Race relations in the UK after the riots

This is a cross-post

On the second day of the UK riots I boarded a flight from Finland to London where I live. Before take off I went through tweets containing the #londonriots hash tag. I then tweeted my shock over the amount of racist comments to do with the riots. Three hours later when I landed in London I had received more @mentions than I could ever imagine. Most of them looked like this.


Then there was that well-known historian who blamed black culture for the riots. I think we should not be too surprised about David Starkey, after all this is the same man who quotes Enoch Powell and claims that women historians turn history into a bizarre soap opera. (Why do racism & misogyny so often go hand-in-hand?)
Anyway, more disturbing are the views of David Goodhart, founder and editor-at-large of one of the UK’s most respected publications, Prospect Magazine. Goodhart has gotten away mildly with his dangerously misleading arguments. Apart from blaming the riots on what he refers to as the “Anglo-Jamaican tragedy” he’s been writing these kinds of things:

The nihilistic grievance culture of the black inner city, fanned by parts of the hip-hop/rap scene and copied by many white people, has created a hardcore sub-culture of post-political disaffection. The disaffection is mainly unjustified. It’s as if the routine brutalities and racist humiliations of 30 to 40 years ago have been lovingly preserved to provide a motor of real anger for what is really just a kind of adolescent pose

Goodhart has also written about the demise of black culture – whatever that is – here and here, he’s beeninterviewed by CNN speaking to Fareed Zakaria and featured on the LA Times weekend talk shows. Another respected UK personality who shares Starkey’s sentiments is author Tony Parsons who in an article for the Mirror blamed the riots on our living “with a lot of scum in our midst” and that “the images of black youths running wild will not be quickly forgotten.”

More disturbing than the racially loaded comments themselves, is that despite their presence we are failing to have an intellectual dialogue about race relations in the UK, for the fear of “race-card” accusations or charges of “racializing” issues.
And we shouldn’t racialize where it is inappropriate. For example, when speaking of the looters, we could all see from the CCTV footage that they were far from being only black.

We should, however, address issues that despite Mr Goodhart’s claims of being contemporarily irrelevant still have undertones of racism such as practices within the law enforcement system, political and academic institutions and in society at large. We should address them because in fact, it seems everywhere but in the UK, the press has been reporting on high levels of racial tension here!
Although not fabricated, the international coverage is one-dimensional and in many ways unfair. I’ve lived in Nigeria, Sweden, Spain and New York and in my experience at least when it comes to cities; there is none that is as racially integrated as London. Sadly, if we don’t keep an honest dialogue about race relations, then we can’t point to the successful examples of integration in the UK either.
I agree with Starkey on one thing, there is “an enforced silence on the matter of race”. It applies, however, not only to black- but also to white culture. Maybe he could start by defining what that is?

  • http://teachermrw.com teachermrw

    Excellent points, Ms. Afropolitan. And, my brother in the video is the TRUTH!..

    What we’re talking about is social justice. Power and privilege, the antithesis of social justice, or, rather, abuses and appropriation of power and privilege, is what is being ignored with respect to what gave rise to the riots in and around London.

    So, I agree: Starkey and Goodhart are educated fools. True that.

  • http://littlejam.wordpress.com z

    I am surprised by some of the comments that have been made about the rioters, and I think that many of them are actually rooted in class and not in race. I have heard quite a few (middle-class) Black-British people say that the rioters are criminals, that it is only rooted in criminality and they deserve to be punished for their actions. It is frustrating to be told that talking about the underlying issues is ‘excusing’ bad behaviour and I agree with you that these conversations need to happen.

    I think Nabil Abdul Rashid makes some very valid points, the only thing I am a little uncomfortable with is the fact that it feels somewhat like a competition between Black achievements and ‘white’ history. The ‘you vs. me’ and ‘them vs. us’ arguments really need to stop from either side. And that goes for the UK and everywhere else, every issue in the world seems to come from fear and the need to self-protect from ‘others’ (whether these are rebels vs. army, black vs. white, etc…) Unless we start to look at things cohesively, as being *our* problem (whether social, political, economical), then we won’t care enough to fix it.

    and finally, there seems to be an overabundance of people on twitter/Facebook/social networks who know very little about certain subjects (including race in certain societies) yet who feel entitled to an opinion because they might have read an article on it. People need to start reading books, not snippets… we need more knowledge and less information flying around.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Although I completely agree that there should ideally be less competitive talk between different groups in society, I didn’t think Nabil was guilty of that, he was after all rebutting Starkey’s claims. I like that he points out that there are “good’ and ‘bad’ people of every race so he was not trying to say that “white culture” is negative, but showing what it would be like if a minority of white people were used as an indicator for all whites. As our politicians make gangs the focus in the aftermath of the riots, oh and bad parenting(single households) for the ‘moral disease’, we should be clear, they are not addressing the white middle class but primarily the black lower class as this is the group who tend to be at the centre of the gang/single parenting debate. Therefore, I think we are definitely looking at a race and class dynamic here with some people as you say addressing only class, others only race and a majority – both

