Yer Actual Racism

Speech bubble in the pub.

What do you when you hear full-on, unapologetic racism being shouted across the public bar?

That’s not a rhetorical question — seriously, what do you do?

Because this has happened a few times over the years, but more to the point a couple of times lately, and we really don’t know how to react.

Just so you can gauge whether you think this is us being excessively politically correct or prissy, here’s a sample dialogue, as close to verbatim as we can manage given that we didn’t have tape recorders out:

CUSTOMER #1
Speaking of terrorists, I’ve had a couple move in next door to me.

CUSTOMER #2
What, terrorists!?

CUSTOMER #1
Well, the wrong colour anyway.

[LAUGHTER]

Bad, right, by any reasonable standard? And, just to be clear, this wasn’t us eavesdropping on a muttered discussion — this was the King of the Bar and one of his courtiers essentially putting on a performance for the other seven or eight — showing off. This came a few minutes later:

CUSTOMER #1
We call him Osama because he looks like a Muslim with that f_____ beard.

CUSTOMER #2
I’m not a Muslim!

PUBLICAN/BARMAN
No, but you could be a f_____ Jew with that nose!

That’s not well-meaning clumsiness in an attempt to have a free and frank discussion about the issues of the day — it’s like something from the 1950s.

Racists exist, and they have to drink somewhere, we suppose, but can they not find something else to talk about for an hour when they’re out? It might also be good to hear someone behind the bar say, as a bare minimum, ‘Alright, change the subject.’ Rather, that is, than joining in, as in this case.

Given that we were strangers in this particular pub, and the approving audience of big blokes, we did nothing but squirm. We suppose we could have stood up and said, with quavering voices, ‘Hey, come on now, that’s not on!’ but, in that moment, it didn’t feel like a good idea. (See Mark and Hali on the difficult reality of ‘calling people out’.)

As it is, slightly stunned and anxious, we just drank up, left, and can’t imagine feeling comfortable going back.

Before anyone suggests it, having failed to register a complaint at the time, we’re not inclined to ‘name and shame’ — it just doesn’t quite feel right, at the moment. But maybe our instincts are wrong.

Seriously, we are asking for advice here: what should we do next time? And what, if anything, have you done in similar situations?

27 thoughts on “Yer Actual Racism”

  1. Only once did I have the guts to challenge someone. They were making inane comments about Moeen Ali playing for England. I called them on it, emboldened by a pint or two and feeling I was in a safe environment. The idiot didn’t escalate it fortunately. Just resorted to saying it was a bit of banter. Not sure I’d have the courage to do it again mind.

  2. As you didn’t say anything at the time I’d suggest you email or drop and hand written note into the pub. Licensees have a responsibility to the community by running a public house and, also, I doubt they can afford to lose customers because of one dickhead.
    It’s hard to confront this type of behaviour but waiting for others to fix it or hoping it’ll go away doesn’t work – do what you can to make it stop, for me personally I confront these things at the time but I’m not exactly shy, tackling it some other way could also help.

  3. As a bartender, I’ll pull people up on this sort of thing if I get wind of it ― and I hope my customers know that I’ll do it on their behalf if it’s too awkward / intimidating for them to speak up. Obviously, with the bartender there joining in, you didn’t have that option. And yeah, generally speaking, this stuff can get fraught and frightening. Like someone suggested on the tweets, a little offline word along the “we heard, it was gross, we’re not coming back” line would probably be a good move, in this case. I take that line first, at least; reminding people that they’re in public, can be overheard, and that they should pull their heads in. So far at least, I’ve been lucky enough that it hasn’t turned overly nasty from there, though I have thrown out a few people who persisted.

  4. I think you just drink up and leave. As for bubbling them in some way, that’s up to you. I don’t – that to me is just a conscience salve – and I don’t confront people either. I’m too old to either get a smack in the mouth or to back words up with one.

    Some of this is (most maybe) generational and it will die out accordingly. There are many social reasons for it all, but life’s too short for me to argue the toss about behaviour in their own backyard.

  5. It is tricky – the king and his couriers have probably been drinking there longer than the barstaff or even manager have been in charge & spend thousands of pounds per year at the bar. Diplomatically the best thing is to just vote with your feet or you might find the king & courtiers waiting in the car park for you later. If the pub is a chain, then you may get traction with the pubco.
    I may be underestimating the pub management team though, but not in my experience.

  6. Vote with your feet/wallet. Then drop an email to the pub if possible and explain what happened. No need to name and shame (depending on what response you get). I have done this where I’ve overheard gross sexist comments that made me uncomfortable (this was patrons only not staff) and I got a very positive response from the management.

    Just because a bartender is complicit doesn’t necessarily mean that management or owners will think it is ok too and they might be glad you told them what is happening.

    We don’t all feel like getting into a scrap when all we wanted was a quiet beer or two. So I don’t blame you for not ‘standing up’ at the time.

