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As nightclubs reopen in the UK, there is another virus to fear: racism

By Monica Athnasious

May 26, 2021

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Human rights

May 26, 2021

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As the UK eases out of lockdown and nightlife awakens once more, we are reminded of the most widespread pandemic of them all: racism. Racism in the nightclub setting is not uncommon, in fact, it’s constant. Over the weekend, we were all reminded of that in a now-viral video.

The clip, viewed more than five million times on Instagram, shows a 24-year-old woman—Sharna Walker—hurling racial abuse at a member of staff outside a Wetherspoon in Birmingham. In the video, after he refuses her entry, she proceeds to shove him, uses racist language and spits in his direction. Appalling. The woman has since been arrested, bailed and the situation investigated. She has been barred for life—but is that enough? If you have not seen the video then I will give you a disclaimer before watching; there is a lot of vulgar language, which may be harmful and triggering to some viewers.

 

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Before I carry on, I’m going to nip this in the bud. I will not hear “but she was drunk!” from anyone. It is not up for discussion—she is a racist. I’ve been drunk. Many times. Let’s be honest here, I was drunk most of university. Sorry mum. To my memory, I’ve shockingly never come out with anything like that. Being intoxicated doesn’t plant foreign thoughts into your brain. When you feel emboldened to say those things while drunk, you probably think them while sober.

The security guard assaulted in the video, Tristan Price, had this to say on Instagram: “I haven’t been doing security for years like some, but in the short time I’ve been doing it I’ve seen and been through pretty much anything there is to see and go through [while] doing the job.” This incident is just one recorded example of what happens to many people of colour, specifically black-British people, on a nightly basis. This isn’t just isolated to the odd drunk; it runs deep within the industry itself.

During my time at university, many of my friends, primarily my black friends, were subject to a gross number of horrible incidents. Two of them experienced a particularly traumatising event. On The BME Show in 2018,  Karyan Au-Yeung and Kwame Dapaa recounted the horrible attack. Three years on and the trauma lives on. Au-Yeung shared with me that “when you think about all the racial hate crimes we see plastered on our social media feeds, we are angry and exhausted. But, when it happens right in front of your eyes, to people that you love, it’s surreal—in the worst way.”

As a predominantly black group, they approached a club to celebrate a birthday and it quickly turned into one of the worst experiences of their lives. Dapaa, a successful fashion photographer, was not allowed into the club by the bouncer and no reason was given. Au-Yeung recalled to me that Dapaa, unprovoked, was “punched straight in the face and dragged against the wall. [We] tried to intervene […] but we were pushed to the floor, shoved and attacked by white security guards who were on a power trip, and had no justification for attacking us.” It gets worse. The security threatened to call the police if they didn’t leave. In spite of the fact that they had literally done nothing. Weaponising that against a predominantly black group is vile and yet sadly common. Au-Yeung states that “in UK clubs, the ‘culture’ definitely enforces racism. I’ve heard tons and tons of stories. It’s normal for security guards to racially profile people in queues for clubs because they will always get away with it.”

One of my dearest and closest friends, Nathan Aubrey, agreed and unfortunately, had many of his own experiences to mention. “Nightclub security can be and are very prejudiced against black and brown [people] and will look for any excuse to reject them or throw them out of a club […] like ‘this guy’s shoes are wrong’ but they’re letting other people in with no question.” He continued, “You see the little section of everyone who has been rejected by the bouncers […] and the [number] of times I’ve gone there and they’re all black and brown guys.”

Aubrey recounted the numerous microaggressions he had personally experienced. From drunk people grabbing his Afro to being refused entry to a club because ‘he smelt of weed’ (he doesn’t smoke), Aubrey has encountered his fair share of racism in UK nightlife. “I think a lot of it you brush off or maybe don’t acknowledge at the time but it all adds up to contribute to that feeling of alienation. And then you’re six months into the [university] year wondering why you don’t feel like you fit in […] and you’re like ‘Woah this place is pretty racist’.’’

Aubrey continued, “It’s a reminder to BIPOC students of the reality of racism and reinforces why safe spaces and POC-led events are needed, because even in leisure, these things can happen and they can be scarring.” Au-Yeung agreed, “I think people need to open their eyes to the deep trauma it causes young people, it can really affect the way you see yourself and your confidence. It’s all fun and games for the security guards on a power trip, but for their victims, it can deeply affect their self-identity.”

All of this should make your blood boil. But it goes even deeper. I haven’t addressed the racism of service when or if you’re let into a club or bar as a black-British person. It just seems never-ending. The UK needs to seriously wake up to its racism. The government-funded tests ‘proving’ that Britain isn’t systemically racist are a joke—and I hope you’re not falling for it. So, next time you’re watching viral videos like Price’s—because there will be a next time—remember this isn’t just one person in one place, it’s a culture. It’s a virus.