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Race Relations: London better than NYC?

I’ve got mad love for New York. Since I was a teenager I’ve been traveling over every year-and get ridiculously emotional when I get on the flight back home. As I did two weeks ago. Regular readers will know I was there for the elections. But as a result of the elections, I had some very interesting conversations about race with my American friends.

I know in my last post I was talking about the UK being far behind in terms of having a black UK Prime Minister. And I stick by that fact. But in terms of race relations on a street level, for the first time I felt very detached from other black New Yorkers in terms of the way I see race relations. Because I’m English. I had the most amazing election night with some of the Parlour fam in Manhattan. We were sat in a bar jam packed full of young black people… all just enjoying the moment. But the next day it dawned on me. There wasn’t a single white face in that crowd. Something I can guarantee wouldn’t have happened in London.

I hit up my friend Craig and we went out for dinner. The subject of race came up again (he’s black). We sat in Brooklyn putting the world to rights and I told him that it upset me that I wouldn’t be able to bring my (white) flatmate with me to NYC and hang out in “black” clubs in Brooklyn, because y’all don’t mix. He found it shocking that ALL the races mix in EVERY club in London. Be you white, black, Indian, Pakistani, Oriental…. It doesn’t matter here. You won’t feel uncomfortable because it’s normal. In fact Craig said, “it sounds like some kind of Utopia. I don’t believe it’s actually like that”. Well, it is.

The following Sunday I went to church with my Jamaican family in Queens. In the car on the way back my cousin’s neighbour starts cussing white people, how often they wash their hair, how “nasty” they were, and other things that I quite frankly don’t want to put in print. I was so disgusted by what I was hearing, I cussed them out myself and made them take me home. I wanted no part of the racist abuse. I don’t care which end of the colour scale it’s coming from. For me, the phrase “some of my best friends are white” is true. Having a social divide that’s dictated by race isn’t a life that I’ve ever experienced. And I’m disappointed that a city as “forward thinking” as NYC still has those divides. Not going to a hip hop club with my flatmate because she’s white is just plain unheard of here….it’s not an issue that would ever come up.

So then there’s the choice. Would I rather live a racially mixed life in London, where I can rave and socialise with people of ALL races without prejudice? Or live in NYC where the black community is so strong, but the racial mix for everyone is still so far away? I still don’t know….

—Miss London

Like Miss London’s perspective from across the way? Read the rest of her posts here.

To get your view from across the pond, Miss London Party will be your guide. Every week, she’ll be casting her eye over the big stories happening with the Brits. From fashion to entertainment to current affairs to politics, she’s got you covered. A Londoner born and bred, she’s worked as a journalist for two of the UK’s biggest broadcasters, and is currently presenting daily TV news — so she’ll be giving you an inside view on events. In her free time, she likes sitting in the pub on a Sunday afternoon, going through the newspapers, drinking a glass (actually a bottle) of wine, and tucking into a good ol’ English roast. Cliched, but true! She plays netball, swims and is ever so slightly addicted to trashy US shows on her cable TV.

Last 5 posts by Miss London

  • actually, there is no rule, written or otherwise, that prevents you from hanging out with your friends of other ethnicities here in nyc. i see (andhave been part of) plenty of bennetton crews, especially now that tradionally black communities are being “regentrified”. i will add though that there are times when i don’t want to explain anything so i’d prefer homogeneity but that doesn’t necessarily just mean race/ethnic group. if i’m going to a dancehall party, i don’t want to have to explain which dance is which or i’m at a caribbean restaurant for brunch, explain what ackee is to a southerner, irish chick, etc. now while i don’t want to get into a pissing contest, i find it funny that in a country where mixing is the norm, a black prime minister isn’t on the horizon. it’s like, “yeah, i’ll hang out with you, but you can’t use my comb (or come to my house, or run my country).” and by the way, oriental, and coloured, are passé.

  • Miss London

    Hi Asha… The thing is we don’t HAVE to explain anything when we’re in clubs in London. If you’re into the music you know the dances, and you know Caribbean food. In fact my white flat mate does an amazing stew-chicken.

    Plus — I didn’t use the word coloured in my post. And I used the term Oriental as in the UK, the term Asian is someone who is from Pakistani/Indian descent. I know it has a different meaning in the US, and I didn’t want any confusion.

  • KM

    Miss London…You offered some interesting thoughts and interesting they were based on your perception of what race is in America. Black people in Europe arrived there mostly out of choice. Consider that the majority of black people in America can trace their roots to slavery. Slavery in America and the reminence of the well organized “institution” has crippled the Black community. Even as recently as my sixth grade experience (I am 28), all of the black children were put at the back of the class. My father was the first black person ALLOWED to attend a private school in North Carolina as a part of an integration program. My grandfather was not allowed to vote for part of his life and was beaten and spit on by white people. I could continue on with the list of experiences that are just within my family or expand to others but the post would be too long. Consider that the comments that your cousins made may have been crude, they don’t come from a place of hatred. WE ARE STILL MAD! Do you know that the federal govt of the USA has made public apologies to the Japanese, the Native Americans, etc, but never even acknowleged the horrors of slavery? I ask you to read a book called “The Diary of A Slave Girl”. It will give you some real perspective to where the Black experience in America started. Having said all of that, I as a Black person have traveled many times to Europe and note the stark differences as to how races interact. It is a site to see. I do wish that things could be that way but we have some more healing to do across the big pond.

  • hi miss london. you just restated my point re: homogeneity. if you’re into the music or the culture, then you won’t be viewed by most as an interloper. unfortunately, for as many people there that are actually into the music/culture, there are just as many poseurs. and since people from the world over come to ny to make it big, there are seems to be a constant influx of wanna-bes. yes, that soudns elitist but it is what it is. i can’t speak for other parts of the country but poseurs of any kinds are not accepted in nyc (maybe hollywood. in fact, they have clubs especially for them, lol). but again, it’s not just race but that’s the most obvious thing to point out at a predominantly black gathering.

  • jay

    Miss London,

    The reasons why you don’t see blacks issuing blanket invitation to white folks to come hang out with us are manifold. They are

    Poseurs (as pointed out earlier), Cultural Tourists and Narcs aka people who think they are going to the zoo to see blacks in their native habitats. They are never welcome. Ever.

    Redlining and Segregation. The big difference between London and large US cities with sizable black populations is that London still has a sizable white, urban working/middle class that has been forced to live side by side with people of other ethnicities, absent the kind of bloody violence that marked early contact between blacks and whites in America. In America, blacks were corralled into ghettoes by racist planners and whites could afford to (meaning all middle class whites) stayed, far, far away. Gentrifying a neighborhood in your 20s doesn’t mean you are automatically a welcome friend of the black community.

    Other reasons we don’t always wanna club with white folks: Having to watch awful dancing = pain. Fratboys= mucho violencia y vomito’. Slavery and Jim Crow absent any apology or reparations = bad taste in ones mouth.

  • Rob

    I know this article is a little old, but i just stumbled upon it because I’m thinking of going to London for vacation. I LOVE night life and London seems to have it, but i will be clubbing mostly in the gay area. I’m from Chicago where “boystown” (the gay area) is large and busy, but going there is like going to a Klan rally. The race issues of gay white people is incredible.
    I was searching for an article or something to see if London was the same or if it was like the other parts of Europe i have been to and everyone is pretty much cool (based on race alone).

    I would LOVE to hang out in London this summer, but only of the gay white guys (I am black) aren’t as racially fucked up as they are in Chicago. If they are the same as in Chicago, I’ll just go back to Germany.