Canterbury Christ Church University Nightlife
The racist reality of student night life in Britain
A Yale University fraternity has been accused of racism for allegedly refusing non-white students entry to a party. But racial discrimination isn’t confined to America – clubs and bars in Britain are just as bad. Radhika Sanghani reports
“We’re only looking for white girls.”
This is what a group of black and Hispanic girls were reportedly told when they tried to enter a Halloween party at Yale University. The party was organised by fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and student Sofia Petrol-Gouin said she witnessed the exchange.
She told the Washington Post that a male member of SAE turned the group of girls away, before allowing a group of white girls in.
She claims he then said: “Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for.”
The story sparked a number of female students to speak out on social media, saying they’d experienced similar behaviour from the SAE fraternity. Neema Githere wrote a post where she claimed she’d been told last year “that admittance was on a ‘White Girls Only’ basis.”
These apparent examples of racism may be horrific – but they are not exclusive to this Yale fraternity. Here in the UK, black and minority ethnic (BME) people have complained about being turned away from a number of bars and clubs that seem to operate ‘white only’ policies.
Recently, four black women accused Soho nightclub DSTRKT of turning them away because of their skin colour and appearance. They said they were told they “weren’t good looking enough”, and that a promoter told them one of the girls was “too dark” and the other was “overweight.”
DSTRKT denied the incident and said the women were denied entry because they didn’t have a reservation. But it still sparked a protest, where a number of black and minority ethnic women who had experienced this kind of racism before came together.
This was from earlier .. #DSTRKT protest in Soho. Allegations of racist door policy. pic.twitter.com/uK9noiy97s
— Ayshea Buksh (@AysheaBuksh) September 29, 2015
Their point was that racism on nights out is not new – that people with darker skin will get turned away from certain clubs. And regardless of whether they’re explicitly told why or not, they know the real reason is because of their colour.
Malia Bouattia, ’black students’ officer for the NUS, explains: “It happens a lot. Black women have to be ‘attractive enough’ to be deemed an addition to the clubbing environment. Sometimes they’re quite blunt to your face like, ‘you’re not getting in here.’
“You’ll hear it particularly from men of Afro-Caribbean descent. They have to plan who they go out with and ensure there’s enough white women around them, so people guarding the doors don’t see them as an aggressive threat.”
She thinks it’s worse for men – and Piers Telemacque, NUS vice president for society and citizenship, agrees.
“As a black guy going out, I’ve had a lot of the standard stuff. Clubs say ‘you can’t come in’ but then let in other people – and it’s clear it’s just black people who aren’t allowed. They’re happy to be known as a place that plays black music but not a place that has black people.
“Every city I’ve been to – from Liverpool to Leeds to Sheffield – it’s either happened to me, or I have seen it happening. I’m not defending bouncers but the majority of the time it’s not their view, it’s that of the club managers who are telling them to have quotas of black people.”
He recounts a story where he and two male friends were turned away from a Leeds club after queuing for an hour, because they “weren’t taking groups of lads.”
A few weeks later they bumped into the bouncer at a party and he apologised, saying: “I couldn’t let you in because our manager was on the CCTV picking out groups of black lads and telling us not to let them in.”
Telemacque says the problem with this behaviour isn’t just the pure discrimination, its that it can be a self-perpetuating problem.
“Clubs think young white people find black people intimidating, when it isn’t the case. But when black people are turned away, they can get frustrated for not being given a legitimate reason. So they can get into arguments with the bouncers, and then white people in the queue think, ‘oh this is why they don’t let black people in’.”
He thinks it’s slightly different for women: “They still suffer the same prejudice but it’s a lot easier for a bouncer to say to lads ‘you’re a big group’, or ‘you’ve got trainers on’. It’s harder to think of excuses to turn women away, but if they could do it easily, they definitely would.”