Issac Bailey | Competing but true realities about Bikefest and Myrtle Beach

June 19, 2014 

Issac Bailey, The Sun News Photo by Steve Jessmore


Two seemingly contradicting things can be true simultaneously, which is why some small businesses have legitimate business-related reasons to close during the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest and some black residents and visitors are right to fear they are too frequently treated differently because of race.

Lots of people have a hard time accepting that reality, particularly in response to a recent piece I wrote about the event, which is why a little more perspective is in order.

Years ago, during one of the most heated Bikefest debates, The Sun News sent two reporters to a hotel on Ocean Boulevard.

One reporter was black, the other white.

A hotel clerk gave the white reporter a daily rate for a room – only minutes-removed from giving the black reporter a higher price and telling her she’d have to wear an arm band during her stay at the hotel.

It was a crude but effective way to document some of the concerns Bikefest participants had been making for years.

During Bikefest weekends, I’ve received phone calls from white waitresses who said that waitresses provide black customers less than ideal service because they assume things wouldn’t go well, and because blacks are stereotyped as poor tippers. (It didn’t seem to occur to them that their preconceived notions could be fueling self-fulfilling prophecies.) Those waitresses came to that conclusion as black customers, families or young people dismounting high-powered motorcycles, walked towards the restaurant’s entrance – not because of behavior once inside.

I’ve watched during that weekend as usually friendly faces at the gas station become suspicious and hostile to black people who live here year round, or have been coming to the Grand Strand for picnics and family outings since long before Bikefest was founded in 1980. It is as though if you are black and in Myrtle Beach, you must be here for Bikefest – and its worst excesses – just a part of the undifferentiated mob scholars write about.

The dangerous, ugly actions of a relative few cause many to become suspicious of black people in general. But seldom are black people lumped together based on positive things, such as the black families who visit during Memorial Day and spend money and respect the place.

Why is that?

About a decade ago, when there was the first concerted effort to make Bikefest events in Myrtle Beach more organized, a group of young white men grabbed the largest Confederate flag I had ever seen, hopped into their pick-up truck and slowly rolled through the area of the former air base where Bikefest events had been planned. It was an obvious, provocative act designed to cause tension, or something worse. Fortunately, Bikefest participants didn’t take the bait.

Email chain letters containing disgusting language and descriptions about “black culture” in relation to Bikefest circulate even among Grand Strand community members who praise God on Sunday morning and spread hate and heat Sunday afternoon.

Let’s stop pretending this doesn’t happen.

On the flipside, I’ve sat with frustrated small restaurant owners who want nothing more than to make a buck that weekend. They don’t want to discriminate. They even put up with things I would not.

Some changed policies for that weekend – implementing a pay-first procedure, for example – not because of race, but because too many people had run out without paying their tab in previous years.

Some simply shut down for reasons I would have, too. The overwhelming traffic and concentration of the crowd in certain areas make it difficult, if not impossible, for employees to get to work on time, or at all. If that was the extent of it, such an inconvenience could be worked around with a modified holiday schedule. But often times, those are establishments Bikefest participants are unlikely to flock to anyway, meaning they won’t patronize them even as their unorganized, overwhelming presence stops customers who would.

And there’s been rude behavior and an assortment of other behaviors we all frown upon.

Tthe National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has, at times, over-reached even as it has real reason to be concerned about unequal treatment.

All of that is true, though too often the discussion becomes one filled with myth and exaggeration, with every outrageous claim on either side taken as fact.

To reclaim the Memorial Day weekend, those most upset with bad behavior have to become just as concerned with preventing discrimination, and those most concerned with assuring equal treatment must be willing to take steps to curtail bad behavior.

More of us must find the humility to change our tone– or that weekend’s tone never will.

Contact Issac Bailey at or follow him on Twitter @TSN_IssacBailey.

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