Based on the (absurdly informed) opinion of UCLA sociology professor Darnell Hunt, Telegraph correspondent Tim Stanley was right to worry that Brits — and commentators around the world — may be blaming this week's London riots on the moral character of the rioters, instead of deeply rooted racism/classism in the UK.
Because mainland England never practiced full-on African slavery, it's a common belief that blacks haven't experienced the same oppression there as in the colonies. Perhaps that's why reporter Peter Wilson, a London correspondent for Australia's main rag, writes…
… according to a Telegraph piece on international reactions to the riots, that:
“The most worrying thing about the mobs rampaging through the capital was their unpredictability and unashamed greed. 'There was no clear political agenda like London's recent G20 protests, and no common motivation like the racial hatred that drove the Los Angeles riots of 1992,' he said.”
Though Professor Hunt admits he's “not as familiar with the particulars of the London riots,” and that in the UK, “black signifies a much broader and inclusive group of minorities,” he believes British racial injustice to be just as real.
England may not be recovering from a slave/master dynamic like the U.S., he says, but its privileged and prestigious classes have a long history of “discrimination and subjugation” against the black population — which has become a growing threat “as more nationals immigrate” from other countries.
Both the 1965 and 1992 riots in L.A., and the 1985 and 2011 riots in England, were instigated by perceived police injustice against a poor black man.
But this August's fatal shooting of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, by officers of the Metropolitan Police Service, has been given much media attention for its more complex criminal buildup, as cops were allegedly investigating Duggan for gun crime.
The Guardian reported: “Officers had been attempting to carry out an arrest under the Trident operational command unit, which deals with gun crime in the black community, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).”
But UCLA professor Hunt says that's beside the point.
“It's almost like the slightest misunderstanding or provocation can quickly go full-scale revolt,” he says. “There's so much anger — so much frustration — over years of fiscal policy that's left these people out of the loop. It almost becomes immaterial whether or not this guy is a criminal.”
One British black man, West Indian columnist Darcus Howe, put BBC News in its place after a blonde news anchor asked if he “condoned” the riots, just because he was trying to explain the motivation behind the uprising.
“If you look at young blacks and young whites with a discerning eye and careful hearing, they have been telling us, and we would not listen, that what is happening to this country…” Howe begins. He's rudely (and ironically) interrupted:
Howe goes on to call the anchor an “idiot” for failing to see the underlying inequality that has led up to this outburst.
Hunt, for his part, describes the anatomy of a riot as a “powder keg, just waiting for a match. There's a lot of fuel underneath the surface.”
In other words, something of this magnitude wouldn't even be possible if it were just random mayhem.
The reports of “looting” and disgust at general lawlessness in the wake of Duggan's shooting are reminiscent of media reports on Hurricane Katrina and the L.A. riots — narrow-minded and missing the bigger implications of the loot. “People who get involved feel they have nothing to lose,” says Hunt. And why wouldn't you loot, given the opportunity, in such a jobless economy and state of oppression?
Another thing many Angelenos might be wondering: Could the London riots set off a similar chain of events stateside? Via the Morton Report:
“Here though is my predication. By 2012, this flash mob unrest will probably have spread to the States. It will be an interesting and unwanted reverse. Normally what is cool in California becomes hot in London and the rest of Europe some months later. Not this time.”
But Hunt says he doesn't think “people necessarily look to earlier events when they're engaging an episode of generically connected action.” Instead, the only reason L.A. should brace itself for a riot is because, like in 1965 and 1992, “we're living in very difficult times.”
And minorities — alongside a disproportionate few poor whites — are shouldering a vast majority of the burden.
“In L.A., in 1992, the interesting thing was that it wasn't just a black thing — it was a multiracial uprising,” says Hunt. “There were more Latinos arrested than blacks.”
The common factor: “Anxiety about the future.” A growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. “An enormous underside rooted in misunderstandings… simmering for years.”