London, as declared by its mayor Sadiq Khan, is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Fewer than half the people in the capital are white, and over 100 languages are spoken in almost every borough, according to the last census. But in among the cultural melting pot, there is a small but growing number of young people of colour (PoC) who are actively choosing not to live with, or rent to, white people.
Maria*, 24, lives in Peckham with two female housemates, both of whom are black – a choice she made after house-sharing with white people at university. "They fetishised me," she says. "And they weren't willing to interrogate their position as perpetrators of how ostracising it can feel to be black in the university environment. They loved black culture, but they didn't recognise our struggle."
Being mixed-race, she says, complicates her attitude towards living with white people in the future. "I didn't engage with my blackness for a long time. Now I want to be around these conversations and not feel out of place because I'm not white."
Rhianne, 19, is a student at the University of Northampton. She left her university halls in her first year after she was excluded and referred to as "the black one" by a number of other students. "They made me feel like I was nothing," she says. When we went to the university for comment, a spokesperson said: "The University of Northampton does not tolerate bullying, discrimination or harassment, and we have professional teams in place that follow established procedures once a report has been received from a student. Our policy on this matter is outlined in our Student Code of Conduct document, which is publicly available, and students are made aware of it upon enrolment. Furthermore, any student who lives in our accommodation has to sign a code of conduct. If they breach this code of conduct they will become subject to our procedures."
Although Rhianne hopes to live exclusively with PoC in the future, she now lives with another group of white students as the black student community in Northampton is so small. "It's a lot better – it's just little things that get to me," she says. "I made chicken not too long ago and one housemate was like, 'Ooh, jerk chicken.' It was literally just chicken with a bit of seasoning on it. I don't assume that every white person is cooking fish and chips."
It's understandable that people like Rhianne would want to live with other PoC, particularly in the current political climate. In the week after Brexit, hate crimes committed against people of colour and Muslims increased five-fold – and that's just the incidents that were reported. Yet the government is shifting the blame for marginalisation onto ethnic minorities themselves. On Monday, Dame Louise Casey announced the findings of her "Integration Review", commissioned by the government. She suggested that immigrants should take "an oath of integration with British values and society", in a review that was supposed to be looking at segregation and social exclusion. Last week a report from right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange claimed that Muslims in the UK have "separatist tendencies".
Flat sharing website SpareRoom will not allow for users to include racial preferences. In October, a user on a closed forum for people looking to live exclusively with other PoC posted an exchange between her and SpareRoom. She'd posted on the site saying she specifically wanted to live with PoC and had a preference for trans and queer housemates. However, the advert was modified by Spare Room.
"We cannot allow discrimination towards race of any sort and have therefore removed any reference to a person of colour," read a warning email sent to her. "We have also removed wording that preferences for someone who is 'Queer or Trans' as we also do not allow someone to discriminate against sexual orientation."
VICE has since reached out to Spare Room for comment. In a statement, the site further explained that, "The one thing it's always illegal to discriminate on is race, regardless of the race in question."
There are, however, plenty of other groups on social media for those looking to live exclusively with PoC. Remi, 30, is the admin of one such group for Londoners. "Ultimately this has come about from the experiences of thousands of PoC, queer, trans, etc, who needed to move into a spot knowing that they could be in a more accommodating environment," he says. "I've seen adverts on Spare Room that specify 'white only' and, out of curiosity, I checked the advert again and it hadn't been taken down at least two weeks after the fact. Folks are not sympathetic, let alone empathetic to the experiences of minority groups, so it doesn't surprise me that Spare Room would do what other institutions in this country do and pretend it's not something that needs addressing... I would implore a white person who says this is racist to look into actually how much racism actually takes place in England."
SpareRoom refutes these claims, saying it takes a zero tolerance policy on race discrimination. "Thankfully, over the 12 years we've been running SpareRoom, instances of discrimination have been rare."
Beyond house-shares, "sharing economy" renting networks like Airbnb have become another battleground for racial issues. The site managed to avoid a potential class-action lawsuit by customers who accused hosts of racial discrimination at the beginning of November, when a judge ruled that the company's arbitration policy prohibited its users from suing.
Bad Airbnb experiences have ultimately led PoC into setting up their own services. Chiddy Eggerue is the Creative Director of Innclusive, an Airbnb-style rental service that was set up after founder Rohan Gilkes was denied a rental request – only to be accepted when his white friend put in the same request. "It's depressing that it's had to come to this," says Eggerue. "It's a shame that there are travellers around the world that worry about being accepted for who they are."
The overarching belief of those who have decided to live in PoC households is that it has come out of necessity due to the prejudice they've faced growing up black, brown or Asian in the UK. We have moved on from the days of "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish" – the signs once seen in the windows of accommodation for rent which were commonplace in the 1960s. But for many young people, those perhaps more equipped than their first generation immigrant parents and grandparents to "assimilate", the choice to live separately from white people has come from the same place of exclusion and prejudice. If the government wants to change the way ethnic minority communities integrate, perhaps it first needs address the demons in its own very white, very privileged back yard.
*Names have been changed
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