Is Britain’s Nostalgia for Whites Only?

We thought the days of ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’ pubs were a thing of the past, think again! A search for Cosy Club AKA Cosy “Colonial” Club online, a thriving, growing bar and restaurant venue, reads: “The Cosy Club 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 unable 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.”

While a White customer described (with approvement) the theme, decor and atmosphere as ‘colonial’.

It makes you wonder: sentimentality for whom and to what are such happy associations attributed?

From the Cosy decor to the staff outfits (picture Peaky Blinders) to the branding images. Cosy “Colonial” Clubs are adorned with tens and tens of portraits covering many of the walls. Portraits of mostly dead white men and women (they’ve got the White gender parity near enough right), revered by most as responsible for the advancement of civilisation, yet this so-called progress came at the cost of millions of BIPoC’s, colonial subject’s, lives. The branding images are all white people, some dressed in old military uniforms during the imperial era.

In the Cosy “Colonial” Club, the centrepiece in the entrance hall is a large Winston Churchill, a man whose enlightened image is finally being challenged, as evidence of his racist and xenophobic deeds with huge historical implications are being brought into the public eye. Reminds me of the Colonial Files (records of their colonial crimes) from ‘Operation Legacy’ which the British tried to destroy.

More portraits hang in the Cosy Club of dead, white, men, brilliant leaders and innovators of the scientific, political and industrial revolution. A revolution only made possible through the blood, toil and bounty exploited from the “darker nations” from across the globe.

Part of their branding features what looks like a man dressed in a military uniform from the European imperial and colonial era.

So apparently the ‘nostalgia’ is a yearning to return to a happy period of mainstream life, specifically pub culture in Britain.

“when you create a landscape, [a workplace, school, town or city] littered with the iconography of this era in these celebratory gestures you undermine the ability to get to a healthy place”

The nostalgia is mostly White 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 Blacks had finished with their glasses the bartenders would conspicuously smash them.

I think in the tumultuous political climate that we’re in for Whites, particularly Brits, The Cosy “Colonial” Club’s nostalgic decor, fixtures and fittings offer a safe, comforting and glorious space. A reminder of the Empire it’s colonies, a time when the world was White and because of it’s influence, now better off according to a recent YouGov survey. The survey found that Brits overall think that the countries that were colonised by Britain are better off than worse off and nearly as many think the Empire is something to be proud of.

How unique are British attitudes to Empire?

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 malicious, to give them the benefit of the doubt they may not even know nor understand why it is racist.

The company have recently opened up a new establishment in Nottingham. In Nottingham in the newspaper in 1958, it was 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. In Nottingham, at this time 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 (Eddo-Lodge 2018).

Britain’s pub nostalgia is one part of a 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 Cosy “Colonial” Club 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 Black and people of people that has played a significant part in Britain’s past for all of us.

And “when you create a landscape, [a workplace, school, town or city] littered with the iconography of this era in these celebratory gestures you undermine the ability to get to a healthy place,” said Bryan Stevenson in an on the Goop podcast.

If you haven’t heard of Bryan Stevenson, you should, he is an acclaimed public interest lawyer and author of Just Mercy, that has been adapted into a feature film.

“I don’t think there should be Adolf Hitler statues all over Germany. I don’t think it would be appropriate to be celebrating people who have created these lives that are associated with oppression, and abuse, and so all of those things conspire to create an unhealthy environment.”

“We’re talking honestly about these issues is really really hard. The encouraging thing is that when people learn the truth about history when they actually begin to confront it. It’s such a difficult and painful and traumatic history it is very hard to defend it, it’s very to justify it, and that’s what opens the door to a new relationship. I think those relationships are absolutely possible… but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Bryan.

I think Bryan’s right, we need to talk about our history and it’s legacy in a more hopeful and honest way, and we’re in the early days of a post-empire conversation in the UK.

The question is: are there enough of us who are motivated to see the significance of this conversation and engage?

*Name of the company has been changed to negate the impact on its reputation. I am not trying to defame this company; instead, I am expressing my opinion about it as we’re all entitled to have one.

Originally published at https://www.heretoen.com on April 23, 2020.

Freelance Writer | Podcaster | Journo | Portfolio (www.oliverluketaylor.com)