"it’s just one of those days, typical me,
typical club scene typical grief.
It’s just one of those raves, typical beef…"
The week was cruel. I had an adjournment for two days. I need a release. I’m at my house, waiting for my friends. I’m deciding what to wear. Can you wear shoes? Not sure?
Shoes in the clubs I go to are largely unacceptable. This also goes for my jeans. I don’t think they are acceptable. I had better put some trousers on, and I had better wear a shirt. Actually, I had better iron that shirt.
‘Dress to Impress’, ‘Smart and Sexy’, ‘Fresh and Clean’…they all mean the same things – no caps, no hoods, no trainers, no jeans. It’s paradoxical that in the bars and clubs I’ve visited in Shoreditch just up the road from where I’m going in Dalston – the play space of the young professionals - trainers are highly acceptable. However, black people, the second poorest social group in Britain, are required to adhere to a ‘bourgeois’ dress code. The argument being, the better dressed you are, the less trouble you’re likely to cause. It's an intriguing theory and wholly inaccurate.
We have a situation where those young people who earn the most, in many cases sport the scruffiest most weathered clothes. We have a situation where those young people who have the greatest economic power, can chose dress-down club wear. And yet, young black londeners, who received the second worst GCSE results, are second bottom in the list of cultural groups who live in unfit dwellings, and belong to a group, 46% of whom experience poverty in Britain; are forced to dress-up to go out.
Black people are the single most dominant force in youth culture. From their communities in Britain and the US; their innovation in music; and more importantly, their street wear, they have created a global phenomenon. The baseball cap, Bronx hat, baggy jeans, hoods, trainers, tracksuits, have become a trademark of young people from the Ukraine to Vietnam. So I still can’t get my head round the notion that in clubs frequented by young urban black people, street styles are rejected by club owners.
I'm cold in a way only English people can understand. I debated about bringing my coat, but I didn't want to spend money putting it in the cloakroom. The queue isn't moving but then I shouldn't be surprised. On the flyer it said, "£10 before 11pm, £15 after". With the time being 10:45pm, it's unlikely that the bouncers will let the queue move freely until eleven. I keep telling myself, 'I'm here to enjoy myself', despite the waiting, freezing, single file feel of a police line up.
I have already planned my selection of facial expressions for the night – I know how to play the game. Right now I'm trying to look innocent, yet aware, confident, yet quiet. A loud word or an inane smile could finish us. The bouncers might think we're drunk.
The gloomy shadowy figures are walking up and down the queue, their eyes looking past people, through people, and down to people. As the storm troopers pass me, one looks in my direction. I look down, for fear of catching his eye, causing displeasure to him. My clothes, my look, my face, my gaze are all possible offences. I am nervous, I am scared. I have been humiliated enough times to understand how it breaks me.
My friends and I have already organised our plan. We are well versed in club vernacular, and we all understand that six male associates at the door won't get in. We have to act like we don't know each other. So we are playing this ridiculous game, pretending to be strangers, working overtime not to catch each other's eye.
Since we know that this club is hard to get into, we've done our research. This is the usual routine. Experience has taught me that hope is a dangerous thing, and that certainty is a redundant concept in club land.
We have various permutations worked out in our matrix. If two or more of us get turfed, then the group splits. Those who get in, stay in. Those who get turfed, try another club. If only one gets in, we all try the next place. If only one gets turfed, we all move on. You need a strategy, and we have sharpened ours.
I can see the guest list queue. Groups of women, 'I know the DJ', imprinted on their foreheads; condescension echoing with every cackle.
A problem arises – the Stasi have decided that all men from now on must be accompanied by a woman. So urgently but subtly we are trying to find women who will allow us to pretend that we are 'with them'.
"Hi, will you allow me to come in with you please?"
Some women asked are polite and understanding. Some women asked use the situation as an opportunity to prosper materially – the look, up and down, the screwed face in judgement, thinking, 'only if you get buy me a drink inside'.
We finally get to the door, to the bouncer. I put on my most pathetic expression. I need to let him know that I understand how incredibly important his position is, that I recognise his power over me, that he is to me what Darth Vader is to the Empire.
The regulatory forces look me up and down like I am dirt. He lingers over my shoes. "Border line," he says, referring to my crepes.My friends are being searched.
I need to get drinks. I go to the bar to buy four. I give the bar tender £20. He gives me £1.27 change. I don’t really know how much drinks cost in this place or indeed any bar or club that I have been to. The bar tender can charge anything, and who would know?
Complain a little, you don’t get served, complain a lot, you get thrown out. The next time I go up I decide to have a bottle of water instead, except that costs £2. So I choose to have tap water. The bar tender refuses. I ask for a glass of ice instead. Bingo.
I can barely let my eyes roam around the club without seeing flesh – everywhere. Prolific. Copious. Profuse. Short skirts, low tops, tight trousers, legs, busts, derrières. I always wonder whether these women have men in their lives.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am entirely committed to the view that women should be able to express themselves independently, but I am not amongst women who are expressing themselves for themselves. I can see something very different in their faces.There is a different look in their eyes. They seek the attention of men. They seek the desire of men.
The lack of confidence young women have in themselves is staggering. The level of insecurity is overwhelming. The proliferation of skin becomes the great equaliser. It is the compensation for their deficient self-belief. I can see one woman now, her bust pushed high up to her chin. She doesn’t believe that her face will be enough, she needs backup. And every time she walks past a man, she hopes that men will appreciate her. A stranger’s appreciation will make her feel wanted, it makes her feel special.
