Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The East Street Market

August 22, 2009 · 7 Comments

    We took the Central Line from Goodge Station and switched onto the Waterloo line to Elephant and Castle at Charing Cross. As we moved farther down the line, we noticed that the number of business suits diminished and were replaced by more eccentric garb and hairstyles. After getting off at Elephant and Castle, we started to head in the right direction (towards Walworth Street) only to be re-routed (due to a “fatal accident” involving a bus) down a rather sketchy alleyway, only to make one giant loop and end up where we started. We wandered around, getting even more lost, and after consulting A-Zed, we finally got our bearings and headed down Walworth Street towards the East Street Market. Once there, we were bombarded with a rush of people, wares, sounds and smells. Reggaeton blasted from a CD and cassette tape booth, women in burkas sat under a tent draped with pashmina scarves and the aroma of bangers and burgers hung heavily in the air over the scene. Middle-Eastern and African vendors sold seafood and exotic fruits and vegetables arranged in wooden crates, and women loaded the produce into their bags, bartering with the vendors. There were booths selling watches, clothing (suits, dress shirts, slacks and lingerie), shoes, belts, toys, Christian books and movies, hats, sunglasses, jewelry, bags, scarves, cell phone accessories, linens and toiletry and cleaning products. But more interesting than the wares being sold was observing the interactions between those selling and buying. Vendors, for the most part, kept to themselves and did not call out to passersby. Some left their booths completely vacant and vulnerable to theft. One vendor in particular caught our attention. One of the few white British fruit vendors angrily accosted a potential buyer. As we were passing, we heard the vendor say to the man, “Speaking bloody f***ing English, you f***ing Bangladeshi.” The man walked away from the booth, and responded in very clear English, “English c**t.” We were shocked by witnessing obvious racial tension for the first time. It has become such a common scene in London to see people of all ethnicities sharing common spaces and interacting amicably with one another, and the altercation took us by surprise. Finally, we took the 176 to Tottenham Court Road and headed back home. While tensions do obviously exist in England, places such as East Street Market represent, for the most part, the harmony and co-existence between cultures which necessarily occurs every day in London.

Categories: Andrew F · Andrew R · Anya · Markets
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7 responses so far ↓

  •   buonacos // Aug 22nd 2009 at 08:55

    I think it’s really great you got to see a more diverse, local market. The one my group went to was catered more toward tourists, so I’m rather jealous. I’d like to go to a market like this before we leave London.

  •   allisonmschell5 // Aug 22nd 2009 at 15:00

    You must have been the first people in our group to spot racial tension. Even though we read about it in our books, I forget sometimes that it is there and exists while walking around these beautiful sites. All day I had seen many different cultures, Indonesian, Japanese, Indian, etc all working alongside each other with their businesses, competing for the same things and it is a shame that there are still these underlying tensions.

  •   » The East Street Market Norwich Humanities 2009-10 | Mobile Phone Street // Aug 22nd 2009 at 15:17

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  •   madeleinea // Aug 22nd 2009 at 19:24

    Firstly, this was a really well written and descriptive post. You all painted a scene that I could really see, smell, and taste! I enjoyed reading it but was really disturbed by the racial tension that you experienced. I think one of the most interesting points you make inadvertantly is the fact that the man who swore and was clearly racist, was one of the “few white british” men. Could it be possible that this vendor acted out of predjudice and hate because he himself felt out of place, or the minority? It’s interesting to imagine that tension develops when one feels threatened and uncomfortable in his or her surroundings. Clearly this seems like a role reversal, for this white male must often feel like an insider; naturally privaleged due to his race and heritage. But it seems in this scene, it was the opposite. I guess ultimately what i’m trying to establish is a sense of where and why this predjucide has evolved in Britain.

  •   anyasettle // Aug 23rd 2009 at 17:01

    Thanks for the comments, guys! Maddie, you make a really great point about the white british vendor feeling out of place. I completely agree. I took a course this summer on the history of South Africa in which we payed particular attention to the apartheid and post-apartheid eras. We watched a video which showed wealthy Africans and poor whites living in South Africa, and the whites, mostly of Dutch descent, spoke about the resentment they felt towards the Africans, as well as the resentment they felt about being a minority in the country. I think the situation is very much the same in certain areas of London. Elephant and Castle was described as a market which caters predominantly to blacks, so I think it would be reasonable to assume that this white British man did feel out of place, vulnerable, and therefore on the defensive in this environment. Nonetheless, it was an interesting – indeed, rather shocking – interaction to witness.

  •   anyasettle // Aug 23rd 2009 at 17:14

    I tried to find the link to the same video that we watched in class and couldn’t find it. But here is another link to a similar video that addresses some of the same issues, if you’re interested. Visiting the Museum of London today, too, was particularly interesting to me. I enjoyed comparing the British perspective with the African one (my professor was from Uganda and not South Africa) that I saw during my summer school class. Anyways, enjoy!


  •   steamboat // Aug 24th 2009 at 15:01


    Interesting reading and very well written. I can almost picture it myself. A shame about the racism though. It’s everywhere I’m afraid. I witness it myself in one form or another on a regular basis even in my neighborhood. Keep up the interesting commentary! Tio

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