In another time perhaps this editorial’s subject would be a non issue, even less so more probably. Unfortunately, this era is undeniably the now and instead of a non it is a subject directly interjecting itself into the most important civil rights movement of our time.
I am speaking here on the London based initiative #NightlifeMatters, which aims to provide awareness and assistance regarding the UK capital’s crumbling nightlife infrastructure, arguing (rightly so) that its cultural benefit has consistently been undervalued. Now, this is true. London, speaking purely in nightlife culture terms, is seminal, on par with the likes of New York City and Berlin in the “meccas” of dance music conversation. The city has produced countless parties, raves, genres, one-offs, clubs, festivals, and artists over the years, all of which have provided deep and lasting additions to the global nightlife conversation, as well as what a dance music creative can become.
That said, London is not just a cultural (and nightlife) mecca, but is also one of the primary points (read: markets) in a world ever connected by an omnipotent global capitalistic infrastructure, heavily subjecting it to economic volatility of all descriptions, much like the 21st Century dynamics of New York City. In this age of consolidated employment and industry, operating in sync with vast levels of income inequality, such markets are ground zero for social categorization with an imposed gentrification process catering to the rich and powerful and bypassing the needs of creative communities who so frequently lay the cultural foundations of their respective markets.
With all that, I hope that this begins to show my acknowledgement of London, its nightlife, as well as its importance, especially within a world of capitalism run amok (remember, the inherent fallacy of the free market is that resources are infinite when, as we all know, this is not the case. Whether naturalistically or economically, once something is gone it is gone forever) but, the bottom line is, this is a wider conversation for another day (although, underestimate the correlations between capitalism, gentrification, and racism at your own peril).
What ultimately constructs my complaint here is hardly nitpicking minutiae, however. Not when issues of equality and justice are at stake, and this is where my focus turns to #BlackLivesMatter, the US-originated movement that has since spread to many Western countries (three #BlackLivesMatter protests are scheduled for London in the coming weeks alone). Started around issues of police violence against (unarmed and non provoking) African-Americans, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has, once again (tragically), found itself back in the forefront of international focus and this time it seems like we may have reached a tipping point.
As many may already be aware, in a span of 3 days two more cooperative African-American males were gunned down at the hands of overzealous police officers. The first instance coming out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana where 37 year old father of five Alton Sterling was killed whilst selling music outside a convenience shop. The second came out of St. Paul, Minnesota where 32 year old Philandro Castile was killed after a routine traffic stop as his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter watched on in horror, ultimately live streaming the event’s aftermath on Facebook Live. Of course these are just the latest examples of racially biased brutality at the hands of police departments around the United States. Just a quick spot of research would yield names from all corners of the country: Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and 102 more unarmed African Americans in 2016 ALONE, with each one representing a family figure, a loved one, and community member; each of which will never be the same, perhaps generationally, given the long and complicated history of race relations of a Post-Colonial world memory.
There is so much to elicit emotional reaction here, and I am aware we are an international publication, where many may not have the same connection to these issues as me, but I urge you to watch the reaction of Alton Sterling’s eldest son at a press conference following his father’s death, and also listen to the words spoken by his mother on fears for her son’s future as a Black man and the potential of intense social cynicism. This, on a human level, proves the enduring pain from, not just an individual, but the ongoing systematic racism inflicted on communities of color, both in the USA and wherever there may be economically, culturally and socially marginalized communities en masse.
Why is all this a big deal though? What are the correlations between a London based nightlife initiative and a social movement of racial fairness? As I mentioned in my opening sentence, there is something to be said that it is concern minutiae in a world filled with more pronounced (and large scale) pain. Or, perhaps, this is another instance of over political correctness, where the grievance industry holds its positions for the advancement of their own sustainability. Yes, perhaps all that is true but (in my opinion) any and all decisions should be looked at within a historical context, and here that context is ripe with angst. The human condition at a boiling point. Now is the time to call for solidarity against a very real pain felt throughout our international community and (again in my opinion) it is also time to be critical of those piggybacking on the backs of the socially important. So, I ask you: Does #NightlifeMatters remotely equate the same amount of social importance as #BlackLivesMatter? Does institutional racism equate with venue closings? Does the economic pain of closed business equate to the emotional pain of lost life? In my mind, I say no.
To be clear, again, my issue here is not with the initiative itself, as I agree with its need. My concern is rather with its branding. To me, by simply using the “matters” label, #NightlifeMatters directly lifts off the identity of #BlackLivesMatter, thus trivializing the initial impact of a movement who does matter within the now. In this case, and I doubt this can be argued, human life matters more than the shuttering of business doors; the families torn apart by generations of race based intimidation far outweigh the hospitality jobs lost as a result of rising rents; the cynicism created when a child watches his father gunned down by those who are sworn to “protect and serve” are far more concerning than the temporary inconvenience of having to find a new place to go out and party. For example, let’s compare #BlackLivesMatter self-identity: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression,” to #NightlifeMatters’: “British nightlife is under threat. Increasingly strict licensing laws, rising property prices, new housing built close to existing venues without sufficient consideration and measures to protect premises, and a lack of understanding about the benefits of night culture have all played their part in eroding our nightlife”. Or, how does #BlackLivesMatter’ expanded focus on issues of “Collective Value, Diversity, Loving Engagement, and Empathy” (to name a few) compare to #NightlifeMatters calls for “More Flexible Licensing, Fair Representation, and Nighttime Economy Champions”? Do they compare? To me, that answer is also no.
So, What is in a name? I would ask those in Baton Rouge, St Paul, Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island and others what goes into names like Sterling, Castile, Brown, Rice, and Garner. They know the power of a name; they know the emotions a name can illicit; they know the symbolism of a name. With that in mind, I would call for the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) to consider a re branding, allowing #BlackLivesMatter to solely hold court within the “matters” era (don’t think there aren’t other offenders out there, though.). The bottom line is, we are at a turning point in history that cannot be ignored. It is way past time to address, once and for all, the sins of the past, and with the events of the past week (including today’s Dallas police officer shooting), this movement must be honored and respected for the importance it holds within an international dialogue so desperately in need of equality for all. Unfortunately, and despite my own personal connection with nightlife and what it has done for me over the course of my life, my connection with my fellow man holds precedent as does my concern for the future of our world, not just for the future of a singular industry in a singular market. Names do hold power and something as small as #NightlifeMatters ultimately franchises (benefits) off the preeminent civil rights movement of our time.