Thursday, December 8, 2011

Riot/Rebellion


I saw an interesting series of articles in the Guardian about the riots that occurred in England last summer. The pieces have titles like "Reading the Riots: Ask the Reason Why" and "Were the Riots about Race?" Not surprisingly, in the immediate aftermath, commentators and politicians were quick to attribute the massively destructive disturbances to race as well as to "common or garden looting or thieving." Now, however, after what sounds like a careful study by journalists in tandem with researchers from the London School of Economics, the understanding has deepened and complexified.
     Although some participants freely admitted taking advantage of the situation to accumulate "free stuff," only slightly more than half the crimes were "acquisitive." The researchers did not find evidence either that rival gangs were behind the rioting; in fact, they found a kind of unity and "morality" among the rioters. Nor, as had been assumed, did the majority have extensive criminal records. Nor should the events be thought of as race riots. Hostility toward police was a big motivator, especially because of their stop-and-search powers. As the overview article concluded . . .
Stop and search powers are used, in some forces, disproportionately against black people. There is a generation of young Muslims whose lives have been shaped by the war on terror. But what unites our interviewees is a sense of alienation. Barely half "felt part of British society". Race contributed to it, but more often it was poverty and a lack of hope. Among our respondents who were not in education or training, more than half were unemployed. Some of them even admitted they had used the riots to vandalise places where they'd been turned down for jobs.
 These ideas interest me, of course, because many of them are at the heart of my novel, Grand River and Joy. I appreciate the closer look into the dark heart of things. As the Guardian piece says, "our research is an attempt to explain, not to excuse."

4 comments:

Jim Poznak said...

Your post raises the thorny question of cultural relativism. There are certain behaviors that are universally wrong. Yes, there are grey areas, so drawing the lines is not always easy. But, I think looting local merchants is clearly wrong. Those merchants did not cause the problems for which the rioters/rebellers are protesting.

Susan Messer said...

Yes, I do agree. It's not the merchants' fault. But what are we going to do about all that rage?

And cultural relativism . . .that's what I might write about next.

Jim Poznak said...

What to do about the rage? Listen to the message and try to heed it in some meaningful way.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks. Yes, to their credit, I think that's what the researchers were trying to do . . . unlike the the politicians with their initial reactions that these were all thugs and so forth. Some thug-like behavior. But why?