It’s Easy to be Intrepid When You’re a White Bloke

Illustration: "Odd One Out".

Wandering into strange pubs in strange towns, perhaps even in distant countries, isn’t as fun for some people as it is for others.

This is some­thing we’ve been brood­ing on for years, trig­gered by a pass­ing con­ver­sa­tion with a friend. We sug­gest­ed meet­ing in the William IV in Ley­ton and she winced and shook her head. “I don’t feel com­fort­able in there,” she said. “I feel like peo­ple are star­ing at me because, you know… I’m a bit brown.”

To be clear: noth­ing ever hap­pened, noth­ing was ever said, but she sim­ply did­n’t feel at ease – and unease, after all, is a fine­ly honed human sur­vival mech­a­nism.

Even with­in this house­hold there are dif­fer­ing thresh­olds. There are pubs which Ray (an aver­age-look­ing white bloke) has vis­it­ed and enjoyed, but where Jess felt on edge, and cer­tain­ly would­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­ish vis­it­ing alone.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “It’s Easy to be Intre­pid When You’re a White Bloke”

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?

Pakistanis in the Pub, Bradford, c.1965

We came across the passage below in Graham Turner’s 1967 book The North Country a few months ago and have been sitting on it because, frankly, race and immigration tend to be rather toxic topics.

The North Country, Graham Turner, 1967.It comes as part of a chap­ter called ‘The Bur­ma Road’ about immi­grants to Brad­ford. The author (who is still about, by the way) was aim­ing for some­thing like objec­tiv­i­ty, let­ting peo­ple tell the sto­ry in their own words, although by mod­ern stan­dards the locals seem to come off poor­ly, exploit­ing migrants by rent­ing them prop­er­ty, for exam­ple, while moan­ing about them behind their backs. He might nowa­days at his own choice of words in places, too – ‘benight­ed’!

Any­way, the sec­tion below struck us as inter­est­ing in the con­text of the argu­ment put for­ward by some com­men­ta­tors that pubs have suf­fered in cer­tain towns and cities whose pop­u­la­tions include a sub­stan­tial num­ber of Mus­lims:

It was almost lunchtime and the pubs looked invit­ing. In one of them, the man behind the bar had a broad Lan­cashire accent, but the warm, dusty inte­ri­or felt like part of the one of those benight­ed trop­i­cal places which Gra­ham Greene evokes so well, where on the priest and pub­li­can are white. The pub­li­can here was serv­ing a group of Pak­ista­nis and all the faces in the ‘best’ room were dark.

We’ve been here two years now,’ he said, ‘and it’s begin­ning to dri­ve the wife crack­ers. Wednes­day after­noon, she had a drink, there were so many Pak­ista­nis in here by ten she start­ed cry­ing. At two in the morn­ing I was still try­ing to com­fort her. This last month, at least nine­ty per cent of my cus­tomers have been Paks. I’ve about six whites apart from the girls, you get them of course. The whites have just drift­ed away. When we came, there’d be twen­ty or so.’

Now, that sounds to us like evi­dence that peo­ple from (prob­a­bly) Mus­lim back­grounds (clear­ly not espe­cial­ly reli­gious in prac­tice) did attempt to make the pub part of their lives – they attempt­ed to ‘inte­grate’ in the lan­guage of this par­tic­u­lar debate – but were made to feel unwel­come.

It’d cer­tain­ly be inter­est­ing to talk to some of those Pak­istani pub-goers today, or to their chil­dren and grand-chil­dren.

Main image: ‘Lumb Lane’ from ‘Chang­ing Brad­ford’, 1969, via Brad­ford Time­line on Flickr.

Apartheid in London pubs

Dog Star Brixton, aka the Atlantic, by Ewan M.

In the 1950s and 60s, pubs in London frequently refused to serve black customers, and thus became the focus for protests.

Enri­co Sten­nett, who came to Britain from Jamaica in 1947, took part in sev­er­al organ­ised protests around Brix­ton, Cam­ber­well and Peck­ham. Writ­ing about it in 2010, the year before he died, he recalled pro­vok­ing land­lords in to reveal­ing their racism by send­ing in a white com­pan­ion, who would get served, and then try­ing to buy a drink him­self, only to be turned down. At this point, pick­et­ing would com­mence.

In 1963, a group of pro­test­ers (ten white and one black) were charged with using threat­en­ing words at a protest out­side the George Inn in Brix­ton.  Not only were they were cleared but the mag­is­trate described the ‘colour bar’ in oper­a­tion as ‘revolt­ing and repul­sive’. ‘The mag­is­trate wants to come and live down here for a few weeks before crit­i­cis­ing,’ said the land­lord. ‘I don’t oper­ate a colour bar, but I am mak­ing sure the blacks don’t take over my pub like they have some in the area.’ (Dai­ly Express, 7 Decem­ber 1963.)

There is a detailed account of 1965 protests against a colour bar at the Dart­mouth Arms, For­est Hill, Lewisham, on this blog. On that occa­sion, the May­or of Lewisham joined the pro­test­ers and walked out of the pub in protest when they refused to serve him because he was accom­pa­nied by Mel­bourne Goode, who was black. The land­lord, Harold Hawes, was defi­ant: ‘The fun­ny thing is that I am not against coloured peo­ple. I have tak­en a con­sen­sus of opin­ion of the peo­ple that use the saloon and they don’t want to have coloureds using it… I feel that my trade has increased because peo­ple know that they won’t find coloured peo­ple in my saloon bar.’

In 1965, it became ille­gal to refuse to serve some­one because of their colour, but that did­n’t stop land­lords doing so grudg­ing­ly and then, for exam­ple, mak­ing a big show of destroy­ing glass­es from which black cus­tomers had drunk.

The Atlantic in Brix­ton, how­ev­er, is an exam­ple of where protests paid off: at some point before 1963 (though we can’t find pre­cise dates or a reli­able account of what hap­pened) pro­test­ers appealed to the brew­ery over the land­lord’s racism and he was kicked out. His replace­ment was from the West Indies. By 1974, Mar­tin Green and Tony White were rec­om­mend­ing the Atlantic in their Evening Stan­dard Guide to Lon­don Pubs: ‘with its recent, much-need­ed facelift and live, spon­ta­neous jazz, the Atlantic is a pre­dom­i­nant­ly West Indi­an pub, with its cus­tomers spilling out of the bars and on to the pave­ment. The near­est thing in Lon­don to a New Orleans bar.’

Geoff Park­er says that, after that, it came to be known as ‘Brix­ton’s most vis­i­ble black pub’, until the gentrification/regeneration of Brix­ton got under­way in the nineties when it refur­bished with the help of a gov­ern­ment grant and renamed Dogstar. The inten­tion was, in Park­er’s words,  ‘a white clien­tele’, while com­menters here put it more blunt­ly: it was trans­formed ‘from an old black geezer’s pub into a fash­ion­able white kids’ hang­out’.

It burned down in riots in 1995 and, after yet anoth­er refur­bish­ment, is now part of the Antic chain.

Pic­ture of Dogstar, aka The Atlantic, Brix­ton, by Ewan.