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Tips For Adulthood: Five Must-Reads on the UK Riots

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Well, I was going to write about something terribly middle-aged today (like back pain). But then reality...

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, I was going to write about something terribly middle-aged today (like back pain). But then reality intervened and I decided to back-burner that post in favor of current events.

As you undoubtedly know, the U.K. has been battered by a series of riots over the past few days which have left the nation stunned, angry and scared.

As of last night, most of the activity appeared to have left London (where I live). But it is still going strong in other parts of England.

As we all struggle to make sense of this sudden wave of violence, here are five must-read posts on the UK riots:

1. The psychology of the looters. Perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of the riots I’ve seen so far is Zoe Williams’ piece in the Guardian. Williams notes the curious – and disturbing – fact that many of the youth caught up in the violence are not even bothering to cover their faces. It’s as if they are already, in some sense, incarcerated and thus genuinely feel that they have nothing to lose by going on a lawless rampage. She also correctly identifies the outrage law-abiding citizens feel when it’s not only large chains that get attacked, but local mom and pop shops where we know the owners. I was in my local shoe store yesterday around 4 p.m. watching the women who work there get progressively more anxious about finishing out their work day. They glanced constantly at their watches, huddled with neighboring shop owners to share news updates, and fretted about the tenants who lived upstairs, should anything come to pass. The fear – and sense of injustice – was palpable.

2. We’re all implicated. At one point in her article, Williams notes how removed personally she felt from the riots, watching them on television with a kind of studied distance even as they unfolded not far from her doorstep. . That’s a point that my friend and neighbor Maria Margaronis also picks up on in her blog post for The Nation. Margaronis – like many others – attributes the violence to years of neglect, disenfranchisement, income inequality and boredom experienced by the so-called Hoodies in lower income neighborhoods around the U.K.. But we shouldn’t be so surprised. As she writes: “While we in the middle classes got on with our oh-so-busy lives, averting our eyes from the poverty just a few blocks away, sending our kids to schools where there are other “motivated parents,” talking politics, we allowed the rifts in our own neighbourhoods to deepen until they became almost unbridgeable.” Amen.

3. But community perseveres. And yet, some good has already come from these riots. The local journalists in my borough have done a fabulous job of covering the violence, staying up all night with eyewitness accounts they have been posting on Twitter. And it’s good to know that their efforts have been recognized. As Camden New Journal Deputy Editor Richard Osley writes on his blog, he and his colleagues have received tons of messages on Twitter – most from complete strangers – thanking them for their hard work and encouraging them to stay safe. I’ve seen some people on Twitter poking fun of the quintessentially English effort to clean up the mess in many damaged neighborhoods. But as Osley writes, it is precisely these clean ups that underscore how much of a sense of community remains in this battered nation right now.

4. People need to speak out. One of the most widely-circulated riot videos right now is of a West Indian woman in the middle of the riots that broke out in Hackney excoriating the youth around her for their random violence: “Get real, black people, get real. If we’re fighting for a cause let’s fight for a f-ing cause.”

5. And people need to be heard. Another video that’s getting a lot of play is a BBC television interview with an elderly West Indian writer, Darcus Howe. What’s astonishing about this video are not Howe’s views – i.e. that we all should have seen this coming – but the attitude of the journalist, who can barely conceal her utter disregard for his position.


Image: Broken windows on Lavendar Hill by irish4adventure via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.



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  1. John Bates August 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    The images we saw of the riots were truly awful. I like to think that something good will come out of it all. I liked the comment that Jarvis Cocker made at the Reading Festival this week: “They weren’t rioting, they were just playing Grand Theft Auto outdoors.” and I think he was right.

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