  7. Wow. Well, if the bartender isn’t the owner. You could see about getting word to the owner/management.
    A couple years back our regular bar had a newbie that started getting more obnoxious and racist. They gave him the boot.

  8. I would have walked out, I think, possibly leaving my beer unfinished. A couple of times at the local folk club I’ve found myself on my feet and halfway to the door before I really thought about it – although in those cases I could just go and lurk in the bar until the offending act* had finished.

    Not quite the same thing, but I was on the receiving end of this one fine evening in the local Spoons:

    GUY 1: “Doesn’t he look like an IRA man?”
    GUY 2: “Hey, mate! My mate says you look like an IRA man!”
    1: “He does, though.” [to me] “You do, though, don’t you? Ex-IRA.”
    2: “Yeah, one of those rich farmers on the border… ex-IRA… You really do. He said to me, doesn’t he look like an IRA man?, and looking at you now, you really do.”

    They clearly thought this was hilarious and kept it going for quite a while. I didn’t know quite how to take it & couldn’t help feeling a bit threatened; I even told them I wasn’t Irish. The oddest thing about it, in the present context, was that Guy 1 was Black. I guess it’s a heartwarming testament to our multi-racial society that Black and White can unite in making ethnic slurs at random strangers.

    *No, it wasn’t Half a Shilling. One time it was a deeply moving and personal song about the plight of White Rhodesians. The other time it was The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down; I just thought, stuff that (or my legs did).

  9. Racism always needs to be challenged. It thrives, and spreads, when these people think they can get away with it. And unfortunately racists are growing in confidence at the moment – but so are anti-racists who are realising something must be done.
    It’s difficult for pub customers, certainly when you’re not a regular, to take on this job. Though if you had you might be surprised at the support you get from other people who, like you, were wondering what to do about it. In this case, it’s certainly worth drawing the licensee’s attention to the incident, and the fact that you felt you had to leave.
    Under the licensing laws a publican must comply with the licensing objectives, and allowing racism potentially breaches at least three of them: the prevention of crime & disorder; public safety and the prevention of public nuisance. A good licensee will deal with it, but they need to be told.

  10. I think you have encountered a pub that is not your cup of tea. It doesn’t sound much like my cup of tea either. I’d sup up and leave and not go back. I would not make a complaint.

    On rare occasions I have encountered similar. On rarer still the pub bore looks around to include others and if you are looking in that direction maybe out of shock and astonishment at that moment you can be asked “Hear mate, you agree yeh?” I have been known to reply in those circumstances “No I f***ing don’t unless the question is are you f****ing retarded?” But then I’m a big lad so I tend not to find fights. It’s not something I would recommend to everyone.

    Why I would not make a complaint is that as disgraceful as these idiotic opinions are, some people do hold them. They no longer express them if they want to keep jobs and maybe they feel that their pub is somewhere they can. Horrible opinions do not go away simply by making it unacceptable to express them. If the landlord is allowing it then the landlord is deciding what clientele he wants in his pub. That would be failed idiots with resentments and not the likes of me. Being failed idiots they are probably spend a lot of money in pubs so maybe they are commercially more valuable.

    Not everywhere is for everyone. Not everywhere is child friendly, middle class friendly or even me friendly. I accept that. The BNP have to meet up somewhere. I’d be pleased you now know where so you don’t have to run into them again and go find a nice middle class pub. The CAMRA book is your friend regarding this. Otherwise you will find the CIU have a number of clubs that are more respectable working class.

  11. As a bartender I’ve told customers spouting racist rhetoric to shut up or leave but I know of colleagues who didn’t feel comfortable doing such when alone in the building. And frankly, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable saying something myself if I wasn’t emboldened by the metaphorical and physical barrier of the bar. Especially if I didn’t have the vocal backing of the staff.

  12. This situation is not binary, racism/not racism. Or not usually. Often people speak this way because they are insecure and think it will ingratiate them with a group. Sometimes they’ve lived sheltered lives, having never interacted with other groups and speak from a place of casual “otherizing.” They may normally not speak this way but feel it’s a safe space.

    If you’re in a pub where that’s the cultural expectation and you’re not racist, probably best to leave. If it’s a regular bar–a public space–this presents an opportunity. We must fight for these spaces, but use techniques that have a chance of flipping people rather than further polarizing them.

    If you’re at an adjacent table with friends, you can start to have a conversation that lets the racists know they’re in a mixed group. If you’re sitting at the bar next to a guy saying casually racist things, you can say, in a non-challenging way, “my wife’s [Muslim, Jewish, Black], and I think she might be offended by that.” Creating a bridge to actual humans interrupts that “otherizing” habit.

    Pubs are, well, public spaces. They can bring people together. Racism is one of the worst social problems in society, but otherizing racists, rather than trying to help them overcome racism (ideally), isn’t the best reaction. At a minimum, a pub presents the opportunity to reclaim space for welcoming dialogue and making these folks know that language is not appropriate. We can use pubs to reset norms.

