Bar Black

3 Aug
Even people who say they’re strong and not affected by their surroundings – are. It’s a part of being human to shift and change with your environment, whether it’s a person’s accent which changes or their personal beliefs.
The new environment I’m being inundated with – shall I say to my detriment? – is an African restaurant. All the staff are black although I’m the only one not of African descent. It’s been suggested I was hired purely for my looks, an esteem boost but also a simultaneous shock to the system. I’m not competant, only pretty? I’m not African, knowledgable or worthy, the only factors the job requires, merely pretty?  It’s a horrible thought to me, especially as I’ve been told that before. My heart refutes it, but it’s hard to challenge the environment you’re surrounded with, Why for example can’t I be both?
This workplace it seems, has no place for Britain. That’s not to say it has no place in Britain, especially in a place like London which has a much larger percentage of ethnic minorities than the rest of the country – 30% in comparison to on average 6.5%. I suppose it’s natural for people to want to congregate with people they think they have similarities with, and this gives them a platform to express themselves in a way which could feel uncomfortable when there are ‘outsiders’ present. So, blending in but not quite, I experienced a level of anti-white racism that I’d never come across in my everyday, multicultural life. I’m not attempting to say that working in a racist environment has changed my perception of every white person, but it has most definately changed the way I think I’ll be perceived.
On Friday my Caucasian partner walked me to work. I felt increasingly anxious as we came towards the door, beause I’d heard so many opinions flying, even from work mates who I’d begun to know, and like – opinions on how white people were elitist, constantly looking down on people of ethnic minorities and could not accept it when Black or Asian people made any progress. The week I chose to mention casually to my employers that my partner is white was unfortunately the week of a robbery in which white teenage males broke into the restaurant and stole the two large HD flat screen televisions which peered flashily from behind the bar and on the wall. One customer albeit drunken, told me that were I his sister he would “Put on his Babban Riga and …” I had to ask him, “And what?” He didn’t finish his statement, but something tells me it would not have been entirely pleasant.
Standing next to the drunk and violent traditionalist was a young Nigerian woman, dressed in fashionable, western clothes. But when I revealed my deep, not so dark secret her face changed. Call yourself a black person? That’s what her look said. I can’t take on my shoulders the entire weight of all black people ever, whether enslaved or drug dealers. Whether teachers of freedom fighters. I believe in history, and I believe it should matter but equally I believe in people and the future – how can i judge all white people as elitist slave drivers? It’s as if that’s what this environment is vying for. I attempt to have a more balanced view than that – yes there are good people and there are bad people. I refuse to believe in the deterministic view of extremists, or even of society in general – for white Britain, if your car was stolen it was probably a group of teenagers, they were black, they carry guns. In ethnic minority Britain it was white people of any age who did it out of spite. They resent you for the money you’ve earned since coming over because they’re in a council house, on the dole and always will be. They use theis fists to beat you because they’re primitive. They beat you with their fists because they can. Despite this, my partner of the moment isn’t going to rob the nearest ‘paki shop’ and neither will my cousin rob a defenceless old white lady.
I have had a white best friend for six years, through the entirety of secondary school. We do a lot of shopping and clubbing, but of late she has been asked me a few weeks ago to go clubbing with a few of her friends from the heart of Essex friends. They’re so fun, they’re really mad, you would absolutely love them – but they are racist. I had to explain that I didn’t really want to be around people who would instantly dislike and be rude to me purely for the colour of my skin but she counter argued – they wouldn’t be like that to your face… Is that better or worse? I remember quite clearly, waiting at the traffic lights to go to college for my first exam when a white man in a white van drove past, shouting with a look of disgust that I will never forget “Nigger! F**king four-eyed C**t! I’ll kill you!”
Have I broken up with my boyfriend? Have I cut all ties from white people, and enveloped myself in the comfort of my race? I had one day of doubt. One day, where I thought, perhaps people will always judge me by the glasses on my face, my gender and the colour of my skin, variables over which I have no control. In turn, I have no control over my destiny, over how others percieve me and my character, but then, I remembered. “that excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that’s how I operate my life.”

Even allegedly strong people, who claim not to be affected by their surroundings, are. It is an integral part of being human to shift and change with your environment, whether it is a person’s accent which alters, or their personal beliefs.

The new environment with which I am being inundated is an African restaurant. All the staff are black although I am the only one not of African descent. It has been suggested I was hired purely for my looks, an esteem boost, but also a simultaneous shock to the system. I am not seen as a competent worker, only eye candy for behind the bar? I am not African, therefore I am not knowledgeable or worthy, the only factors the job requires, merely pretty? It seems distressing to me, especially as it is something I have been told before, by a woman I had asked for advice on how to keep my head above water in the highly competitive field of journalism. My heart refutes it, but it’s hard to challenge the environment within which you are surrounded, Why, for example, can I not be both?

