English-Only Beer Sales? ¡No, Gracias!

Friday, July 6th, 2012

I just love things like the beer ad at right. Dutch beer. Spanish language copy. American bus stop (specifically, Los Angeles). One person who might not like it so much? Knox County, Tenn. Commissioner Mike Brown.

As far as he’s concerned, if you want to get a beer permit in this county, you’d better be able to speak English.

Or he’ll vote against you.

“Yes, it’s not right. If you can’t understand English, then you can’t understand the law,” said Brown, who represents the 9th District, which encompasses the southern part of the county.

Brown, because he is a commissioner, sits on the county beer board, which regulates beer permits in the county. It meets once a month, and applicants must get the board’s permission to sell beer.

More here.

The editorial board of the Knoxville News Sentinel rightly referred to the proposal–which is apparently D.O.A.–“clearly unconstitutional,” and also explained why it’s nonsense at the practical level.

Business owners don’t have to speak English fluently in order to sell products. Many legal immigrants who came here to build a better life from countries all over the globe have used the successful operation of small businesses such as convenience stores and family-owned grocery markets to achieve the American Dream. Brown’s proposal would have turned some legal immigrants into second-class citizens.

You can let Commissioner Brown know how you feel about his proposal (no threats or expletives in any language!) by emailing him at michael.brown@knoxcounty.org.

Baylen Linnekin

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13 Responses to “English-Only Beer Sales? ¡No, Gracias!”

  1. #1 |  a_random_guy | 

    There are arguments to be made. The “beer permit” is probably not the right time and place to make them.

    One can argue that no immigrant should receive a green card unless they can speak and understand at least basic English. Without a green card, you cannot run a business.

    Whether you agree with the requirement or not, this is the correct discussion to have.

  2. #2 |  Cornellian | 

    ““Yes, it’s not right. If you can’t understand English, then you can’t understand the law,” said Brown, who represents the 9th District”

    Seems like Brown can’t understand the law either, despite being able to speak English.

  3. #3 |  StrangeOne | 


    That makes no sense. You’re not required to speak English to be a citizen. Why should immigrant status make a difference?

    Why should government deny basic services to people based on language alone? That’s just pointlessly discriminatory. People forget that the government is supposed to be servicing the community, regardless of what languages they speak.

    I bring this up, because I’ve noticed that the concern over non-English speakers has a small semi-legitimate contingent of people concerned over practical problems of mixed language government, and then a whole bunch of other people that use it as politically correct way of hating on immigration entirely. I can’t count the number of people I’ve encountered that can barely speak understandable English and that can barely read and write suddenly get into a high minded tizzy over how important it is for Mexicans to learn English before even being allowed into the states.

  4. #4 |  Graham Shevlin | 

    Anecdotally, some of the worst levels of writing ability regularly shown on the internet come from people who appear to be US citizens. It appears to be especially prevalent among those xenophobic nitwits who attend demonstrations, write placards and randomly bomb discussion forums (think: where did the new word “morans” originate?).
    I tend to regard complaints about “furriners” not being proficient in English as dangerously close to weapons-grade hypocrisy when those complaints come from the usual suspects. As Strangeone points out, the “not proficient in English” meme is most commonly a mechanism for hating on immigration and immigrants, and has little basis in reality. As for Commissioner Brown, I’m not going to waste the bandwidth writing to him, I don’t live in his state, which is way down my list of states to visit, largely because the legislature and other assorted bodies appear to want to move the state back to the Middle Ages. Plus, I would probably use highly incorrect language to describe him in the email (something like “ignorant xenophobic wanker”, while sounding great, will probably not advance the impact of my communication).

  5. #5 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #2 Cornellian: “Seems like Brown can’t understand the law either, despite being able to speak English.”

    Nice catch there, Cornellian. I’m not in a very civil mood, so I’m not going to e-mail Mr. Brown. I will just say that I’m getting really tired of old porcine white men who get all uptight when they see or hear a language other than English. Grow the fuck up. Yes, it would be to any immigrants advantage to learn English if they are going to live in the U.S.. But, people like Brown need to remember that there is no official language in the U.S. I’ll close with this thought:

    “Some of those who hold office
    Are the same who burn crosses”
    –Zack de Larocha (Rage Against the Machine)

  6. #6 |  jmcross | 

    “Brown, because he is a commissioner, sits on the county beer board…”

    •rolling eyes
    Another little tin god.

  7. #7 |  Leah | 

    I’d love to see some accomplished bierbrauer from Düsseldorf try to set up a kleine Brauerei in Knox County. No, actually I wouldn’t. That’d be cruel to the poor German dude to have to move there for my own amusement. Beer: not just an American drink!

  8. #8 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Anybody familiar with the history of brewing in the U.S. (take, for example, the Lager Riot in Chicago) would have to laugh and/or cry at the irony of arguing that beer should be English-only. Should we be like the French and invent new “American” words for styles such as Doppelbock, Biere de Garde, and Oud Bruin?

    (Also, on a side note, I was really excited to see a commenter referring to Düsseldorfer Bierbrauer until I realized it was my wife… Not that I don’t appreciate it, but it would’ve have been far more surprising coming from any other Agitator reader.)

  9. #9 |  marco73 | 

    Any business owner worth his salt doesn’t care what language a customer speaks; they just want to make sure the customer’s money is green.

    Only some petty bureaucrat would care that “If you can’t understand English, then you can’t understand the law”

    Has this gentlemen ever traveled outside the great USA? He sounds like the ugly American tourist who demands that wherever he goes, the locals all speak English so they can understand him.

  10. #10 |  Maria | 

    I assume Mr. Brown’s moderate proposal would require some sort of universal written/spoken test for all these “beer licensees.” It would have to be universal since it couldn’t legally be discriminatory (ie. based on birth, sex, class, race, nationality) thus it would need to be applied to everyone seeking the license.

    This would likely mean that a number of “Real ‘mericans” would fail the exam. Which would result in Mr. Brown back peddling so fast his petit derrière would be smoking. If you can’t fire them/vote them out, keep them busy chasing their own shadows.

  11. #11 |  markm | 

    “If you can’t understand English, then you can’t understand the law”

    Does this mean that Mr. Brown intends to make the laws intelligible to ordinary English speakers, rather than requiring a law degree plus the time to read the tens of thousands of pages of laws touching on one particular question, then the thousands of court decisions re-defining the words in the laws?

  12. #12 |  Vic Kelley | 

    Thanks for the article. I have e-mailed my support and best wishes to Commissioner Brown. Requiring immigrants to use English is not racist. It is not elitist, but even if it were elitist it would still be the right thing to do.

    I pity places Knoxville, TN. There are a lot of places like it around the Southeast. You live a long time in an area like that dealing with the domestic permanent underclass – coloreds – and that’s tough enough. Then you blink your eyes and there’s a “tienda” offering Western Union and musica latina at every strip mall and Hispanics at WalMart using W.I.C. to get free milk, bread, and peanut butter. Your rent goes up because large groups of Hispanics will rent apartments and will pay more.

    The word immigrant, by the way, has an implied meaning that the newcomer will assimilate and learn and use the language of his new home. That’s English. If they don’t want to use English then they’re not immigrants. They’re invaders.

  13. #13 |  ParatrooperJJ | 

    I totally agree whit his position.