Thursday, August 11, 2011

More Commentary on London Riots: The Legacy of Marginalization

Earlier today, I wrote about media coverage of the riots in England, and the attempt of many commentators to avoid in every way possible the moral heart of the drama the riots are staging for us: namely, that people taught to think of themselves as non-persons will inevitably behave like non-persons. When you teach people that who they are what they do does not count, by excluding them from social participation, you give them the message that they have nothing vested in the society in which they live.  

And when any door opens, no matter how small, to permit those you have dispossessed through economic and other forms of injustice to assert their humanity, they will do so--even through acts of indefensible violence--when those acts seem the likeliest way for the dispossessed to grab the attention of the rest of society.

And here's Laurie Penny commenting in Aljazeera (English) on the recent events in London:

Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of not seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news.

In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything: 

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?

Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night, a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere. 

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they're paying attention now.

No one listened when 2,000 of those now living in the areas going up in flame marched to Scotland Yard in a peaceful protest two months ago.  They were non-persons.

But people are listening now.

H/t to Andrew Sullivan for the link to Laurie Penny's article.

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