for now, and I mean this quite seriously, West Allis is coming across as a community of people who are living in the yester years. Someone needs to tell them this is 2010. But that is just my opinion. I have no background or expertise on the subject of racism and combating it. I simply speak up when I feel something doesn’t seem right. It does no good in my opinion to bitch and moan among coworkers, family and friends.

    It’s the equivalent of complaining about a store clerk to your family. How is your complaining to your family about a rude store clerk going to solve the problem? It doesn’t. Change only has the ability to be enacted once you bring your complaint to the attention of management. I thought that was essentially what I was doing by bringing it to the attention of the Mayor and Council members of West Allis. My response was basically, if you don’t like it, shop somewhere else.

    Take care and I hope this clarified my stance,

    Belinda Joy

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