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:

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

What, ter­ror­ists!?

Well, the wrong colour any­way.


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:

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

I’m not a Mus­lim!

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.

    1. you’ve already made your mind up to do a bit of virtue-sig­nalling”

      *eye roll*

    2. 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 ?
    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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