Petition: 'Racist' logo should be removed from DNC site

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Charlotte business owner is circulating a petition to demand that an uptown barber shop remove its logo from the side of Time Warner Cable Arena because he says it is racist.

Jay Whipple is the founder and director of Queen City Tours and Travel. He says that the No Grease! barber shop's use of the Little Black Sambo is offensive to his generation of African-Americans who grew up during the Civil Rights Era.

"As a kid I was actually called a 'Little Black Sambo' because I was darker than some of my brothers and sisters," said Whipple. "It was a joke but you don't always realize how damaging it is to you as an African American."

Whipple says the sign should be taken off the outside of the barber shop, which is located at Time Warner Cable Arena on Trade Street, a venue that will soon host the Democratic National Convention.

"It's up to us older folks in the black community to let the younger folks know you can't do that!  We got rid of that a long time ago. Now you're bringing it back and you're African American yourself."

Jermaine and Damian Johnson, the twin brothers who own No Grease!, have been in business for 15 years and the uptown location has been open for four years.

The brothers tell WBTV's Kristy Etheridge they knew their logo may be controversial but think a community discussion should ensue before any one person goes to city council demanding the logo be taken down.

Whipple is worried about the message the image will send to the thousands of delegates, journalists and visitors who will be in the Queen City during the Democratic National Convention next month.

In a YouTube video posted on the shop's website about their logo, Damian Johnson says they wanted to take something seen as evil and make it good again.

"We took the idea of how America looked at African-Americans...and we put it right there in their face and we said that's not us. "

This isn't the first time the barbershop's logo has been in the headlines.

In August 2010, the Johnson brothers told WBTV News they knew the logo might ruffle a few feathers.

"It wasn't to offend anybody," said Jermaine Johnson, who designed the logo. "It's not pro-Black. It's not anti-White. It's No Grease."

Critics say the logo is demeaning and takes you back to minstrel times when black and white actors performed in black face. But the brothers don't see it that way.

"We used the image reversed," said Damian Johnson. "Saying that we're not gonna shuck and jive. We're not gonna paint our face with the black grease. We're gonna do business as men and we're gonna do business at it's highest level."

No Grease! leases its space at the arena from the City of Charlotte, which owns the complex. The Charlotte Bobcats manage the daily operation of TWC Arena.

Deputy City Attorney Hope Root told WBTV that the city must remain neutral on the case because of the First Amendment.

"Mr. Whipple maintains that the City should not allow a tenant to display a sign that he finds racially offensive.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the City from performing an analysis of the content of the No Grease sign/logo," Root told WBTV on Thursday.

"Because the First Amendment protects commercial speech such as the No Grease logo, the City's Sign Ordinance must be "content-neutral" and may only regulate the physical aspects of a sign (e.g. size, height, location), so as to protect the public safety.  The City may not restrict signage because one or more persons find it objectionable.  In fact, First Amendment 'time, place, and manner' limitations often generate strong differences of opinion among citizens."

"It is not the place of the City of Charlotte to get in the middle of differences of opinion between citizens," the statement continued.

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