I’m White and I went to CIAA: Now I know why white people flee Uptown

By: Derek Bastien 

I Went to CIAA 2016

I did what I said I would, my friends. I went to the games, I went to the parties, and yes, you guessed it…I danced the night away. I went to the basketball games Friday and Saturday evening, I hit up uptown on both evenings, and I went to this insane CIAA extravaganza party at the Westin on Saturday night. 

As a reminder, this experience and write-up is a follow-up from my before article and was inspired by all of the discussion regarding CIAA in Charlotte. So...here’s what you don’t know, and what I learned from CIAA weekend.

My personal experience:

It was a blast. Not weird – a blast. I’ll be honest though: going into it, I had plenty of pre-conceived notions and was simultaneously scared and excited. No joke, I even had a freestyle verse comeback prepared, in case anyone called me out for being white….

I know you called me out cuz you can see that I am white
But what you don’t know is that my **** is pretty tight
You all up in my face, cuz you don’t like my race
But challenge me to rap… and I’ll make you a disgrace

(And in my head the person’s friends lose it and go all “Ohhhhhhhh!")

But I received anything but prejudice against me, which was awesome. CIAA was welcoming, it was fun, and it was eye-opening. Here are my takeaways:

Yes, white people really do flee Uptown

First of all, this is most certainly a thing. I live in uptown, and when I frequent the Epicentre, there is always a buzzing crowd of folks, mostly white. When I went last weekend…the locals were simply not there.


I have never seen so many police in uptown all at once. It was insane, and quite possibly unnecessary. On the one hand, it makes you feel uneasy: “Are there this many police officers because it is legitimately needed?” On the flip side, it also makes you feel safe. There were multiple police officers at every corner around center city.

I discovered the real meaning of CIAA

1.      It’s a place where alumni come and connect each year. Aside from the obvious fact of the basketball tournament itself and athleticism, it’s a place where alumni connect. At the games, I literally witnessed old college buddies connecting for the first time. “David! Long-time no see, buddy!” It was heartwarming.

2.      It’s a place where friends come together. Old friends come from out of town for this event to reconnect. Both of my EatWorkPlay teammates Davon and Joe had family/friends that came from out of town just to spend time with them and party.

3.      It’s a place to celebrate black history and culture. My EatWorkPlay teammate Joe shared his awesome story. He attended graduate school at Alabama State, a historically black college, in large part because his grandfather was expelled for getting arrested during a civil rights sit-in. While attending Alabama State, Joe joined a historically black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, which was created in 1906 because black students were being excluded from white fraternal organizations. This is a huge part of what CIAA is about.

4.      It’s most definitely a place to party. CIAA brings in some of the hottest hip hop artists, and boy, uptown is on fire the whole weekend. What I loved was the good nature of it all. I can’t tell you how many times I was walking through uptown and folks were literally just dancing on the sidewalk having a good time.

5.      They played Remix to Ignition when I requested it the first time. Huh? Anywhere I go, I normally have to get myself, my fellow Remix fan Kelly, and 4 other friends to make a request to actually get the song played by the DJ. Boooooo. I requested it once at Sip, and the DJ, who actually understood that it’s the greatest song of all time, played it instantly. Um, thank you!

I think the real meaning of CIAA gets lost, even by attendees

I saw this because the atmosphere inside and outside of the basketball games was most definitely different. Inside the arena, there were a lot of alumni and people interested in the actual tournament. It was very much an atmosphere of camaraderie.

Outside the arena, it was party city. Which is great, but despite the fact that the entire weekend gets its name from the namesake tournament, most people couldn’t even tell you who won, nevertheless who even played in the finals. And while ticket sales were up this year, there were way too many empty seats. For an event that apparently draws 150,000 people, the arena should be able to fill up with 20,000 easy.

But…what about the rude people to hospitality workers?

After my before article, we got messages from hospitality workers mentioning that patrons during CIAA are especially rude, so I interviewed a few bartenders. The consensus seemed to be that at certain establishments, that did seem to be somewhat true. On the other hand, one girl who said she did bottle service had an especially positive experience because there already exists an expectation that the service will be expensive.

