What does it take to be a Memphis business owner? The first thing one must learn is to not exploit the culture where you’re starting said business.
Meddlesome Brewing Company, set to open on June 30, is releasing a locally-made IPA (beer) called “201 Hoplar.” The name is a play off of “201 Poplar,” which is the location of Shelby County Jail in Downtown Memphis.
For the record, no one jovially visits 201 Poplar. It’s not Hattiloo Theatre let alone Showtime at The Apollo. A dungeon-dark and grim-filled with Black faces from different walks of life. The most privileged only bear standing in line for two hours before meeting a judge about an overdue traffic ticket.
Yet, the hours are overshadowed by a screaming mother who looks the murderer of her 2-year-old child in the face, a man no older than 20. Her cries of grief are juxtaposed with the moans of the young man’s grandparents who spent their life raising their child’s child, hoping to keep him out of trouble by loving him harder than any gang ever could. They feel their failure alongside the court ordered defense lawyer, swamped with cases that he’s expected not to put up a fight for.
They are reminded again that 201 Poplar is a symbol of the culture of poverty, trauma and lack of opportunity in this majority Black city.
The Cordova brewery (whether they realize it or not — because one can be trash and not be aware they’re trash) is participating in the exploitation of mass incarceration. In an effort to look cool and embrace a characteristic of Memphis, the brewery’s antics are no different than the racist advertisements during the antebellum era where Black caricatures like Mammy and Uncle Tom were used to defend slavery and portray Blacks as stupid, subservient and inferior.
The city has done the same with the Memphis Grizzlies, expecting poor people to “grit and grind” their way out of generational poverty while closing schools and razing housing projects. Gentrifying characteristics of a culture mocks the most vulnerable and shows more elitism than “Memphis vs Errbody.”
you can tell when some transplants try to create “Memphis Culture” because it always ends up CORNY AF
— Troy L. Wiggins (@TroyLWiggins) June 14, 2017
The issue of mass incarceration stems from the 1950s “law and order” rhetoric, coined by Presidents Reagan and Nixon and many southern governors, judges and lawyers including now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions made a visit to Memphis a few weeks ago, toting his duffle-bag full of “tough on crime” and anti-legalizing marijuana shtick. Both disproportionately target Black and Brown bodies while there’s not much evidence that shows either group uses the drug more than whites. Meanwhile, fundraisers are held to raise awareness about opioid abuse and addiction, the brunt of which is suffered by whites.
Crime exists because generational poverty prevails. Just over 26 percent of Memphians live in poverty. What’s more alarming is the 43 of children living in poverty. Business owners-small and large-would benefit the city better to not exploit the poverty culture, but create and innovate means by which they work with community organizations to reduce poverty and its impact on areas including education, financial stability and health.
What if Meddlesome considered renaming their beer “Hoplar Avenue” (suggested by @JohnMartin929) and donating a percentage of sales to organizations such as Just City or Black Lives Matter Memphis who recently raised funds for mothers and fathers who can not afford bail to spend holidays with their children and families?
Or rename the beer “Justice for 901” in protest of removing federal oversight of juvenile court which would increase discrimination of young black males within the system?
There are options. It is possible to be a cool business, produce a good product, draw desired customers, show Memphis pride and contribute to the overall wellness of the city and not be trash.
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