Why are black peo­ple de­sir­able as en­ter­tain­ment in clubs but not as clien­tele?

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Kimberly McIn­tosh

An­other Lon­don night­club, an­other race row. A few years ago, DSTRKT night­club al­legedly re­fused en­try to a group of black women for be­ing “too dark” and “over­weight”. The club de­nied the al­le­ga­tions but the protest that fol­lowed led R amp;B singer Omar­ion to pull out of his planned ap­pear­ance at the venue. Its even­tual demise last year was cel­e­brated on Twit­ter as karmic ret­ri­bu­tion. Now this week, Lon­don West End night­club Drama, at­tached to the Hil­ton Park Lane, was ac­cused of hav­ing a racist door pol­icy. Na­dine Marsh-Ed­wards al­leged on Twit­ter that while white women were charged £10 for en­try, her daugh­ter was charged dou­ble. Na­dine’s daugh­ter is black.

There are TripAd­vi­sor posts claim­ing the club has a racist and sex­ist door pol­icy, but a Drama spokesper­son said they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the re­cent al­le­ga­tion, in­sist­ing that: “[It does] not tol­er­ate any form of dis­crim­i­na­tion against any in­di­vid­ual or group.”

The al­le­ga­tions add to a long list of racist and dis­crim­i­na­tory door poli­cies – from Pollyanna’s night­club in 1970s Birm­ing­ham to more re­cent re­ports – de­nied at the time – at an­other Birm­ing­ham venue, Bambu, in 2015. But how and why do clubs con­tinue to get away with be­hav­iour that should be classed as break­ing equal­ity law?

When many think of racism, the im­age that comes to mind is of­ten of a “lout” shout­ing ob­scen­i­ties at a passerby on the street. Or per­haps a video of abuse slung at some­one on pub­lic transport. Or the Tommy Robin­son sup­port­ers per­form­ing Nazi salutes. But any­one with prej­u­diced views and a smidgen of power can lever­age their au­thor­ity in more sub­tle ways, to stop eth­nic mi­nori­ties from ac­cess­ing any­thing from jobs and pro­mo­tions to hous­ing and health ser­vices. Last year, re­search from NatCen and the Run­nymede Trust found that 26% of peo­ple self-de­scribe as be­ing “very” or “a lit­tle bit” prej­u­diced. This has, sadly, been con­sis­tent since 1983 – go­ing as high as 39% but never fall­ing below 25%.

Peo­ple carry these be­liefs with them in their day-to-day lives and make choices – from whom they will let into their night­club to the poli­cies they make – de­pend­ing on the power and po­si­tion they hold in our so­ci­ety. So MP Philip Davies say­ing in par­lia­ment this week that black peo­ple are “more likely to be mur­der­ers” and a West End club charg­ing a black girl dou­ble may ap­pear to be un­con­nected events. But in real­ity, they are laced to­gether in the wider ta­pes­try of racist stereo­types that mas­quer­ade as “ob­jec­tive poli­cies”.

And door poli­cies are an ob­scure place where in­sid­i­ous racism can eas­ily lurk in dark cor­ners. It has not been le­gal to ban some­one from your bar or club be­cause of their race since the 1965 Race Re­la­tions Act. But you can refuse some­one en­try be­cause of say – their out­fit – as long as it’s the same rule for ev­ery­one. Clubs can use sub­jec­tive and am­bigu­ous ex­cuses to stop peo­ple they deem “un­de­sir­able” from com­ing in. It’s then up to the pa­trons to prove that the rules are only be­ing ap­plied to them un­fairly. This makes it dif­fi­cult to prove racism is the cause. But Google “night­club racism” and you’ll find TripAd­vi­sor posts, videos and news ar­ti­cles abound with sto­ries that strongly sug­gest this is a per­va­sive prob­lem. Some ex­cuses are not even sub­tle. A group of NFL play­ers claimed they were turned away from cen­tral Lon­don club Cirque Le Soir in 2017 for be­ing “too ur­ban”, de­spite the group hav­ing prior reser-

va­tions. Again, the night­club de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

When last year, Trapeze night­club re­jected a planned Gren­fell fundraiser be­cause it would play bash­ment and trap mu­sic, they were ac­cused of “pas­sive racism”. The gen­eral man­ager said these gen­res of mu­sic “at­tract a poor-qual­ity de­mo­graphic and re­sult in prob­lems”. Bash­ment and trap mu­sic are both as­so­ci­ated closely with black peo­ple.

Some night­clubs clearly see eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups as an “un­de­sir­able” de­mo­graphic that are un­fairly cat­e­gorised as a risk to pub­lic safety. The dis­pro­por­tion­ate use of Form 696 on events thought to at­tract a largely black crowd fol­lowed a sim­i­lar logic – of­ten cit­ing “safety” con­cerns as the rea­son events could not go ahead.

Yet these same clubs unashamedly use fa­mous black stars to em­pha­sise their “elite” cre­den­tials. Drama is proud to cash in on Ri­hanna and Drake’s pass­ing appearances at the club. I’m sure their mu­sic is the sound­track to ev­ery Saturday night at the venue. It is laugh­able that a night­club ac­cused of charg­ing black women dou­ble for en­try and say­ing: “Eww your kind isn’t al­lowed in here” to black and Asian pa­trons, plays “mainly hip-hop and R amp;B”. Black peo­ple are de­sir­able as en­ter­tain­ment or dec­o­ra­tion, but not as clien­tele.

I rarely go out in the West End be­cause I find the medi­ocre R amp;B mixes fall flat, and one drink is of­ten the price of two H amp;M T-shirts. But I do not be­lieve it’s a co­in­ci­dence that I’ve al­ways gone with a group of white peo­ple and also never had an is­sue get­ting in. I’m glad to see the Lon­don Night Czar Amy Lamé will in­ves­ti­gate the al­leged in­ci­dent at Drama. But un­til we see a se­ri­ous change in pub­lic at­ti­tudes I don’t see racist door poli­cies com­ing to an end any­time soon.

• Kimberly McIn­tosh is a pol­icy of­fi­cer for Race on the Agenda

26% of peo­ple self-de­scribe as be­ing ‘very' or ‘a lit­tle bit' prej­u­diced. This has been con­sis­tent since 1983

‘Any­one with prej­u­diced views and a smidgen of power can lever­age their au­thor­ity in more sub­tle ways.’ Pho­to­graph: Loungepark/Getty Im­ages

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