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|RESEARCH FOR CLASS/GENDER/RACE – August Riots|
KEN LOACH INTERVIEW ABOUT RIOTS - CLASS
RACE – The Guardian
The guardian is a high-brow newspaper. Below is an article written about the issue of race within the events that took place.
Who was right? All and none. Race played its part – that much is clear from our conversations with many of those involved in the riots. But its role in terms of who took part and why is difficult to categorise in a manner simplistic enough to give anybody certainty.
The first point worth making is that these were not disturbances resulting from conflict between races.
The far right turned up to complicate the situation in Liverpool. In Eltham, groups of white men coalesced, claiming to be defending "the area" from looters. "It's going to kick off. A nigger is going to get it tonight," one was overheard predicting. There was similar activity in Enfield, where a group of middle-aged men were seen shouting "get the blacks" as they chased some local teenagers.
And in Birmingham, there were skirmishes between black and Asian residents, including one that left three people dead, although it is probably more accurate to view these as clashes between looters and people defending local shops.
But such instances were rare. For the most part, there was no obvious significance attached by rioters to the ethnicity of others taking part in the disorder. Researchers from the Guardian and the London School of Economics interviewed 270 participants for the Reading the Riots project, being published this week in the Guardian.
"Normally we don't get along, we have our own turf, we have our own area and fight with other gangs," said one who took part in disturbances in Birmingham. "But the other gangs there like, we all together one day, we weren't fighting each other, we were fighting the police. That one day, we all got together, the Asians, the blacks, the whites, we all got together, it felt like one, you get me? It felt like we were like one big gang … We took over Birmingham."
Even in London, where the rioting spread following the police shooting of the mixed-race suspect Mark Duggan, there was no conflict between the white people involved in the disturbances and ethnic minorities. It is hard to dispute the findings of the government panel set up to receive evidence from communities and victims of the riots, which announced last week: "We do not believe these were race riots."
If anything, the ethnic mix said something about the way various communities coexist in the capital. One young black man who joined the melee in Tottenham described what he saw. "Originally it started off, it was like, yes it was a group of black people … but I seen Hasidic Jews from Stamford Hill who were down there. I seen lots of white people. I seen guys from shops – Turkish, it turned out. It was like the whole neighbourhood came out. The neighbourhood knew it was all wrong. But sadly it was the neighbourhood that got trashed. They were all out in support." Another was also struck by the diversity. "I can't even count the numbers, yeah, of different ethnicities that I saw there," he said.
The police came under attack. Shops and offices and stores came under attack. But they appear to have been targeted as symbols of the establishment rather than as part of any kind of racial statement.
Witness statements aside, can we be more precise about the races of the rioters? The police have released figures on those who were arrested, but even that cannot be a completely reliable account, as studies repeatedly indicate that minorities are more likely to be arrested than others.
An estimate from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says that 42% of those brought before the courts were white, and 46% black or of mixed heritage. A total of 7% were from an Asian or mixed Asian background.
But the proportions, as noted by the MoJ, varied significantly around the country. In Haringey – including Tottenham, where the rioting began – 34% were white, 55% from a black or mixed background. In Nottingham, 32% were white and 62% from a black or mixed background.
In Birmingham, 46% were from a black background, 33% white and 15% were Asian. In Salford, those taken to court were 94% white; with 6% from a black or mixed background.
Of the 270 rioters interviewed by the Guardian and the LSE, 50% were black, 27% were white, 18% of mixed race and 5% Asian.
Does this mean that people of some races were more likely to join the disorder than others? Possibly. But why? Behind these figures lie a whole range of determinants: poverty, affluence, class, geography.
But it is indisputable that a great many black Britons were involved in the disturbances. And a surprising number of the black people interviewed by Guardian/LSE researchers made stark and impassioned complaints about unfairness and inequality; attributable, they said, to the colour of their skin.
It was not a main driver. Racial protest does not completely explain their decisions to take part in the disorder. But it cropped up again and again as part of a wider disillusionment that led people on to the streets, as observers and participants; part of a mindset.
For the vast majority of us, comfortable in the notion that the UK has made significant strides towards racial equality, the accounts of those who feel left behind make troubling reading.
"If you're black or coloured skin, basically, you're at the bottom sort of thing," said one interviewee in the capital. "And then white people, they start off in the middle and then can get to the top. But black people always start from the bottom."
Another interviewee, an 18-year-old man of mixed race from Birmingham, directly linked those who took to the streets to people's concerns about inequality. "If they give us, the black people, the opportunities like they give the white community, then that wouldn't have happened," he said. "If people had jobs on the line … if people had college on the line … if they had something to look forward to or getting a decent income, do they want to ruin it by going to the riots?"
One young black man said he viewed the police and government as the enemy. "No matter how much they say they are with black people … no they ain't … they don't give a fuck about us," he said. "It's still the same way it was many years ago. Many moons. We're still being held down … still getting bullshitted."
Another participant saw an element of community fightback in the disorder, saying: "One young black man gets killed every month at the hands of the police in the UK. I was glad that we're doing something about it now." Doing what? One 19-year-old interviewee, a student from south London, said he was using the limited avenues available to protest about the Duggan shooting and more besides.
"We found, like, no other way to express how we felt about it, so we felt fucking up, well, doing that to their environment would be like, make up for half of the pain that the blacks felt," he said.
Black Britons have made great strides in many areas in recent years and there is a burgeoning black middle class. And yet, given the opportunity to voice their concerns, some black interviewees spoke of a continuing alienation, of continuing struggles for acceptance that might seem more relevant to Britain as it was in the 1960s and 1970s.
And a dispiriting hopelessness. "They section you out, Jamaicans, Caribbeans, so you don't really feel like a part of society," said one man, 22, from north London. "I never feel like this is my home really. Not at all … if they want to move us out of this area quickly they could … it's their land at the end of the day … we've only been here … you can count how much years we've been here … so wherever you go they're always going to look at you like a nigger.
"If I go anywhere I'm [treated like] a black man that came here 60 years ago so if anything they see me as an immigrant and you can feel the subconscious racism everywhere. You can feel it and you see the way they look at you … it is what it is. There's nothing you can do."
He said the pressure only lifts when he visits the Caribbean. "When I go Jamaica, I feel more at home before I even open my mouth. In 50 years' time, [Turkish and Polish people] will be more part of this society than we ever will."
At the intersection of race and class, said another man from Brixton, lies community stratification. "At the end of the day you understand it's still backra [the system imposed by white plantation owners], field slaves and house slaves and that's what it is," he said, "and I believe this is what people are clicking on to why they feel like they have to rise, they had to rise up at that time."
Will things change? Not in the immediate future, according to a 26-year-old from Edmonton. "I can have children and raise them with my views," he said. "They know how the system's shaped against them. They know how hard it is for them to pursue a successful life legitimately, against everyone's discrimination against them."
Some people interviewed for the study declined to answer a question about their racial or ethnic background – arguing the available categories were restrictive or flawed. Others smiled, and gave false answers.
The rioters' discussions of race give us a glimpse of different lives, different perspectives, and different value systems – some of it cause for hope, even amid disorder, some cause for despair. And much of it inexplicable to those in Britain who live more comfortably.