      • http://littlejam.wordpress.com z

        On Nabil- the part I am thinking of is when he makes reference to the great Maure civilisations whilst supposedly white civilisations/people were just ‘clubbing each over the head’. I am paraphrasing, but it’s that kind of gist of things. It’s not so much him saying ‘white culture’ is negative, but the fact that he is talking about this general ‘white culture’ when I am not so sure that has ever existed- it’s just as non-sensical as the notion of ‘black culture’ that Starkey was talking about. I appreciate what Nabil was trying to get at but Starkey’s entire claims are unfounded on the basis of him discussing a singular Black culture and I think retorting with facts and history lessons on ‘white culture’ is a little unproductive.

        I definitely get a sense that good old David is targeting the lower-class with his offensive link between single parents (majority mothers of course) and bad parenting. This is a great entry on it: http://myshittytwenties.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/if-i-could-speak-to-dave/
        I just hadn’t thought of it as being a primarily black issue, but I guess you are right in saying that many of the issues are tied to both race and class in the UK right now.

        thanks for the food for thought!

        • MsAfropolitan

          Yeah, I am hearing you also. Food for thought both ways :)
          I feel it’s a thin line with this one – the ‘clubbing each other on the head’ is generalising to an extent but because he is addressing Starkey and not the general public, using concrete examples and perhaps dramatizing a bit helps deliver the point. In years to come when people seek narrative of what occurred, I think a slight ‘tit for tat’ rhetoric will be necessary for researchers to find a balanced truth.
          Too much history of people of African heritage is narrated as submissive, primitive, violent culture etc, and the diplomatic approach doesn’t (in a futuristic perspective) tell the truth always. What I mean is for example, when we look back now to narrate African history for example, reading about people like king Behanzin in Benin shows that Africans were not submissive. He went to war against the french quite ruthlessly, tit for tat, in a way that I wouldn’t approve of in the present but looking back it was important? Anyway, diverging. Definitely something to think about

          Just to clarify – I don’t see it as a racial issue only, it’s definitely mixed up but which is why I believe we should stop separating these things. race and class are linked, gender and class, gender and race, sexuality etc.

          thanks for thoughts x

  • D

    I was in Cambridge when it happened and weaned myself completely from media. I was shocked. On getting back to the office all my colleagues launched at me. Why are you people disgracing Britain,” they ask me. Well in the office, i usually encourage them to be open to me about their feelings of race since i don’t have any victim complex neither do I moan for claim to any special entitlement because of my race or allow them to hide behind political correctness. I just listen and refused to be defensive too.
    They didnt know that that night, their own kids too are going to participate en masse in the looting. By the following day at work, the question was, Why are you people always teaching our kids the wrong things? Why are you being bad examples?’ again, i listened, never responding.
    by the time the looting spread to other cities and had become ‘white’, the question changed to, ‘but what is going wrong with this country?’
    So when you called for a conversation about race, what do you have in mind? what under-grid racism, what underscores gender inequality, what underlines the maltreatment of immigrants and other minorities, is simply the psychical conflict between their subjective experience of their speciality and the objective awareness of their insignificance. hence they begin to use and degrade the powerless, the minorities for the welfare of their ego and place them in the service of their prestige. That is to say, its an existential crises; the wont change. It can only metastasise. what is paramount is to call on ourselves black to achieve, achieve, achieve. Everyone loves success, the forget race then. Go to west London and see how they fete the Arab millionaires and billionaires. they conveniently forget that these are the same Arab, Muslims they snide at as terrorist
    any way, i like to hear what you elaborate pls.

    • MsAfropolitan

      I heard many stories from people about work environment conversations similar to yours. It’s sad how quickly people will group people into a box, even their colleagues. And furthermore, before etting the facts right.
      We should achieve, but in some communities in the UK for example achieving as in making money which you are talking about here is not a very accessible option. Society is like a body, if you have a tooth infection and you ignore it, it will become a larger problem with time, it may even kill you. In that same way is how I mean we should address racism and classism, we should go see the dentist 😉 We cannot “achieve” and then go lock ourselves behind our doors and be comfortable with a rotten tooth, eventually it will explode as in the case of the riots.

      • Damola awo

        Look at the Jews. They live in and with hatred. Yet they go on achieving. They tell their kids: everywhere you are you maybe hated, just make sure you are needed. In the twenties even in north America, the social situation of the blacks and Jews were practically the same with hatred and discrimination at every turn. The Jews have stepped up very high in the American society. Yet we are still having lion share of the prison population, the lion share of welfare class, the highest share of single parent households etc etc. This goes to show there is something not working in our adopted strategy of tackling race relations.
        With all the utter filth broadcast about blacks and black culture during the riots, a week later, a rap artist shot up the chart. Our new gospel should be
        Achieve, achieve, achieve.