    Obviously, not every racist is amenable to change. But racism is a continuum, and pubs present an opportunity to normalize non-racist behavior if that’s what we want to model.

  13. Notwithstanding some excellent points by all your commentators, Phil Mellows is most right IMHO; we all know what it takes for the triumph of evil. People have to understand that even in post-Brexit Britain, racisim is not acceptable. So yes, let the licensee know, and if there’s no suitable reply, name and shame. Easy for me to say, of course.

    Sad thing is that even 30 years ago or more I would’ve expected the barman to have stopped it with something like “Hey! We’ll have none of that talk in here, thank you.” And maybe back then the “generational” excuse might have been credible, but what generation now has ever believed racism was ok?

    1. Nick – good point. My parents brought me up not to be racist – admittedly with the understanding that this was a positively good thing, not just common decency – and that was in the 1960s. The news about racism got out quite a long time ago. _Love Thy Neighbour_ (1972-6) looks pretty appalling now, but the central running gag was that the racist was a bigoted moron.

  14. I’ve never had this experience with racism though remember having a visit ruined when the landlord started talking about “shirt lifters” in a pub about 20 years ago. It was quite common then. If I were to hear outright and unambiguous racism I think I’d just leave too. What can you actually say to a small crowd conversing in these terms on the same level other than raise your voice and walk out anyway?
    As others recommended in this thread, though – email the pub. It’s only fair if the owners don’t know this is going on. And if they don’t care, you don’t have to bother spending money in there again.

  15. Thanks for all the input, folks. We’re going to find some way to drop the licensee a line.

    And a bit more info: most of the people involved in the discussion reported above were, at a guess, between 35-50, so ‘It’s generational’ isn’t much comfort…

  16. Late to the shout here but I do think you’re being over-sensitive.
    No actual person was being racially abused in the incidents you mentioned and it sounds like a bit of drink-fuelled braggarding.
    As an Englishman living in Ireland I get racially abused just about every time I go into my local.
    I like to think I give as good back as well.
    I’ve never taken offence and I don’t think I’ve caused any.It goes with the territory.
    Pubs are always going to be earthy sorts of places and there’s a huge difference between the sort of conversations you heard and people being specifically racially abused.
    There are far more serious things in the world to get your knickers in a twist over than something as petty as this.
    I’d say let it go but it reads like you’ve already made your mind up to do a bit of virtue-signalling.
    Apologies if that sounds a bit harsh but it’s just my own personal opinion that you asked for.

    ( If you think I’m making light of something like this you’ve never had thirty or so people in a pub sing along to Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly’s signature tune ” Spit at the Brits. ” Mind you,that was a few years ago now.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7sheFnX0PU

    1. 1. Is racial abuse being directed against anyone to their face?
      If NO: no problem!
      If YES: go to 2.
      2. If someone is being abused, is that person being just as abusive in return?
      If YES: no problem – they’ll soon be the best of friends! There is no way that this can go wrong!
      If NO: why on earth not? Go back to 2.
      3. (wait a minute, how did you get here?) Despite all of this, does somebody feel offended, disgusted or unsafe?
      If NO: no problem!
      If YES: bah, humbug.

      That’s logic, that is.

      1. Ah,but the point here is that no-one was being racially abused.
        The authors merely heard some off-colour remarks in a pub that offended their sensibilities.
        You might well overhear similar remarks in pubs up and down the land every day of the week.On race,gender,religion or whatever.
        Rather like Legs-it you can either make a fuss about nothing or simply treat the boozed-up blowhards for what they are.
        It all depends on how thin your skin is,I suppose.

        1. If you start from the assumption that there isn’t a problem, it’s very easy to prove that there isn’t a problem.

  17. We are offended.
    Is everyone else agreed that we are right to be offended ?
    Good.
    We thought so.
    Now let’s get on with letting someone know how offended we are.
    What’s that you say ?
    No-one else was offended at the time we were offended ?
    That doesn’t matter.The fact that we are offended is what’s important.

    Generation Snowflake in a nutshell.

    1. You haven’t addressed the fundamental point of my posts.
      B&B sought opinion on what should be their response to what they considered to be unapologetic racism.
      My contention was and is that there is a difference between earthy talk of a racist,sexist,religious nature and outright racial abuse of someone in a pub.
      B&B were offended by what they heard but from what they wrote it appeared no-one in the pub was.
      And no-one in the pub was racially abused.
      So,what should they do ?
      Personally I would do nothing.No-one was abused or demeaned.No-one was made to feel uncomfortable because of the colour of their skin.
      On the Richter-scale of offensiveness – which I reckon correlates with the same atomic calendar as virtue-signalling – it’s pretty small beer.
      An off-colour,oafish remark in possibly a working-class pub.
      But B&B canvassed opinion through a blog post and indicated their intention to take the matter further.
      This long after an event which was less than earth-shattering suggests to me someone has got their priorities wrong.
      But hey,I defend their right completely to pursue a nonsensical lost cause.
      I’d be interested to hear of the outcome.

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