Dear RPCV/W Community,
Below is a statement that our board, as representatives of our DC-based RPCV community, issued in response to an incident that occurred at a venue near Peace Corps HQ. This venue often hosts RPCVs and RPCV/W events. The incident (which is described in the letter below) was brought to our attention by RPCVs and Peace Corps employees who were at the bar for "karaoke night."
Date: April 30, 2019
To: Mohammad Haji, Owner and General Manager, Recessions Bar and Grill
Dear Mohammad Haji,
Recessions Bar and Grill has served as an important space for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) from our community to gather for many years. This history laid groundwork for formalizing a relationship and partnership this year between your business and our organization, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, DC (RPCV/W).
RPCV/W acknowledges and commends Recessions’ efforts past and present to support the RPCV community and its openness to feedback, be it positive or negative, on how well your establishment does in fact support our community. However, we, as an organization that serves the interests of our membership, are appalled by the racist incident that occurred on Friday, April 12, 2019.
On this date, three Recessions patrons reported experiencing a series of racial slurs and harassment during a “karaoke night” event at the bar. This caused direct harm to those present, their families, and our community. Such slurs and harassment are completely indefensible. The actions of the Recessions patrons who used hate speech to intimidate others runs counter to our organization's core values; to our commitment to serve RPCVs and the greater Washington, DC community; and to the Peace Corps values our community holds dear, including a commitment to improving the lives of others and respect of all peoples and cultures.
Racism is a problem in our community and has been for a long time. We are not immune to it. It is at times intentional and unintentional. It is everywhere, every day. It is within us and surrounds us. Any bar, restaurant, or venue is a microcosm of the society we live in. The polarization in our country today puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the people who work in the service industry to somehow “get it right” for all patrons.
The recent incident at Recessions, described above, was a horrific example of racism. It is through this letter that we express our sincere hope that your establishment will review every fact to understand what happened that evening, so that we can take necessary progressive action. If we are serious about ensuring safe spaces for Recessions patrons and throughout our community, we have to disrupt racism in all of its forms. We cannot be silent. We cannot perpetuate it. We must examine everything. In no way can we make excuses for such actions or deny the merit of any such reports.
There are a number of critical actions that RPCV/W recommends Recessions implement to ensure a safe space is maintained for all patrons, especially prior to any events to be held as part of our partnership:
- Post signs visibly in your establishment to declare your businesses is free from hate speech and behavior, providing safe places for conversation, work, learning, and living. Signs that could meet this need are available for purchase from the Hate Has No Home campaign.
- Publish a statement on your website noting Recessions’ dedication to maintaining a safe space for all patrons.
- Implement a required training for all staff on cultural sensitivity, hate speech, and crisis/incident response to ensure any future incidents of harassment are addressed.
- Consider discontinuing the employment of the disc jockey that was working the night of April 12, 2019. Based on the reports of his actions by the affected patrons, his flippancy towards the obvious racism that was occurring and his inaction on behalf of Recessions made the environment progressively more unsafe for those who reported harassment.
We are committed to supporting Recessions as you engage in this work and begin to rebuild trust within the community, and to ensuring our collective actions support the entire community. We know that requires an equal commitment to confront the practices, policies, and people that stand in the way of equality and respect.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, DC