In late May, as almost everyone involved has acknowledged, a racist incident took place at the West Hollywood location of The Wing, a glossy women’s coworking space we keep having to write about. On Thursday, in September—several months after the incident occurred—The Wing founders Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan sent out an email to members apologizing for it. The email described an ongoing attempt to build a community that is more welcoming to women of color, acknowledging that “members and staff of color... haven’t felt adequately affirmed in our spaces.” In the meantime, several black women have publicly quit The Wing—including the member who was targeted in the incident —arguing that the institutional response continues to be inadequate.
While some Wing members reading the email might have been left scratching their heads, the May incident was clearly described by journalist Char Adams in a piece for Zora in mid-August. Asha Grant, the director of the Free Black Women’s Library of Los Angeles, told Adams that she and a guest were in the parking lot outside the West Hollywood location when they were confronted and followed by a white woman guest who accused them of stealing her parking space. Adams writes:
On May 28, she and a guest (both Black women) went to the location only to encounter an angry White woman in the parking lot, upset that Grant had snagged a spot she felt “belonged” to her. Grant alleges the woman, a guest at The Wing, followed them into the location yelling insults and threats. Once inside, she gave the middle finger to Grant, her guest, and another Black Wing member, Stephanie Kimou, Grant recalls.
“The harassment did not end,” Grant, the director of The Free Black Women’s Library Los Angeles, says. “It was clear that she was not going to stop saying things to us… I was like, ‘Okay, you need to be asked to leave.’”
Grant told Adams that, after the harassment, Wing staff didn’t ask the white woman to leave, telling her they didn’t feel “empowered” to do so. Instead, Grant was offered a free meal, which she found to be a wholly inadequate response, she told Adams: “It was another example of White women’s comfort prioritized over Black women’s pain.” (The white guest, meanwhile, alleged to Wing staff that one of the women had used a “homophobic slur” against her, which Grant “vehemently denies,” Adams wrote, with Grant pointing out that she herself is queer.)
Grant publicly terminated her membership, writing on Instagram that The Wing demonstrates “the need for co-working spaces where Black women are more than diversity marketing ploys in pink.” A black member who’d witnessed the incident and quit in solidarity, Stephanie Kimou, a CEO and consultant, shared a similar sentiment, also on Instagram, including a link to the Zora piece and writing, “I share this article so we as black women can consider investing in our own spaces, in spaces that prioritize our protection and not just co-opting our culture for profit and social media.” And indeed, several coworking spaces owned by women of color and designed with them in mind are starting to spring up, among them Reparations Club in Los Angeles, described by Kimou, and Ethel’s Club in New York, slated to open in November.
In a response on August 21 to a member, The Wing’s Twitter account described the incident as “deeply humbling,” adding that they were “putting measures in place to make sure we handle incidents like this one much more thoughtfully in the future.”
In their email to membership, the Wing’s Gelman and Kassan wrote that “we failed to resolve [the incident] in a way that made either side feel supported,” adding that they’ll “work to improve our own internal processes and policies,” and asking members to “come together as a community to address race, identity and equity through direct and honest conversations.”
(One other former member of color not involved in the incident posted last week about leaving The Wing over similar concerns; she shared the email this morning on Instagram calling it “a start.”)
A Wing spokesperson told Jezebel that the leadership staff of the institution have been working on addressing the incident and its surrounding issues since the confrontation occurred, including consulting with Wing members who are women of color and who work on equity and inclusion issues professionally. The spokesperson said they chose to send out the email after Labor Day so that their membership would see it.
In response to an email request for comment, Gelman responded that she was “effectively starting my maternity leave,” and referred the request to a spokesperson, but later sent along a statement attributed to both her and Kassan:
“As two white women leading this company, we are committed to doing the lifelong work of addressing our own white fragility – the discomfort we’ve inherited as white people when dealing with racial stress – and we believe that the only way to be a force of intersectional feminism, is for us to address racism head on with transparency and urgency, both internally and directly in our spaces.”
Grant, the black former member targeted by the incident, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but we’ll update should we hear back. A spokesperson told us the yelling white guest has not returned to the Wing since the incident occurred.