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Soho Pub Whitewashes History During Refurbishment

Bar Hercules — formerly the Pillars of Hercules — super-imposed white faces over people of colour

The two images at the Pillars of Hercules, which whitewashed black patrons Huffington Post

A Soho bar whitewashed a photograph of black drinkers as part of its refurbishment.

Be At One’s Bar Hercules in Soho — formerly the Pillars of Hercules pub — super-imposed its own founders faces on to a picture which included two black patrons sitting at the bar. The founders’ — white male — faces were super-imposed on to the two black patrons, erasing them from the history of the pub. The original photo dates back to 1933: While the pub itself dates back to 1733, most of it was built in 1910, making the photo nearly as old as the pub that Soho knows today.

The new owner, Matt Fleming — not associated with Be At One — told The Evening Standard, (which referred to the actions as a “bit of a misstep”):

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for any offence that this has caused. When the founders of Be At One invested in my vision, I wanted to say thank you to them in the pub. With the challenges facing Soho and the pub sector, I thought it was a great opportunity to bring an iconic pub back to life. The original picture will be taking back its pride of place at Hercules.

The erasure was originally noticed by regulars, who shared the news on Twitter.

Talking to The Huffington Post, Be At One chief executive Andrew Stones (somewhat unbelievably) said: “In light of the fact one of our guests has taken offence to [the illustration], we will remove it ... The whole reason it was commissioned by the previous owners was so it could be a tongue-in-cheek nod to the bar’s previous history.”

Charles Roche, the bar’s manager, (and more unbelievably) also told The Huffington Post that, “this was seen as more of a sincere offering to them rather than a stab at racism.”

The recourse to “tongue-in-cheek” is strikingly similar to Shaun Beagley’s racist content, posted on social media and decried by many in the London restaurant industry three weeks ago. Beagley said his racist captions, photos, and videos were a “joke.” His subsequent apology was directed at “anyone upset or offended,” and added that he “did not intend to cause any offence.”

The reactions from Stones, Roche, and to a lesser extent Fleming, are notable too, for a focus on “offence”, reactions which take as their starting point having been ‘called out.’ In other words, these operators appear completely unaware of the significance of structural racism; as they hide behind the idea of a “tongue-in-cheek nod to the bar’s previous history” that erases the bar’s actual, previous history.

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