While it might not occur to a lot of people, it seems architecture and interior decor can actually be racist.
I’m not talking about buildings featuring Nazi swastikas, lit by Ku Klux Klan flaming crosses or emblazoned with ‘Whites Only’ signs.
I’m not even talking about buildings designed by Hitler’s favourite architect and Minister for Armaments, Albert Speer — or even consciously inspired by him if any actually exist.
A recently opened Brisbane restaurant called British Colonial Co has been condemned not just for its name but for its decor which, it says, has been “inspired by the stylish days of the empirical push into the developing cultures of the world, with the promise of adventure and modern refinement in a safari- style setting”.
No, patrons don’t get to ride on elephants guided by faithful native servants dressed only in loincloths, they don’t get to shoot lions either nor get to tramp over your actual real animal skins laid out on the floor and, as far as I am aware, the staff do not refer to lady patrons as the “memsahibs”.
In a Facebook post, the restaurant called its style “British colonial interior design” and shared content from a 2012 post on the interior design site Houzz: “‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’ is an oft-repeated quotation used when trying to explain British colonial style. In a nutshell, the style is a result of English citizens travelling the world during the empire’s heyday, bringing with them typically heavy wooden furnishings and adapting to hot local climates with lighter local fare”.
A screenshot of its website has appeared on social media and, it is alleged, it glorifies the British Empire.
Rudy Hamad, a Fairfax Media columnist, referred to the screenshot and asked, “When will white people stop? Imperialism is not romantic you ghouls, Gah!” Another Facebook user posted an amended blurb replacing “stylish” with “genocidal” and the “safari-style setting” became “cringingly anachronistic”.
“Blackfella Revolution”, an indigenous news source on Facebook, commented, “What on earth were they thinking? Are they trying to attract a racist clientele? Trying to be deliberately provocative? Stylish push into the developing cultures? Try genocidal invasion. I’d rather eat out of the bins at the back of Maccas than eat at the British Colonial Co.”
The restaurant’s owners have been rather taken aback by the criticism.
“British Colonial Co was founded on the principles of providing Brisbane foodies with relaxed, casual dining. We believe our decor and menu has great synergy with Brisbane’s climate and the expansive palette of our clientele who are looking for a melting pot of food and beverages to enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere,” they said in a statement.
Just what a client’s “expansive palette” defies explanation in this context while reference to “a melting pot of food and beverages” conjures up an unappetising mix of butter chicken, lentils, pappadums and pink gins all thrown together and bubbling over an open fire.
I’m sure they meant well.
This Brisbane eatery is not the first establishment to attract the ire of the politically correct. It is not hard to find examples from around the world of the awfully insidious influence of racist architecture.
Recently, in the United States, Denver’s Union Station — built in 1881 — was faithfully and meticulously restored. It is typical of its era — a flamboyant and extravagant mix of 19th century styles — “understated” is not an adjective that would occur.
By remaining true to its origins, the refurbishment was criticised by the local newspaper’s ‘Fine Arts critic’ for being “inherently racist” as it “evokes European colonial empires fuelled by slave labour”. And, what is more, by not having such new features as various ethnic restaurants, a day care centre, “safe places” for women and minority groups and ethnic group art displays among other things, it is seen to be profoundly off-putting for everybody except rich white men. Hardly the way to encourage public transport use, it was argued.
Also in America, a young black female student at the Ivy League’s Yale University recently complained that she was intimidated by its historic architecture and, presumably, something needed to done to make it more “inclusive”. “Progressive” people on campus solemnly agreed.
Across South America, sensitive folks are having their whinges about colonial era Spanish and Portuguese architecture which is obviously oppressive and racist. And you can imagine what is being said — again by caring, sharing and culturally aware progressive people — about South African architecture dating from the apartheid era.
Oddly enough, many of the only countries — think of the Indian sub-continent for example — where colonial-era buildings are being carefully restored were once under the sway of colonial rulers. They have happily embraced their former masters’ architecture and turned it profitably to their own use.
In 1979, the Bjelke-Petersen Queensland government demolished the colonial-era Belle Vue Hotel despite the National Trust campaign to save it.
In retrospect, it is obvious that the National Trust was nothing but a bunch of nasty white racists.
Why who would have guessed then?
Do you think establishments can be racist? Do you think that such claims are an overreaction? Share your thoughts on this topic with us.
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