In December, my friend, cousin and I were kicked out of a bar in Fitzrovia, central London. We were not rowdy. We were sober and painfully aware of the situation that unfolded over the next hour.
On our way to catch the tube, we were invited into the bar by a keen staff member and security guard.
After half an hour of watching what felt like an episode of office Christmas parties gone wild, my cousin decided to go upstairs to smoke, whilst we waited on a sofa, bored and ready to head home.
Five minutes later, a security guard approached my friend aggressively and asked him to leave. No explanation at that moment, just that we had to leave now without our bags.
My friend was escorted out in shock, while I questioned the security guard. After stammering for a few seconds, the scenario given was that we were stealing drinks. When asked for CCTV proof (and shocked at a sober response from us), the manager started to explain that we were in fact intruding on a corporate party, and using the bar tab.
As far as I could see, the majority of people at the bar were swiping their own contactless cards. And let’s remember that it was one of her door staff that invited us in.
All of this happened with my friend watching through the window, unable to defend himself and barred from re-entering the bar.
It was then that I thought: Was it his curly afro, or my cousin’s black skin that offended them?
“The bar we went to is like so many other establishments championing cultural diversity. The slogan for the bar is based on having no prejudices, and it’s this false inclusiveness, seen in so many venues across the capital, that creates the confusion.”
We had been in the library the whole day, still wearing our backpacks heavy with books. And some defending the bar could say that dress-code was the reason for our dismissal. Hoodies and trainers just don’t cut it in the after-work drinks world of central London.
But, this whole situation would have been outrageous, had we been white, male city professionals and not a group of mixed race and black young people. It was the accepted norm for us to have been questioned; we didn’t have anyone white, anyone “safe” in our party.
I don’t know what struck me more. The shock on my friend’s face, or the casual indifference of my cousin. He is from Paris after all, and has been subject to many racially motivated stops by the notoriously racially biased French police. And I can only imagine how those stops multiplied in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
To be black, to be any ethnic minority, and to add to that, young, leads to suspicion. Establishments are quick to question: What are your motives? Why are you here? You definitely can’t just be here for an overpriced drink.
The bar we went to is like so many other establishments championing cultural diversity. The slogan for the bar is based on having no prejudices, and it’s this false inclusiveness, seen in so many venues across the capital, that creates the confusion.
Not only are you mistreated, but you’re left thinking that maybe you were to blame. Maybe it was our fault that we were all separated from each other, rushed out of the door, left with no real explanation. We were invited in by staff, we paid for our drinks – but maybe still, the voice in the back of your head tells you, somehow it was our fault for offending them.
Whether it was our blackness or our outfits that led to their script of excuses, young people of colour have been indoctrinated to accept this institutional racism. Our experience wasn’t violent; it wasn’t even particularly scary. And it definitely wasn’t as blatant as the “too black” door policy at London club, DSTRKT. It was just a sad reminder that no matter how far society seems to have come, we must always be wary.
And, our experience will continue to be mindlessly replicated by these “warm and relaxing atmospheres” as long as we keep undermining our right for at least an answer. When gal-dem reached out to the bar in question they didn’t provide us with a statement but did say, over email, that: “We have no dress code or image criteria to enter and customer service is [our] biggest passion and so when any customer doesn’t have the experience they should expect [we] do take it to heart.” They haven’t replied to further emails.
Regardless, the bar can finish my half-drunk pint (that was paid for).