BME open-mic night forced to shut down

Juliette Bretan 11 February 2018

Newnham College BME Students have today released a statement on the Fly Girls of Cambridge website, confirming that their  'Newnham x Robinson: BME Open Mic Night' hosted by Newnham College BME Students was "forcibly shut down by the Bar staff upon receiving complaints by white students that they didn’t enjoy the BME performances".

The open-mic night, billed on Facebook as featuring "amazing performances" with "a chance to meet other BME students", was intended to showcase performances ranging "from spoken word, singing, dancing or any creative outlet of your choice." It invited "BME students and performers from colleges other than Newnham and Robinson", and also stressed that "in the spirit of inclusivity and celebrating diversity, non-BME performers wishing to perform something by a BME artist are more than welcome".

However, the event was shut down mid-way through, with performers facing chastiement for their content and forced to move venue. The FLY statement detailed the evening's disruption, describing that "upon entering the bar space that we booked for 8pm, we were shocked to find that several BME students took up a small table in an large bar filled with drunken white people dancing and singing. We knew that the Robinson Beer Festival was also scheduled to run all day, but there was no indication to us that at 8pm, BME students and performers would be pushed aside to occupy a small fragment of the bar room. Despite the uncomfortableness of the situation, we started the performances. Ada’s lovely rendition of  “I Love You Porgy” by Nina Simone was followed by Hasan's stand-up set about whiteness and the racism he’s faced, and Kritarth’s set about Economics and Technology."

"We then took a short 30 minute break in the JCR to deal with technical difficulties and to allow everyone to socialize. However, the Bar manager then told us that we needed to leave, saying that because the Bar is a business we could not leave it empty, and that other students were complaining that “the performers in the first half weren’t good and people said they didn’t like it so were leaving”.

In a statement to TCS, performer Hasan Al-Habid said: "I’d like to applaud Teddy and Sara for their dignified handling of the very difficult and unfair circumstances they were put in. The actions of Robinson bar were belittling, extremely disrespectful and totally unwarranted. It’s really sad and sobering that an event that was intended to give BME students a voice and celebrate their diverse talents turned into a cruel reminder of why such nights are still so vitally important."

Kritarth Jha, another performer, said to TCS: "As a performer, it just seemed like a difficult crowd, which is an occupational hazard. However I performed just before a break, after which the show never resumed, which was suspicious, but being very new to both the comedy scene and the organisers, I attributed it to unknown unknowns and thought nothing of it. However, after learning of what happened today; it's very disheartening. But you know, onwards and upwards."

Though the Bar manager offered to reschedule the event, the organisers argued this was "completely disrespectful to the BME performers who had gathered the courage to perform and shed light on meaningful issues in front of an audience for that night…Some white students took offence at the stand-up comedies, and the Bar Manager found these complaints legitimate and so used the break as an excuse to kick us out."

Though acknowledging that the Bar has an "interest in doing business", the statement went on to explain the complications to the event which arose in the break, claiming that "the Bar Manager never told the BME officers that breaks were not allowed when we met them prior to the event to confirm all the details; in any event, we had announced that we would be returning shortly."

Following this disruption, the event moved to the JCR, where the team claimed they "still made it OUR night – despite the booming Taylor Swift and Nickelback from the Bar, where those who watched as we were kicked out continued to have a good time."

The authors then argued "white people are happy to appropriate the “cool” aspects of ‘BME cultures’ when it suits their own enjoyment, but completely fail to stand up for BME people when they most need support," despite the event being "created as a space for BME students to be heard – to give them an opportunity to vent about the everyday and celebrate the talent in our community. However, the message that was sent was clear – white comfort is more important than BME voices."

"Last night, BME students extended a hand to white students to learn about important issues as racial profiling and the racialized and Islamophobic Prevent legislation through their performances. Instead, a platform for education was willfully ignored, and BME people’s labour was demeaned as a side-show."

"We are not trying to segregate white and BME people any further; in fact, the BME community appreciates and needs white allies in our struggle for equal opportunities and recognition (we express our gratitude to the white students who joined and supported the BME performers in the JCR last night). Rather, the point is that white people in this institution and beyond MUST start acknowledging their privileges of being white, confronting their discomfort."

In a statement, Robinson College Students Association said, "Last night, in collaboration with Newnham, Robinson college played host to a BME Open Mic Night aimed at "Celebrating Diversity". Regrettably, we were asked to leave the bar and reschedule for another night after having taken a short break to deal with various issues. We are very disappointed that this does not send the message of togetherness through diversity which was our aim however we hope to be able to host a more successful night in the near future. Finally, we would like to extend our gratitude to all the talented people who came to perform as well as those who came to support our wonderful acts and who continued their support as we resolved to continue the event in the more intimate setting of the JCR."

Allegations of the disruption were first revealed on Twitter yesterday evening, with several students commenting on the occurences at the event.

**This has been amended to remove unfounded allegations repeated in an earlier version of this article.**