Rod Liddle

We have failed the black youth of Britain through fear of being labelled racist

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So appalled and incensed am I at the killing of gentle, loving family man Mark Duggan last Thursday that I feel only the immediate illegal acquisition of an expensive consumer durable, preferably a top end watch, will assuage my righteous wrath and lessen my grief. A Rolex should do the job, or at least something with a bit of bling about it. If possible, the watch should be liberated by myself and my homeys, my bluds, from an agent of oppression, such as a local watch shop owned by someone who isn’t me and most likely from a different race, maybe white or Asian. Call it, if you like, an explosion of consciousness, much as has been suggested by Stafford Scott in the Guardian this week; the killing of gentle, loving family man Mark Duggan was a tipping point which has served to awaken in me a political sensibility which will achieve its full expression when I’ve thrown stuff at the old bill and nicked a nice watch.

You may recall Stafford Scott from a quarter of a century ago, when he was the voice of the Broadwater Farm young black people who had received a similar political awakening and thus went about their business smashing things up, trying (successfully) to kill police officers and then stealing watches. It is odd that Marx, Marcuse, Gramsci and so on said very little about the political importance of stealing watches, still less Toussaint L’Ouverture; perhaps watches were not so iconic in their day. Anyway, Mr Scott averred that nothing much has changed since the days of the Broadwater Farm riots and the incarceration of that other gentle, loving family man, Winston Silcott — and on this point I suspect he is being unduly optimistic. Things have changed, they have become a lot worse.

Mr Scott meant that following the various investigations ordered by the authorities after Broadwater Farm, and then the Macpherson Report with its talk of institutionalised racism in the Metropolitan Police, young black men in Tottenham still felt that they had ‘no stake’ in society — which, he went on to say, did not excuse the rioting and the illegal acquisition of expensive watches from local small businesses, but it sort of did a bit, really, if we’re honest. Maybe not excuse it, but explain it. That was the gist of his analysis, together with a short reference to slavery, without which no such article would be worth its salt. If nothing else excuses the rioters, then slavery does.

It is interesting watching the liberal media cover these exciting and incendiary moments; at the Guardian and on the BBC, the word ‘black’ is never used with respect to the rioters, and yet every so-called community leader interviewed is, of course, like Stafford Scott, black. Perhaps these institutions fear the censure of the Press Complaints Commission or Ofcom if they dare to suggest that the rioters are, predominantly, black.

It is also fun to hear the weaselly intrusion of the anti-cuts mantra into the discourse, the suggestion that along with the old bill, the Tories are to blame once again, just as they were in the early 1980s in Brixton and later at Broadwater Farm and Blackbird Leys in Oxford. As if the educationally subnormal yobs who set fire to a bus in Peckham on Monday night were outraged by the cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance, or wished for their local council to be able to spend more money on recycling schemes. ‘It’s the cuts, we feel we have no hope’ will be heard more and more from self-appointed community spokesmen as, from Bristol to Liverpool, shops are looted by people who probably did not even know that there was a general election last year and most certainly couldn’t be arsed to vote in it. But point this out and you will be told that it is in some way your fault that these young people are pig ignorant and effectively disenfranchised and unemployable.

And this is where we return to Stafford Scott and the almost incontestable fact that things are worse now than they were 25 or so years ago. Stafford’s thesis is that things have not got better because institutionalised racism still exists, that black kids can’t get jobs or into higher education and that this is primarily the fault of whitey. The precise reverse is true. Things have become worse for young black men in Britain because successive governments have fully embraced their acquisition of victimhood and been reluctant to counter the prevailing culture among young African-Caribbean men, perhaps terrified that they will be called racists if they do so.

You will not hear white politicians talk about the absent fathers in African-Caribbean society, the young boys who grow up with no male role model except for the gang leaders they latch onto at the awful schools they are forced to attend. Nor will you hear white politicians bemoan the anti-elitist culture among the same children, the notion that to be good at school work is to be, in some strange way, weak and deserving of scorn. There will be nothing from white politicians about the glorification of the violent and misogynistic gangsta culture and indeed at the schools these kids go to they will be encouraged to immerse themselves in this very culture because it is every bit as valid as a culture which is not violent or not misogynistic.

And it’s in this way that we have failed the black youth of Tottenham and Peckham and Bristol; we have been too scared to let them know how one should go about obtaining a ‘stake in society’, too reluctant to let them know that not all forms of expression are equally valid. There are plenty of black community workers who understand this, and are doing their best to address the problem. But fear of being branded racist stops the establishment from venturing anywhere near.

One more thing: when the cases come to court, do you think that any single one of the rioters will receive 16 months in prison for their actions? That was the sentence handed down to Charlie Gilmour, remember, for his comparatively mild spot of rioting. There’s institutionalised racism for you.