9 August 2011

Observations on the empire state of mind

A lot has already been said about the events in the UK. A lot. But as so often when a lot is being said, it all gets a bit blurry and when people get even the slightest excuse to pin the events to some social or ethnic group they can’t identify with; a lot of that lot of talking becomes informed by various prejudices which sometimes are blatant, and other times, as we have mastered here in Europe, it’s all very subtle and pseudo-intellectual. Many are just waiting for a chance to lash out their pent up racism which they’ve had to suffocate temporarily for the reasons of political correctness. Some people are calmer, but the question is, do we want to pursue the traditional news narrative of good versus bad – much like with our poor attempt to understand and justify the western led wars around the world – or do we want to actually understand in a way that when the fires die down, some kind of sensible public discourse and subsequent action will take place.

If you don’t trust the people on the streets living their lives in the middle of all this, the recent – and mind you still ongoing – News International situation should’ve proven that the Metropolitan Police is not purely on the up and up. On the streets, the statistics are grim; Black people are over 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White ones which is something you can’t really comprehend if you’ve never been harassed by the police. Its psychological impact is far reaching and when there’s no accountability for the police, they keep on exercising their prejudices freely. These are the prejudices that are common within their given society, because police officers are just its members like anyone else. I am no expert, but I can draw from a personal experience from another country I have lived in; South Africa. Having been stopped and searched by the police in the gun point for no reason or apology, I have felt the humiliation and power game involved. It made me very angry and it only happened to me once. For too many, both in South Africa and UK, this is everyday life. It makes it so much harder to view the police as someone who is on your side. While this is a generalisation – not all policemen are corrupt, many, I am sure, are great people – it is the blue wall of silence that makes you very cynical.

It’s interesting really; you can’t say that no one told you this, because people have been trying to tell you this for ages. Only we didn’t listen. We only hear them through the flames and when the fires are blazing we decide ourselves what it is they’re saying. Political activist and a Hip-Hop head Jody McIntyre who is occasionally invited to give a soundbyte for the news tried to tell you this just last week on Channel 4 show Bars for Change which is really a necessary viewing if you have any interest in understanding some of the underlying frustrations at play here. Police is the biggest gang in London – they’re the ones who have been out of control for a long time.

We need to examine the culture of police. Actually, we need to look at the whole society and the so called western way of life. There are three wars waged currently where Britain is sending its soldiers to burn and loot whole countries. Violence is glorified not just by some rappers, but by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the whole lineage that precedes them. It is seen as a solution. How can you say it isn’t? No event exists in a vacuum. The spirit of the empire didn’t fall as quickly as the empire itself did. Crushing opposition is something that that colonialist British empire has done for the longest and this is the way they have gone about addressing their own people to whom they have given mixed messages of basic rights while stripping them away. These kids are British – they are products of the British society. 

So while burning and looting is not the action that will bear the best results, it is perfectly in line with the culture of Britain. Only now it takes place on the streets of various cities inside the United Kingdom. The kingdom that is not so united after all. This is the street talking back and we can condemn it, I don’t condone it, but perhaps the most helpful thing is to try to understand it. The actions may not be legitimate or constructive, but the sentiments behind them are real. You can’t ignore that.

It is interesting that besides some balanced accounts on the Guardian, it has been the Hip-Hop community that has provided us with the greatest insight thus far. The same community that BBC and the likes have ignored whilst even talking about the North African political Hip-Hop playing a part in their recent uprisings. These are the people who have been talking about it for long – I listen to them carefully so I know – but how are you going to ask these clever minds when you’ve earned their distrust; when only ever you’ve provided platforms for the ones with a lot less constructive messages.

So, again, none of this is to say that burning and looting the local businesses, peoples’ cars and homes is not wrong. It is wrong. It is also true that the criminal elements have probably taken over people’s legitimate grievances for their own use. That diverts the attention to all the wrong things. Trouble makers find ways to make trouble whether it is a match of football or a demonstration. And this was not the first demonstration; students have been protesting against the inequalities for some time now. We should have paid more attention when people were telling us this peacefully, but now the only question is: what do we learn from all this? If we let the history to be our indicator, the answer is probably even more depressing than the damage done.

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