Is Britain's Nostalgia for Whites Only?
Updated: Jan 3
We thought the days of 'No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs' pubs were a thing of the past, think again! A search for The Venue online, a thriving, growing bar and restaurant venue, reads:
"The Venue provides you with a sense of being somewhere special with a hint of nostalgia."
What white people want in a pub, black people have historically not been able to access. A staff member's former black colleague also asked when he visited, "is this legit? It's reminiscent of the days when we could not get served in a place JUST like this." It makes you wonder: sentimentality for whom and to what are such happy
From the decor to the staff outfits (picture Peaky Blinders) The Venue has an eclectic 1920s-1960s (prohibition/post war it is hard to tell) theme. So apparently the 'nostalgia' is a yearning to return to a happy period of mainstream life, specifically pub culture in Britain. The nostalgia is mostly white's only nostalgia, not black nostalgia. If you were white, you would have experienced humane treatment, unlike Blacks whom landlords would not serve, or if served, it would be after all the white people, once they were their drunken glasses would be smashed conspicuously in front of them by the pub's bar tenders.
In classic weird white denial, up until the 1960s, Britain did not think it had a race problem. In the 60s the state finally acknowledged it and attempted to pose a solution to rapidly deteriorating race relations with the introduction of Britain's the first ever Race Relations Act (1965).
Today, many black people could be carrying consciously or unconsciously trauma into these venues, multi-generational trauma, nostalgic experiences can trigger those thoughts and emotions I mentioned earlier. They are real, and those emotions are a fallout of what is integrally bound to the facts of Britain's legacy. We refuse to acknowledge what certain symbols represent to those that they are marginalising. I think many Brits are not being malicious, to give them the benefit of the doubt (in true deference to the White Man) they may not even know nor understand why it is racist.
Britain's pub nostalgia is a part of the toxic version of Britishness that needs detoxifying. As Afua Hirsch demands, 'we can’t detoxify Britishness and build it into a more robust, less fragile identity until... we assess the true legacy of empire and the impact of its loss.'
This nostalgia for a segment of British pub life is part of the bigger story of the empire. The Venue is but one example of our nostalgic landscape that shows a complete lack of regard for the history of cynical, violent and exclusionary treatment against BAME people that has played a significant part in Britain's past for all of us. 1.
The place has a 50s/60s theme, as far as everything does from the decor to the staff outfits (picture The Man from U.N.C.L.E). So apparently the 'nostalgia' is a yearning to return to this period. A period of happiness and fond memories in those 'special' venues like the pubs and restaurants like Venue. Nostalgia for 50s/60s pub life in Britain. The nostalgia is white (non-Irish) people's nostalgia, not PoC's and especially not black people.
In the 50s Britain did not think it has a race problem in the 60s the state attempted to pose a solution to its racism problem because race relations were rapidly deteriorating. As a result, we had new legislation, such as the Commonwealth Immigration Act (1962) severely restricting immigration rights to Britain's Commonwealth citizens; later Britain's first ever Race Relations Act (1965) stating that overt racial discrimination was no longer legal in public places (excluding shops and private housing). This Act was strengthened (1968), repealed (1976) and modified twice (2000 and 2003) Britain still has a racism problem. Oh, legislation that failed before the Race Relation Act, such as the Race Discrimination Bill, which was tabled nine times and defeated nine times. 1.
At the same time as these solutions, there was opposition to it, in the form of the British Union of Fascists who's founder Oswald Mosely fancied another go on the parliamentary merry go round after stepping down in 1930.
Culturally as a black person, we're carrying trauma into these venues, not necessarily ours but in the knowledge of what black people who've gone before us have experienced. As an aside, whenever I got into a predominantly white pub (all pubs where I live), culturally as a black person they feel like anti-black spaces, there's always an element of hostility.
The emotional fallout of today is integrally bound to the facts of Britain's legacy. Moreover, one effect of that legacy is Britain's colour bars in pubs. By the way, I'm not in any way diminishing the No Irish and No Dogs policy too, the Irish suffered (I'm part Irish from my paternal grandmother). My research has simply not covered that history in depth yet.
In Nottingham, just 30 minutes drive away from the nearest Venue in Derby (they've probably planned for a new Venue in Nottingham), newspapers in 1958 reported that 'black men were expected to stand aside until white people had been served.' It wasn't just a frustrating time and place to be a black person it was also life-threatening. For instance, an altercation in a pub between a black man and white women spiralled out of control. Later that day eight people were hospitalised after 1,000 people armed with bottles, razors, knives had crowded into St Ann's Well Road ready to riot. 2
How can people from that era, or their children be nostalgic for pubs and clubs? If you're white (and not Irish) of course, you can because you experienced by contrast special treatment (really just normal and expected decent and humane treatment that everyone should equally receive). Black people, on the other hand, may find it a tad challenging to feel nostalgic having themselves experienced or their children seeing them suffer the unfair treatment.