This workplace, it seems, has no place for Britain. Although that is not to say that ethnic restaurants have no place in Britain, especially in London, which is much more ethnically diverse than the rest of the country with 30% of the habitants being of an ethnic group in comparison to around 7% in the rest of the country. I suppose it’s natural for people to want to congregate with people with which they appear to have similarities, this gives them a platform to express themselves in a way which could feel uncomfortable when there are ‘outsiders’ present. So, blending in but not quite, I experienced a level of anti-white racism that I had never come across in my everyday, multicultural life, what with my mixed-race half brother, white boyfriend and the United Nations of my friends. I am not attempting to say that working in a racist environment has changed my perception of every white person, but it has most definitely changed the way I think I am perceived.

On Friday my partner walked me to work. I felt increasingly anxious as we came towards the door, because I had heard so many opinions flying, even from work mates with whom I had started to form a friendship, opinions on how white people were elitist, constantly looking down on people of ethnic groups and could not accept it when Black or Asian people made any kind of progress.

The week I chose to mention casually to my employers that my partner is white was unfortunately the week of a robbery in which white teenage males broke into the restaurant and stole the two large HD flat screen televisions, which peered flashily from behind the bar and on the wall. One customer albeit drunken, told me that were I his sister he would “Put on his Babban Riga and …” I had to ask him, “And what?” He didn’t finish his statement, but something tells me it would not have been entirely pleasant.

Standing next to the drunk and violent traditionalist was a young Nigerian woman, dressed in fashionable, western clothes. However when I revealed my deep, not so dark secret her face changed, giving the appearance of looking at me mistrustfully, as if I were not ‘all there’, or had some kind of intellectual defect. She seemed to be asking the question – “Call yourself a black person?”. I can not take upon my shoulders the entire weight of all the black people who have ever existed, whether enslaved or drug dealers, or whether they be teachers of freedom fighters. I believe in history, and I believe it should matter but equally I have faith in people and in the future accordingly. How can I judge all white people as elitist slave drivers?

It is as if that is what this working environment is vying for and yet I attempt to have a more balanced view than that, which is deemed wrong in the eyes of my colleagues and customers. Yes, there are good people and there are bad people but I for one refuse to believe in the deterministic view of extremists, or even of society in general; For white Britain, if your car was stolen it was probably a group of teenagers, they were black, they carried guns; For ethnic Britain, it was white people of any age who did it out of spite. They resent you for the money you have earned since coming here because they are in a council house, on the dole and always will be. They use their fists to beat you because they are primitive. They beat you with their fists because they can. For some people, these mere prejudices inundate their lives, and they never trouble to judge people separately, and not as a group. In spite of the newfound prevalence of the BNP in London I know my partner is never going to rob the nearest “paki” shop and neither will my cousin rob a defenceless old white lady, although news stories of anti-white racism are rife.

I have had a white best friend for six years, through the entirety of secondary school. We do a lot of shopping and clubbing, but she asked me a few weeks ago to go clubbing with a few of her friends from the heart of Essex friends. “They’re so fun” she told me, “they’re really mad, you would absolutely love them – but some of them are racist”. I had to explain that I did not really want to be around people who would instantly dislike, and be rude to me purely for the colour of my skin, but she counter argued – “They wouldn’t be like that to your face…” Is that better or worse?

I remember quite clearly, waiting at the traffic lights to go to college for my first exam when a white man in a white van drove past, shouting with a look of disgust that will never be dismissed from my mind “Nigger! F**king four-eyed C**t! I’ll kill you!”

Have I broken up with my boyfriend? Have I cut all ties from white people, and enveloped myself in the comfort of my race? I had only one day of doubt. One day, in which I thought, perhaps people will always judge me by the glasses on my face, my gender, and the colour of my skin, all variables over which I have no control.

In turn, I have no control over my destiny, over how others perceive me and my character, but then, I remembered. “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism. And that’s how I operate my life.”

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5 Responses to “Bar Black”

  1. Sarah M August 3, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    This is really good! I hope you still want to ba a journalist because this is the sort of work that true amazing journalist are made of! You should be proud! =) x

    • Lalah-Simone Springer August 4, 2009 at 9:02 am #

      Thanks sarah! I’m hoping to start Journalism at uni in September, so that means a lot :) x

  2. Uncle Matt September 25, 2009 at 9:28 am #

    Amazing writing Lalah, so much of yourself has gone into that.

    Lots of food for thought in there . It’s not easy to share parts of your soul. That in itself is a gift.
    x

  3. Afia A September 26, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    I’m loving this blog Lalah. If only more people were as open-minded we wouldn’t have half the problems we have. “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism”. I totally adopt that attitude!

  4. Not Just Another Milla June 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Exactly! Find strength within yourself and never let other people drag you down to their insular and rude level. Power to you girl!

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