Monday, August 15, 2011

Why Can't We Talk About Race

The UK has endured more than 30 years of race riots. Themost recent riots and the 1981 Brixton riots

Have you ever watched a rat trapped in a corner? That sucker will do whatever it takes to break free. Sort of like what’s happening in the UK. Curtis Blow said it best, “I’m gonna lose my mind, up in here, up in here.”

The global community is awestruck by imagines of youth taking their rage out in the streets. The media has depicted them as a lost generation fuming due to economic policies .What is missing in most reports from the BBC and the Associated Press is the race of the rioters.

“The argument that this doesn’t have anything to do with expenditure cuts or economics doesn’t stand up to the evidence,” Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at the University of Nottingham, told the Associated Press. “If that’s true, then what we have here are hundreds of young, crazed kids simply acting irrationally. I don’t think that’s the case.” Goodwin, and others, fails to mention what trigged the riots.

The BBC cut short an interview about the riots with Darcus Howe, a former member of the British Black Panther Party. “They have been stopping and searching young blacks for no reason at all,” Howe told a BBC reporter. “I have a grandson; he’s an angel.”

Howe, who was born in Trinidad, defied the reporter after his claim that the riots are about police racism. “I don’t call it rioting. I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it has happening in Liverpool, it is happening in Port of Spain, Trinidad.”

The reporter contested Howe’s claim that the police actions justified the riots. “Where were you in 1981 in Brixton,” he lashed back in anger. “Have some respect for an old West Indian negro’ and to stop accusing him of being a rioter”

Howe’s mention of the 1981 riots in Brixton helped place these riots within a cultural context. The Brixton riot was a mêlée between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Lambeth, South London on April 10-12, 1981. The worse of the riot took place on April 11th. Called “Bloody Saturday” by Time Magazine, close to 280 police were injured and 45 from the public were injured. More than 100 vehicles were burned, including 56 police cars. 150 buildings were damaged, with 30 burned. 82 people were arrested, and more than 5,000 people were involved.

Brixton was an area facing serious social and economic problems. As the UK endured a crippling recession, no one suffered more than the African-Caribbean community. High unemployment, poor housing and high crime fueled enormous tension.

In January 1981, there was a house fired that was believed to have been a racially motivated arson. A number of black youth were killed, and, after the police investigation was criticized for failing to uncover the murderers, a parade for “Black People’s Day of Action” ended in a confrontation with the police

The British National Party has been quick to use the riots to stir hatred. “Seeing the lawlessness which was mainly perpetuated by one race allowed by the police to spiral so far out of control that large parts of our country resembled a Third World nation riven by civil strife, allowed so that members of that ethnic community don’t feel discriminated against any more than they usually do, and then comparing that with the treatment of indigenous Britons who gathered solely to protect their communities from these rampaging lawless thugs, British people may be forgiven for thinking that there are one set of rules for us and another set for them,” the Neo-Nazi group posted on its website.

“As the indigenous people of Britain and the peaceful, law-abiding and hard-working members of immigrant communities have found out by the events of this week, the reality of law and order in a supposedly civil and peaceful country is just a Lib/Lab/Con illusion and lie. Their policies over decades have directly led to the lawlessness and anarchy on our streets and the impotence of our police forces, leaving good and upright citizens from all communities the job of physically defending their homes, businesses, families and communities. For them and us, there is no law and order unless we impose it ourselves,” the National British Party continues on their website.

Like it or not, this is a conversation about race. There is little reported related to the police brutality that led to the riots. Little is written and reported about the history of racial tension in the UK. Maybe it is easier to make disgruntled youth the primary story. Maybe we feel better when we make the story about young people mad because they can’t find work, or even more, maybe it’s the result of a decaying society. Then we can blame the press, music and parents for the actions of young folks.

But, when we open the can of racial hostility we have to face something deeper. We have to face a truth that glares at us from across the pond. The truth is things are the same wherever you go. There are angry black kids all over the world, and maybe, just maybe, we could see the same result over here in the good ole USA.

If you don’t know, you betta ask somebody.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that conversations about race require all of us to dig deep. This fall the Museum of Life and Science in our own Durham is hosting an excellent exhibition title, Race: Are We So Different? Very provocative and thoughtful. The Pauli Murray Project is working with Durham County Library to host two community dialogues so we can talk more about race and our experiences. The first one is schedule for October 23 at Stanford L. Warren Library. Hope to see many people there.