People may be wondering why all this bothers me so much, and those not alive in the 50s and 60s may ask, 'why are you blaming me for what my ancestors did?'
Well, British people today have no problem in taking pride in positive events in an era of racial decay. For instance, the 1966 world cup win or World War wins; however people seem less willing to confront these negative aspects.
I feel as though people can't see or refuse to acknowledge the whole picture or appreciate what certain symbols represent to those whom that symbol oppressed and marginalised. As they say, take the good with the bad, Brits can't. Whitewashing and sanitising British history makes British history palatable, pristine and as Afua Hirsch writes allows people to feel the high of glory. Afua goes onto say the problem with this is:
"...we can’t detoxify Britishness and build it into a more robust, less fragile identity until we do this work. We need to assess the true legacy of empire and the impact of its loss. We need to unpick the idea of glorious Britannia that defeated Napoleon and Hitler to find out what wrongs are still lingering in our midst." 3.
50s/60s pub nostalgia is a part of the toxic version of Britishness that needs detoxifying, and I'm willing to unpick it and take a look at the violent past we feel nostalgic for. This nostalgia for a segment of British pub life is part of the bigger story of the empire. The collapse of the empire and British imperial power was all but complete by mid-1960s. 4.
In a YouGov poll in 2014, the majority of British people felt nostalgia for the empire, thinking the British Empire was something to be proud of, three times more than the number who thought it was something to be ashamed of. 5.
Arguably black people can eat and drink someplace else. Yet, the very existence of businesses like Venue in Britain's high streets is problematic. For instance, walking past somewhere like Venue when you're town doing your shopping or your white friends suggest you go there for your next drink are both reminders that businesses like this just don't care and or recognise black people.
Imagine being black, needing a job and working in a situation like this (or your friends invite you for a drink and little do you realise what you're getting yourself into); working in an environment, they perceive as hostile to their cultural identity and aspirations of progress.
And now imagine the microaggressions you would experience daily. A subcategory of micro-aggressions, know as microinvalidations are communications that subtly excludes, negates or nullifies the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of colour.'
Having feelings and experiencing discomfort like this in a workplace as a black person is legitimate when that said workplace yearns for a period reminiscent of the days where there were 'No blacks, No dogs, No Irish' signs in the windows of pubs like Venue and other, more respectable properties. 7.
To add to the discomfort each Venue is adorned (tens and tens literally covering many of the walls - below are just a few of what's on show) with dead white men, revered by most as responsible for the advancement of civilisation, yet this so-called progress came at the cost of millions of PoC's lives.
These experiences would mean working in a noxious environment that creates additional stress for minorities not experienced by non-minority workers. This stress, referred to as Minority Stress, arises when "stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create a hostile and stressful social environment that causes mental health problems." Work can be and is expected to be stressful for anyone and everyone to varying degrees irrespective of being white or BAME, especially in hospitality. However, MST in a white workplace means there is an added stress, and so it requires more significant effort above what's needed of white people to adapt to that workplace. 8.
I spoke with a white friend about the problematic nature of white nostalgia for PoC today, and he came up with a solution. He suggested that Venue pay tribute to the racism problem in pubs of the 50s/60s with a notice somewhere (such as the toilets) to highlight the plight faced by black men entering or being able to join such establishments, i.e. the colour bar and the signs. They should pay homage to what it felt and still feels like to a PoC walking past or entering such establishments as the Venue.
Venue is but one example of the businesses in hospitality with their particular nostalgia that is showing a complete lack of regard for the negative, violent and exclusionary treatment of BAME people that has played a significant part in Britain's history for those groups.
1. Race Discrimination Bill 1960, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/2/119.
2. Lodge. 2018, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, electronic book, location 365.
3. Hirsch, A. (2018) 'Britain doesn’t just glorify its violent past: it gets high on it', The Guardian, 23 May, Available at:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/29/britain-glorify-violent-past-defehosive-empire-drug (accessed 21 January 2019)
4. Dr John Darwin. 2011. Britain, the Commonwealth and the End of Empir. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/endofempire_overview_01.shtml. [Accessed 22 January 2019]. 5. Will Dahlgreen, ‘The British Empire is something to be proud of’, YouGov, 26.07.14, https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/07/26/britain-proud-its-empire/.
6. Derald Wing Sue. 2010. Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life?ame. [Accessed 22 January 2019].
7. Notting Hill Riots – 50 years on’, Alice Bhandhukravi, BBC.co.uk, 21 August 2008.
8. Meyer, I. H, 2007. Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence. PubMed Central, [Online]. PMC2072932, 674-695. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2072932/#!po=58.1784 [Accessed 23 January 2019].