Thursday, August 11, 2011

London burning

It brings me great pain and sadness to see London being torn apart as it has in the past few days by riots and looting.
However, I do not stand with people who believe that this is just a mere criminal activity, a great big party set up by urban youths, just because the items and the shops that are being looted are more commercial than symbolic of the state.
Let us not forget that this is exactly what happened when Rodney King was brutally beaten by the police in Los Angeles in 1992, and then it was the Korean shops that were looted.
One of the key words that keeps coming up in many of the commentaries not only from journalists, practitioners working in the communities, but also academics is the term “nothing to lose”. What this means is simple. Who in their right mind with a proper job, salary and a home would want to risk their life to go and loot. The reason for this is because they have too much to lose if it were the case that they may be caught by the police. Also another reason would be that they would already have the resources to buy these things rather than looting them if they really needed them. On the other hand for the rioters at the street now, this is not the case. Mentioned several times by other columnists, they really have no other means and in a way this is their way of getting back at society that put them in a pit for a long time, getting the items they have been exposed constantly as their passport to a good life.
However, this does not make it any less political than let’s say if they were to attack monuments. If they were to have had a good political strategy which the middle class could’ve also agreed to, I would’ve been happy to say that at least someone made great efforts to make sure that the improvished youth got some education – and I mean education as in the miseducation of lauren hill, not high school education. I am sorry that these rioters- or at least many who participated – did not get to read Marx, Trostsky, Chomsky, Naomi Klein and other contemporary thinkers about political uprising and the state of the world today that many of us in the middle class get to read. I am sorry that they do not read the guardian and al jajerra and keep up to date on what is happening with the world. However, this does not give us the right to judge what is and what isn’t a proper justified riot, and what is and what is not political for these people.The whole point is that this group of individuals as an isolated class of society decided to express their ever growing anger and frustration out the way they know best. In this respect UK is in a much worse situation than in Spain and Greece in terms of educating, enlightening their youths – if we just compare the patterns of riots.
Of course there are some that say, "why don’t they just try harder and get out of their situation as some of us did?"- mentioned by a friend, if I understood correctly, who was the only mixed white-asian minority in a white majority neighbourhood. This is quite different from what is happening here, where people believe to have been attacked as a social group rather than one individual in society. Thus this is why they are acting as a social group. Also, we have already seen so many studies that show how the myth that is the “hard working American dream”. The truth of the matter is, it is incredibly hard for most of these kids to actually gain that ticket out of urban jungles and as a social worker who has worked in these neighbourhoods, we are essentially lying to them if we tell them that if they work hard they will achieve the dream that is shown at them constantly through television screens. The reality is that for many of them hard work will only be rewarded by low-wage insecure jobs which will not allow you to even get off of social security, regardless how hard you try.
Some people say, but wait a minute, many other ethnic minorities do make it – look at the Asian American communities in the States. I will tell them, if you look at the history of Asian American communities, many of the 1st generations were actually from high socio-economic positions in their own country, and were only put in lower social classes due to that they have migrated to the States. These parents – and their smart genes which is one of the biggest indicator of a child’s academic achievement – put great effort in their children because they come from the “middle class” culture where education is put first etc. This is not the case for many other minorities. You cannot use the success case of one group and blame another that they are not following suit. The groups have very different characteristics and starting points.
This is not to say I condone the riots and the loots and its incredibly sad and frightening to watch, especially given that I am on my way to move there myself. However, it is not the answer to just blame those who take part, categorizing again as “us” and the bad “them”. I am not saying they have no fault, they do and probably will be punished very firmly for it (Actually I am afraid their punishment will come much quicker and harder than for those who took much more money in greater lengths – yes I mean the financial sector). However, how many of us can really say that put in the same situation - I don’t mean you now just being there, but having that family history, living under such circumstances from birth and so forth – would’ve absolutely not have done what has happened? Can we really say that “they” are completely different people who are essentially different from “us”? I just want to emphasize again that if we consider this as a mere criminal activity, we will stop at prosecuting those who have taken part. However, as mentioned again and again, this is a politically derived phenomenon where the social structure has played an important part. If there are no changes made, this is bound to happen again in another 30 years (’81 Brixton riots) with the next generation. Just as a side note, I believe that the same actually goes for the financial crisis. The bankers are not essentially evil people who are very different from the rest of us by birth because they are driven by greed and have no morals – much of that, no not all, is from the system that enable them to act as such and know that they have much more to gain than to lose. If we do not understand this, progress cannot be made.