Racial profiling is at best inconvenient and at worst awful, depending on the mood I’m in. As a young British Asian, I’m all too used to metal detectors and hands-on ‘random’ searches at airports, or anywhere else for that matter (nightclubs, festivals etc.).
For most family holidays growing up, I didn’t notice the difference in treatment. Probably because for most of these, I was small and not carrying much. But when I started growing a bit (my growth spurt was mad – I shot up) and started going to places on my own, it became very clear very quickly that I was ‘randomly’ searched quite a lot. I’m (mostly) clean shaven and have an extremely English (allegedly a tad Brummie) accent, so if I think it’s clear that I’m being racially profiled, I know it’s so much worse for other people.
My uncle is one of those people. A devout Muslim often travelling between Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and England, he seems to spend his life in airports. Along with this, he’s also spent quite a bit of time having his bags searched. It’s not just him though, I can vividly remember my mum’s backrest being extensively scanned and baffling officials at an airport. All for an item that isn’t a particularly fancy piece of technology – not even technology, really. Just a small, thin seat. The time I want to talk about is not at an airport, though.
A couple of days after the London Bridge attacks last year, I was with a group of friends heading to Oceana. Given the terrorism and the atmosphere that had been lurking since, caution had been lurking at the back of my head. Caution for my own safety, but also an awareness to cut any security some slack. I hadn’t touched any alcohol, and it was obvious that others in the queue definitely had. After a long wait, I’d finally got into the club’s entrance, and looked to buy my ticket. Upon spotting me, the bouncer called out “random search!” After emptying my pockets into a black tray, I put my arms out and hummed to myself. There was an atmosphere of a prison raid, but nothing unusual. My mates were waiting but it was over in a few minutes. I collected my stuff and paid for a ticket. Before even receiving the ticket, the same man called out “random search!” again. I felt a bit embarrassed. Not for me, but for him.
With a wry smile, I piped up “mate, you’ve already searched me”. There was a robotic stare and I put my arms up again. I was a tad annoyed by this point; I just wanted to start my night, but I knew not to say anything and especially not to make a scene. I am, however, very British. So I tutted. I collected my things, and went over to get my ticket. But before I could pick up the ticket I’d bought, four men surrounded me. Before I could understand what was happening, I was being pushed and ushered out of the club. I was livid, agitated, but above all else confused. Utterly, utterly confused. I began pleading my case, asking what possible reason there could be to stop my night before it had begun. Apparently it was my “attitude”. All of my friends (who were white) were inside, I’d seen lads literally fall over and waltz past security. Of course, I then was desperately trying to reason my way out of this, getting more and more agitated, talking very quickly. But at this point, there was nothing I could do. I was outside with a few drunks, who were also talking to the bouncers and I was just lumped in with them. It was like I was speaking a different language.
I wasn’t stupid, I knew the real reason the bouncer had refused me entry. But I refused to say anything involving race, for fear of playing the ‘race’ card. However, I understood that I’d been refused entry because of the colour of my skin. Whatever the man’s reasoning, whether he was paranoid, or genuinely angry, had I been white I wouldn’t have been searched twice, and I would have certainly got into Oceana. This was the first time I’d experienced genuine, institutionalised racism in this way. I’ve had racist comments, and awkward situations many times, but it’s my privilege that as a middle class twenty year-old I’d never experienced anything that genuinely frightened me. Airport searches were always just minor inconveniences. This couldn’t have been clearer. Everybody was inside enjoying themselves. I was outside – just me.
I’m slightly embarrassed that this meant so much to me – “Oh you suffered police brutality, yeah I know how you feel, I once was refused entry to Oceana”. I suppose this is the point – it is my privilege that I’ve never really suffered because of racial profiling, let alone stop ‘n’ search – that’s a whole different issue. But many other people have. Actor Riz Ahmed, in a speech given to the House of Commons, mentioned how he’d had the experience of being extensively searched while signing an autograph. These instances may seem trivial, but these acts of prejudice are not individual. They are embedded in the minds of the nation – it is nobody’s fault, the natural result of our media, but it is something to be mindful of.
Editor’s Note: Wessex Scene contacted Southampton Oceana nightclub via email, email@example.com, for any response they may wish to provide to the story detailed within this article. Although allowing for a week, no response had yet been received at the time of going to print for the Race and Racism magazine, nor has a response been received since.