Racial discrimination in the club scene

Going on a night out can turn into a nightmare for some people because racism is still present

Summertime is here and clubs are filled with revellers looking to dance the night away. But going on a night out can turn into a nightmare for some people because racism is still present in nightlife. When clubbers are denied entrance to a venue, allegedly because of the club’s right to refuse admission, in actual fact they are being turned away for racist reasons.

This sort of discrimination never went away, actually, even if not everyone is aware of it. For years SOS Racisme has been exposing it and that is why we conducted another “testing night” last December, a test with a hidden camera to find out if this was still going on in Barcelona. And it is, indeed.

When you are denied admission into a club, you may be given a range of excuses, some of which are totally ludicrous: “you’re wearing running shoes”, “you’ve got the wrong haircut”, “you are not on the guest list” (even though you made a point of signing up in advance and are positively on the list). Bouncers outside clubs use those excuses to avoid admitting the real reason: you are not allowed in because of your skin colour or your ethnicity. Why is it that only black people or other minorities are turned away with those excuses?

The right to refuse admission as enshrined in the Regulations for Public Spectacles and Leisure Activities (Article 50) does not acknowledge such excuses as valid reasons because “enforcing the right to refuse admission must never lead to a discrimination of any member of the public on grounds of their place of birth, ethnicity, gender, religion, opinion, disability, sexual orientation or any other condition, personal or social circumstance”.

The law is crystal clear on this point. But whenever we report this sort of discrimination, we come up against a wall: no penalties have been set for it. Many local authorities, such as the City of Barcelona and other local governments, have been granted the powers by the Generalitat to determine the penalties that are applicable in such cases; but they haven’t done so. Therefore, we find ourselves in a rather Kafkaesque situation. There are instances when an infraction has been well-established, but no penalty (typically, a fine) is set. As a result —and after having mustered the courage to report the incident— the victim that has been discriminated against is rendered defenceless when they realise that the deed will go unpunished.

When it comes to the right to refuse admission, being a woman can also work against you. Very often we are not discriminated against when we are refused admission into a club, but we suffer the most rampant sexism. Many times we are granted free admission into a venue because we are the “sexual lures” that will draw men into the club. And if you are a black or ethnic minority woman, you may also be “hyper-sexualised” by being typecast as having “an unquenchable libido”, moving “sensually” or being “hot-blooded”, thus perpetuating every sexist stereotype.

What are we supposed to do in that sort of situation? As we know that being discriminated against on a night out will be an unpleasant experience that might be difficult to manage, SOS Racisme have put together a short guide so that a victim will be aware of their rights and know what to do, as it is always better to report it than not to. Firstly, you must always ask the reason why you are being refused admission into the venue; next, you must request the three stamped copies of the complaint form (one for the victim, one for the club and the last one for the Consumers’ Office); thirdly, you must call the police (Mossos d’Esquadra) so that a police report will be drafted; then you should get the details of any eyewitnesses and collect any evidence; lastly, you should phone the Attention and Report Service (SAiD) to receive further advice if you have any doubts. If you live in Barcelona city, you may also get in touch with the Office Against Discrimination. Both services are free of charge.

Finally, what can you do if you witness someone being discriminated against like that? Eyewitnesses play a key role to support a victim’s testimony. That is why you should play an active role —whilst respecting the wishes of the victim— and use your white privilege (if you have it) to denounce these situations. If we call ourselves “non-racist”, we must take an active stance when faced with this sort of situation, if we want to stay true to that statement. If we wish to live in a racism-free society, we must also insist that there isn’t any when we are on a night out.

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