Part of the problem is that some bars have significant up-charges just for the weekend. And so patrons get understandably upset when the bill comes, especially if they are used to prices in more rural communities.

But regardless, I agree we should be nice to each other. So, I have 2 solid solutions:

1.  If you’re going to up-charge, clearly list or say prices beforehand.

2. If it’s a concern, literally have a sign that says, ”Please be nice to your bartender, they’re working very hard for you!!” People generally aren’t rude to purposely offend or anger someone.

But, but, but…the shooting, bro…the shooting…

Yes, I know. There was a shooting this year, which was extremely unfortunate. Fortunately, no one was even hurt. I saw it on my newsfeed several times, and even had a couple friends post something like the above.

If you’ve never been to CIAA before or have pre-conceived biases, I honestly think people make the conclusion of “One shooting + lots of black people = dangerous, ghetto party in uptown.” In reality, one or two people made a bad choice, and after relentless media coverage, is used to represent the entire reputation of the 150,000 attendees and entire weekend. In reality, this unfortunate event is the anomaly of the people who go.

Everyone else was super friendly, welcoming, and awesome. Most of the media coverage from after the event was about the shooting, which angered me. Instead of perpetuating biases, how about report on the actual weekend and what it’s about. Hence…this article.

So…the question though…are people racist?

Epicentre CIAA 2.jpg

I ultimately think most people have too many pre-conceived notions, and this clouds the judgment of the entire affair. Having actually experienced the weekend, I understand that now. That’s why white people flee uptown: incorrect pre-conceived notions.  

At the end of Friday night, my teammate Joe asked me, “So…first experience at CIAA, what did you think?” And I just sort of shrugged my shoulders in apathy. He responded, “Pretty normal, right?” And I agreed, “Yeah, man. Not really different from any other party in uptown.”

I half-hoped something crazy would happen to me like getting in a fight for the sake of a spicier article, but nothing like that happened. My race was called out 0 times, even by the loads of women who I hit on and rejected me (hahaha). It was a normal, fun weekend. A little expensive, but normal. Actually… it was better than normal because they played my damn Remix to Ignition song, lol.

Normal. That’s the entire point.

Great Friends CIAA.jpg

This is what everyone has been trying to say. It’s just another big event in uptown. It’s not some crazy, ghetto party. But people make assumptions, and I’ve been guilty of it myself. It was honestly almost anti-climatic in that regard.

I hope this article helps more people realize that CIAA is so much more than what most of the media reports (which is almost nothing and primarily negative). That it’s an opportunity to learn more about the black community, listen to people's stories, grow personally, relate to others better, and have an incredible time  That like the crazy (but fun) Banana Bar Crawl or St. Paddy’s Day Crawl, everyone puts aside biases and joins the crazy fun CIAA weekend.

Ladies and Gentleman, I’m white, I went to CIAA, and I had a blast. And guess what?? I’m going again next year. I hope you join me. :)

Liked this article? Then subscribe now to EWP, the premier Millennial Lifestyle Guide of Charlotte! 

 -Derek Bastien | derek@eatworkplayclt.com

Chief Business Development Officer of EWP, freestyle rapper, expert jokester, and professional partier

Announcing the Charlotte-wide Scavenger Hunt for Foodies! We are highlighting some of Charlotte's best local restaurants and giving you discounts and special offers ($150+ in savings)! Try new food at reduced rates and have fun exploring Charlotte with a friend! You can expect your passport during the second week of March and they are good through July 15th (3 months to use it)! Order Here

Announcing the Charlotte-wide Scavenger Hunt for Foodies!

We are highlighting some of Charlotte's best local restaurants and giving you discounts and special offers ($150+ in savings)! Try new food at reduced rates and have fun exploring Charlotte with a friend!

You can expect your passport during the second week of March and they are good through July 15th (3 months to use it)!

Order Here