Is feminism dead?
I get onto the dance floor, and I start moving. I can’t move too fervently though – people will gawk. One must understand that in this type of club, its not about who can pull off the hardest moves, it’s more about who can look the coolest. I remember seeing people pull off audacious moves at parties I went to when I was younger. In bashments however, 'shocking out' is a problem for a man – he risks drawing attention to himself, leaving him susceptible to criticism and humiliation. I don’t want to be made a fool of, and I don’t want people laughing at me. I think that my moves are smooth in front of the mirror, but what if everyone else in the club doesn’t? The age of expression is over and with it go the options for abandoned enjoyment. To tackle this problem, we have set dance moves.'Scooby Doo',
Everyone wants to dance. I would like to go ahead and dance. But too many times, I have been in situations where people have squashed my enthusiasm. Too many black people in these types of raves make themselves feel good by making others feel bad. I have had people look at me with that,
Last week, in response to my friend’s dancing, I heard one woman say, 'what are you doing?' It all makes you wonder whether it’s worth trying anymore.
The dance floor slowly starts to fill up, and I have perfected tonight’s minimalist moves (to the effect that they remind me of IKEA).
I have remembered the most important facet of my façade; hold the smile. You see, a smile makes you look like you’re having a good time, and some believe there are only so many good times to go around. The implication is, what’s yours has been taken from what could have been theirs. And, this is why some black people are so LOST, because in hating others, they hate themselves. When the police stop and search you, when the media vilify you, when you are oppressed by the establishment (institutions and the political system); who do you turn on?
Yourselves, of course!
Dealing with the enemy – your own black self – means suppressing the smile that makes you look weak, and adopting a ‘screwface’, which means you don’t give a f**k. As a result, you keep a mean looking, ugly,
‘Mike Tyson - just about - to - step - into - the - ring’, ’50 - cent - on - his - album - cover’, type of expression.
Nothing else will do. And, because I don’t want to get ‘brushed’, I have to look like that too. What would you do?
Vulnerability is the new black.
I’m bored of the way men are...
Walking around the dance floor, in tight tops, trying to flex their biceps (the ones they used dumbbells on just before they came out), keeping that 'don’t-f**k-with-me' expression.
The slightest nudge into someone’s back as you pass them, the meekest graze of another man’s shoes or a look into another man’s eyes, and violence is the likeliest consequence. There is a problem with some black men. They can’t let any man be seen to take advantage of them – or maybe I should rephrase that…they can’t let any black man be seen to take advantage of them. The reason: they don’t want to seem weak, and so if they perceive they are being challenged, they must reply aggressively.
I didn’t win Mastermind last year – but I have that small piece of intelligence necessary to realise that smiling is better than fighting, and that fighting is worse than smiling. I also know that I don’t care what people think about me on road. I will never have to see them again, so I don’t care whether they think I am weak. What can it do to me?
I’m bored of the way women are...Looking up and down at other women menacingly.
The whispers, the stares, the condemnation, the sneak peeks, the scorn, the hatred. I can see insecurity seep from their every pore. They hate the way they look. They hate who they are. Watching Oprah, reading self-empowerment novels, seeing 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back', flicking through Ebony, and yet still, finding solace in the denunciation of other women – and more specifically, young black women.
Too many young black people have too little confidence in themselves. It’s heartbreaking. Too many black people feel so bad inside. It’s painful. The need to prove themselves gives them the irrational notion that harming others, will give them the self-assurance necessary to feel good about themselves.
As an example, how insecure would I have to be to let a man who doesn’t know me, who isn’t in my life, who I don’t respect, make me risk prison or personal harm because he is staring at me?
I’m bored of the way the music is… All I can hear in my ear is 'Chi-chi man…slew dem', 'Battyman…bun dem'.
It’s not for me to dictate the issues that Jamaican bashment artists chose to discuss, but in the West Indies, aren’t there more pressing and urgent matters to confront than homosexuality. I have been there – I know.
Now the hip-hop has started, and I’m hearing, 'I’m young black and famous, with money hanging out of my anus', and, 'I got a Benz that I aint event drove yet'. It’s unconstructive, materialistic, fake.The next tune comes on.
The Garage comes on, 'I’ll take your phone like you ain’t nothing'.
The lyricists are talented. The tunes are hype. But I am tired of the content. I'm waiting for a different sound. Something to challenge me, not just play to base instinct. I want something to feel positive about, not something to feel angry about.
I understand why some young black musicians talk about the street life, the girls and the money. I ovastand. And I also ovastand that one successful black musician does not have a responsibility to make music for 'the masses'. But it saddens me that they don’t have the heart, nor the intelligence to analyse and appreciate their contribution to the young people growing up and listening to their tunes.
It is for this reason that I had to take the time to write this down.
I have talked to many people about these issues. People have argued that Asian youth raves are very similar and that white youth raves are very similar.
I respond by saying – And What!
I am not denying that the same sorts of issues don't exist elsewhere, and neither am I saying that all black youth raves are like this. What I am saying is that some of the raves that I go to remind me of the political system portrayed by George Orwell’s 1984: oppressive, exploitative, humiliating, violent.
Maybe I’m stating the obvious, maybe I’m offending some people.
As a black community, we need to be honest with ourselves. In seeking equality we need also to be respectful of each other.
© Jacob 'biscuit' Whittingham, November 2007 (all rights reserved)