Riots reveal ‘retro racism’ resurgence
It has been over a month since the riots took place. For a brief moment in time its impact was very similar to the hurricanes which plague North America and the Caribbean at this time of year. Today the memory of the riots, which for many in society were thought of as a bad dream, is a distant memory for some people and many are moving on.
Reviewing and reflecting on the various debates in the media from political pundits and commentators there is now a growing trend over the last ten years which I would describe as ‘retro racism’: where Victorian-style moral panic debates are used to describe, in particular, the black communities’ life style, cultural reference points and historical relationships with wider society as mad, bad and dangerous.
I think everyone now recognises that the victims and rioters reflected are a wide cross-section of society, which makes the analysis and debate on the subject more complicated and challenging compared with various riots over the past 30 years.
What we need is a non judgemental perspective in understanding and exploring the causes and potential consequences of the riots and to address this through clear and focused changes around public policy.
However, the big question is will the proposed independent panel, the brain child of Nick Clegg and the Chair Darra Singh, the Chief Executive of Job Centre Plus, provide some of the answers that we are seeking to address in terms of the big issues around young people, policing, race relations, social and economic inequality and the impact of globalisation.
I must admit I have big reservations in this process, especially as the panel is not that independent. How can you have a Chair who runs Jobcentre Plus, a government agency which is at the forefront of implementing the government’s welfare reforms? It needs to demonstrate how it will support people from disadvantaged communities in getting employment especially in areas where unemployment levels like Hackney, Tottenham, Lambeth, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham are double the national average.
How can the panel be described as grass roots when the membership does not reflect the cultural diversity and young people affected by the riots? And how will the panel demonstrate that it will not be a cosmetic exercise in community engagement and political expediency? Will the panel simply rehearse arguments that all rioters are morally deficient, whilst explore a new definition on community cohesion and recommend another community reparation/pay back scheme?
For these reasons a number of grass roots organisations and activities have already decided to boycott the panel process. It would not surprise me if we see the growth in alternative riot panels up and down the country looking at a wide range of issues from community cohesion, public health, young people, criminal justice, community resilience and social capital.
Using the government language and policy around Big Society and localism, why can’t local communities and groups of interest develop their own panel on inequalities instead of waiting for a report which may add very little value to local communities and neighbourhoods? Why can’t local authorities in partnership with local grass roots community organisations develop their own independent reports so this can be debated in Parliament, Council Chambers and Youth Parliament Forums?
It is disappointing and an indictment on the Coalition government that they did not establish a public inquiry to reflect the seriousness of the situation. Thus, this independent panel is merely a shadow or silhouette compared to the Scarman, Cantle and MacPherson inquiries which had the credibility and clout to call for evidence, cross examine key agencies and organisations with clear recommendations which forced all political parties to take seriously. These inquiries have shaped public policy development over the last 30 years.
No inquiry processed will solve the problem. But they provide a mirror that society can hold itself to and reflect. The riots in August further reveal cracks in the looking glass of this country which stem from the time of the breakup of the British Empire. What those cracks highlight is the biggest social divide in society in terms of race, class, and gender. They demonstrate that we are a long way off from a post-racial society.Tagged in: patrick vernon, retro racism, Riots
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