Riots and bleeding hearts

26Aug11

Tariq Jahan appealed for calm and restraint after the death of his son in BirminghamAs we all know, the kids lost it this week. A small number of them annihilated parts of the country and everyone emerged into the light, blinking, gobsmacked, picking up debris and wondering why. Journalists’ fingers are bleeding and Tory politicians are about to explode with ire, the kind of ire your mum had when she found out you’ve used her Bobbi Brown lipstick as part of your own take on George’s Marvellous Medicine.

Politicians, after a slow start, have got busy. Dave Cameron has been doing a super bit of maths along the lines of: if you put less lemons in you will actually make MORE lemonade! I know! It’s nuts isn’t it!

Boris rushed home from hols but made a miscalculation when he snippily accused someone in Clapham of ‘justifying’ the riots when they suggested an explanation. He looked out of touch with people who wanted answers, and perhaps a few people’s smiles faded as they wondered if the election of the lovable buffoon was such a glorious joke after all.

Politicians who merely condemned the riots looked as silly as someone who denounces a tsunami for wilfully causing destruction. Of course what happened is awful. What next though?

We’re all exhausted from scuffles between left and right, following the same pattern – if you try and explain these acts then you’re condoning them; if you talk of lawless youths then you’re referring to chavs and blacks, right? The media has explained the riots by recourse to, variously, bad mums, no dads, rap (of differing quality), cuts, jobs, schools, race, gender and that plucky criminal gene that keeps on giving.

People have wielded brooms and tweeted a lot about how much they’re helping, but where will this sense of community go after the next few weeks? Will they carry on doing good? Real, hardcore volunteering is tough, and not conducive to our atomised, individualist culture.

Russell Brand in today’s Guardian said “if we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.” The government aren’t going to make any real, root-cause change – and whether you think the causal factor is entitlement culture or poverty and despair, this is bad news. We have little community left. Are we really up to the job of rebuilding it?

The real losers are facing sheer tragedy, losing children, businesses and homes – “I can’t even describe it … everything went, everything, everything.” I’m what you call a bleeding heart liberal, so, after a meal in a Turkish restaurant on Kingsland Rd last night – which is buzzing again, full of pride, police and a bit of paranoia – I lay awake and, as well as Tariq Jahan, I kept thinking of those rioting kids. There’s been lots of debate over exactly who they are – we need this information to work out why and how this could happen – but it’s safe to say that, contrary to media reports, a lot of them are unemployed young men. Lost kids.

Some of them consumerist opportunists? Probably. What a sad state of affairs, though, when, so successful is the promise of capitalism that people actually believe that looting JJB sports is going to make their lives better. These kids have a similar lack of moral compass as Philip Green, but my heart doesn’t bleed for him because he – more than them – should know better.

The riots have reminded us of what we all forget – that we live in a country with terrible, unjust inequalities, and a useless sense of guilt dogs us liberal types this week. More so though, I feel for the kids near me who didn’t riot, but who are struggling more than ever because other kids have just smashed up their shop or dad’s business. What a fucking waste. What a mess.

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9 Responses to “Riots and bleeding hearts”

  1. 1 @mcstuio

    Another really good blog Chloe – I totally agree on the sense of guilt. For me, it’s that feeling of desperately wanting everyone to get along, and work together, and make our communities safer, coupled with the fear of a section of society I don’t understand. When I see the pictures of the poor boy being mugged in the street when he thought he was being helped, it genuinely terrifies me.

    I was recently mugged – in Hackney, where I live – my phone stolen, and a punch in the face for good measure. Nothing serious, no lasting damage, but now, whenever I’m out at night, I’m scared it will happen again. Time will heal that fear I guess, but I’m sure it’s a fear shared my many since the riots.

    And with that fear comes segregation. An inability to interact with a section of the community perceived to be a threat. In this case, The Hoody. But this lazy media description of young Brits is unfair.

    Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of young people in this country who are good, law abiding citizens with a lifetime of opportunities ahead. Young people who feel frustrated, angry and let down by the behaviour of a minority – but they’ve all been lumped into one big group. Cameron says something is badly wrong in society. But how does he know? He’s not offering to hug any hoodies now – he’s safely aloft his moral pedestal.

    Whilst we stick to our own, grab our brooms and clean up the mess, it is difficult to understand, or even want to get close enough to understand, what drove people to behave like this. And until we can go beyond our fears and reach out to those who we consider a threat, nothing will change.

    I know I want to to help, I just don’t know how.

  2. 2 Adam

    i thought i’d had my fill of riots pieces. i mean, really, who doesn’t have a n opinion on them. But this nails it like few others. keep the words coming.

  3. Thanks for commenting Stu, I’ve think you’ve beautifully captured the mixture of fear and sadness this kind of thing creates, and how that fear is often a barrier to doing anything about it. Something I can’t ignore in Hackney anymore is how people like me have moved in and am benefiting from gentrification in an area where there are whole generations of people who don’t have the means to. It’s not fair.

    I’ve talked to my dad about it a fair bit, as he was a social worker and probation officer and worked directly with individuals who were, to put it bluntly, often quite frightening. There’s no shame in saying that – and after an experience like yours, it’s not surprising that you feel this way.

    I too want to ‘do something’ that’s meaningful and lasting – let’s think and pow wow next week!

  4. 4 @mcstuio

    Yes lets. Out of something bad usually comes something good.

  5. Challenging bad behaviour is a start and recognising that they are our kids, not their kids. It takes a village to raise a child.

  6. Blundered onto your blog – still trying to make sense of a nonsensical week. Stayed for the commonsense on a wide range of subjects!

  7. 9 SirenofBrixton

    Great piece. One of the things I’ve observed is the awful poverty of ambition represented by what has been looted, especially in the first days in London (I think some of the later disorder in Manchester & Liverpool is opportunism by more ‘experienced’ thieves). A few pairs of shoes, a TV, game consoles. Nothing of real, lasting value. Things that most of my middle class peers replace without thinking, have in quantity. Twitter was in hysterics over a guy pictured with a kilo of basmati rice…but how bloody horrible is it to think that for him, that was a prize.

    The fact is that kids are a pretty low priority for govts here (Labour are as much to blame as the Tories). The current govt are actively punitive towards single parents and there are few policies that really support strong parenting. A UN report found that British kids have the most miserable upbringing in the developed world, what a league table to top!


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