Race Matters

British Asians Dancing Their Way Up the Ladder?

 As we joined the back of the queue, we were standing behind four white people, two guys and two girls. They were already a little drunk and looked in their late twenties. I got the impression that they had been locals of this place. They didn’t seem to realise that their whispering to one another was quite loud so I could hear what they were saying. One of the guys turned to the group and said, "look at ‘them’ … they are all wearing tanks and suits.”

Their ‘gaze’ towards ‘us’ was extremely uncomfortable. They all started to laugh. Then one of the girls turned around and said, "what did we do to deserve being caught up here?”

They then all agreed to go to the club next door.”

(Fieldwork diary – Harpreet Cholia – A Club night in Mayfair 08.2010)

Even though London is a global and multicultural city, people's 'race' means they are still seen as 'space invaders' within different club scenes and city spaces.

Saturday night plans for many young people living in the metropolis of London consist of going out to the latest and trendiest bars and clubs on offer. London’s nightlife options are vast and huge in number and span over numerous locations in and around the city. However, going out into the centre of the city is not possible for all because of social and economic factors. The notion of being free to go out wherever one wants or even having the choice to go wherever one wants to go out, is perhaps too often taken for granted.

British Asians, in the second and third generations are now becoming a powerful consumer group within the leisure industry and many actors within the nighttime economy have picked up on this. The desire and aspiration to go out in spaces that are associated with upward social mobility is an important aspect for young British Asians. Within the British Asian community, young entrepreneurs have become active in event booking and management within the centre of the city, offering ‘exclusive’ nights out in ‘luxurious’ bar and club settings in quarters like the financial quarter 'the City' and the upmarket area of Mayfair. Young British Asians are now starting to show a presence in these places, which were previously untapped by them. Their presence is not only changing the visual make up of the city, it is also inscribing racialization processes in different parts of the city that were formerly coded ‘white’.

If we refer back to the opening fieldwork excerpt, one can feel a clear discomfort from the white clubbers. The presence of 'them’ (the British Asians) was an invasion of 'their’ space - a 'white’ space. An irritation towards racialized bodies in 'white' spaces shows that despite the new financial capital that British Asians are acquiring, it is not enough to stake claims on certain city spaces.

Reactions to Asians in nightclubs show how racialized bodies in 'white' spaces upset the “somatic norm”. It shows that London is not only stratified along social and economic lines, but also racial lines. Experiences of (everyday) racism came with the research process, which I had experienced first hand with my research informants. Despite this, in conversations with informants after certain situations, the majority of them would say that they had every right to be there and it would not stop them going out to such spaces.

For any further questions about the article or to know more about the research, please contact the author.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Andriux-UK

Note: Research for this article was part of was the ‘European Research Council Starting Grant Project: New Migrant Socialities – Ethnic Club Cultures in Urban Europe’, which was situated at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany between 2009-2013.

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