Racist architecture 19



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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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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. Racist architecture? Really? Are there any more examples of life from which the racist-hunters can use as examples of hatred? I would be pretty sure that the owners of this “racist” restaurant had no such idea in their minds when they opened it. GET OVER IT.

    2 REPLY
    • I agree 100% in my opinion the author is just out to stir. I am sure he thinks he is very clever.

    • So say most of us.. what a crock. Way more important issues to Address. This isim crap is way out of control. Next furniture and housing will be ‘transgender’ or somthing equally as crazy.

  2. People who write articles such as this are very unintelligent….no matter what their education is. Intelligence comes from life.People like this cause problems in the world.

    1 REPLY
    • Since, presumably, you are blessed with abundant intelligence I look forward to your contributions Heather. Please explain how this harmless little piece could cause problems in the world.


    1 REPLY
  4. What has happened in the past can’t be undone. If this sort of restaurant is offensive then should we demolish buildings like the Raffles Hotel in Singapore? The palace of Versailles, which represents the excesses that lead to the French Revolution? ( France also had an Empire)
    Should we knock down the Coliseum, a structure that represents the extreme cruelty of the Roman Empire?
    We can’t sanitise history. If people don’t like the British Colonial Co they don’t have to eat there. They should expend their energy addressing issues more important than the decor of a restaurant.

    1 REPLY
    • Well said Maureen, hit the nail on the head exactly. I for one will be going to this restaurant on my next visit to Brisbane to try the food. Take your over the top PC rubbish and stick it

  5. Here we go again – political correctness at its absolute worst! A very good article Russell and I totally agree with what I believe you are pointing out, namely that there are some complete idiots around, and not only that, but these people obviously have no pride in the wonderful country we have here – of course we should shout about our greatness FROM THE TOPS OF BUILDINGS! I feel very sorry for the poor restauranteur who innocently created a rather nice atmosphere for his clients, oly to be called “racialist” for it, my sympathies are definitely with him!

  6. A building is a reflection 0of the time, India restores and makes use of these buildings Australia condemns isn’t racist it’s the attitude of people that are racist. I thought in this country we had free choice. rather than criticize why don’t we embrace. I understand Aboriginal dislike of the name and perhaps that’s a poor choice. Although shouldn’t we judge on the quality of the food rather than the name of the restaurant. Remember free choice allows us to either go or stay away, that is always our choice.

  7. I have just searched online for the restaurant and am shocked that anyone would be at all concerned about it’s decor. It is simply beautiful and perfect for Queensland. I for one would enjoy dining there!

  8. “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?

    Blackfella Revolution!! How racist is that!! What on earth are they thinking? Are they trying to be racist ? Trying to be deliberately provocative?

    Imagine the ruckus if there was a Whitefellow Revolution!!

  9. There is a large group of people who find everything racist. Finding historical trends racist is just another of a long list of things about which to whine. Instead of looking for everything to call racist, they need to do something useful like work for community volunteer organisations.

    Someone thinks something is racist – so effing what?

  10. Sadly there are just too few ‘racially impure’ type restaurants like this one for us to enjoy.
    I’m extremely proud of my British roots and find the comments of ‘Blackfella Revolution’ both racist and offensive. Where would the ‘Blackfellas’ be today if not for British colonisation of this country? Most probably totally extinct if the colonists had been the Russians or Spanish.
    At best they would still be living totally non-productive, non-achieving lifestyles in a stone age environment. There would be no Macca’s bins to scrounge from either. It appears to me that
    the ‘Blackfella Revolution’ people are simply envious of a proud heritage they don’t have.

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