Born and bred in our society
The world saw the United Kingdom in a different light recently. Many failed to understand whether the youth on our streets were rioting with a political agenda or just for the sake of it. It was clear from the footage viewed and the images of the aftermath that a significant number of youth in our communities have long been disconnected from larger society. We saw a glimpse of their world, an ugly side to our communities that many of us have never been exposed to and are now failing to understand.
Many of us don’t understand whether the rioting is caused, as prominent politicians point out, by “senseless thugs” without a cause or a disengaged youth longing to be heard. The latter is an unpalatable explanation to many because they presume that providing an explanation to why the riots began necessarily means justifying the riots, which isn’t the case. These “mindless thugs” are actually part of our communities; they could be the daughter or son of your neighbour, schoolmate, or even a best friend. Whether we like it or not, they are a part of our communities and we need to help them understand their responsibilities, as well as encouraging them to be active members of our society.
This is not to say that they should be exempt from “feeling the full force of the law”, as David Cameron has pointed out. Of course they must understand that causing damage, putting the lives of innocent people at risk and terrifying people on the street is not acceptable, and does have repercussions. However, it is necessary that our communities strive to reach out to disengaged youth and understand that the riots were an ugly image of anger vented out at the public, police and government, by a significant number of people in our society.
Some commentators have pointed out that “most” rioters are descendants of immigrants and overwhelmingly Afro-Caribbean, and argue that they have failed to integrate; therefore immigration and black culture is the real issue to be discussed. Incidentally, these same commentators acknowledge that a significant number of rioters were white, particularly in the Midlands, but for this they provide an explanation for their involvement, namely, absent male figures or a lack of a father figure. Unfortunately these commentators are more focused on turning the riots into a racial issue than resolving the reasons for them, which leads to the stigmatisation of black culture, as opposed to dealing with the actual causes of the riots.
No one should accept these narrow-minded and simplistic explanations of the riots: that they were instigated by mindless thugs wanting to damage their own communities, or that they were a result of an inherently violent black culture in our communities. These arguments are both borderline racist and inaccurate. This is not a racial issue, and most certainly has nothing to do with immigrants. As we have seen in Haringey, immigrants of Kurdish and Turkish descent united to defend their neighbourhood against looters. An overwhelming number of Turkish immigrants in Dalston united forming neighbourhood watch teams to prevent looters damaging their businesses. Elsewhere in Southall, Sikh men united to prevent looters causing havoc, whilst in Whitechapel, Bangladeshis and Somalians united against the rioters.
Our communities in London, and in the United Kingdom at large, might look shattered, disintegrated and dysfunctional to outsiders, but in the past few days, riots have also brought our communities together. It didn’t take long for people on social networking sites, mainly young people, to mobilise and start a ‘riot clean-up’ initiative, helping clean our public streets after the riots. Furthermore, numerous organisations started helping local business, including storage companies offering a free two-week space for businesses affected by the riots, as well as builders volunteering their services to affected businesses on mybuilder.com.
It is essential that thorough investigations are carried out in to the activities of the youth in our neighbourhoods, particularly those in poor areas. At an emergency meeting in the House of Commons on Thursday, Theresa May proposed that two million pounds will be invested in organisations helping young people get out of gangs, and supporting families. Initiatives like these will help disconnected youth in our communities – however, further alienating them will not.
Photo Credits: David Levene for the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/picture/2011/aug/10/london-riots-cleanup-eyewitness
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