Zaneta Denny calls on the black community to do some soul searching

I shuddered as I watched the freakish looting on London’s streets. Fear had spread to almost every corner of this nation as rioters attacked the focal points of our communities: our high roads and commercial centres where people socialise and do business.

As a young, Black British woman I am enraged to see a considerable number of black and mixed race youth involved in this mass, violent shop-up.

The Turkish community had the capacity to fend off rioters because they had positive community values, but the black British community had little hope of self-defence, as a disproportionate amount of men (in proportion to the majority population and as a racial group alone) were perpetrators or already behind bars.

I would like to say, this is an unfortunate comeuppance for a community where there is virtually no male authority. These young men and women have experienced disorder in their homes and are not pressured from within the community to do better than their parents–to leave the cycle of dependency on welfare provision, and enjoy a professional career. The street culture many young, black and mixed race kids appropriate advocates short-term glory (respect) on the street — which ultimately boils down to an intimidating street presence, scraps over drug domains, internecine violence, and aborts the prospect of long–term success in life.

Some community leaders have hailed liberal pro-child policy as a cause of disorder amongst the rioters.

My parent’s generation, born in the 1960s, needs to understand they cannot roll the clock back to an imaginary never-never-land where corporal punishment was the remedy to all bad behaviour. The past, in this regard, is far more disturbing. Many men from the Windrush Generation (the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain 1948-1960s) left their wives, partners, and children in the Caribbean behind to enjoy new-found “freedom” and exotic status in the UK; they found girlfriends, remarried, spawned new offspring with various women, and unfortunately, helped establish a pattern of familial brokenness to their grandchildren by walking away.

The answer from a lot of black clergy has been to pander to my parents’ generation saying “we need to be able to discipline our kids,” or rather we need to be free to punish them physically. I am from that generation, and I bet you your bottom dollar the rioting young children have been smacked. Smacking was used indiscriminately by the Windrush Generation parents on their children (my parents’ generation) as a way to avoid healthy discussion of awkward issues.

A certain level of education or training is needed to be integrated into the Knowledge Economy. Certainly, there are issues of tacit racism in schools and swift recourse to exclusion but difficulties do not entirely excuse parental responsibility to push one’s children. Indeed, African-Americans faced more explicit discrimination in the United States, yet they fought back and overcame certain hurdles by fighting low expectations. Black parents have to recognise we are living in a country where there are considerable opportunities, especially in comparison to the Caribbean or Africa where primary and secondary education are not free. If black parents want their input to be valued, they need to incorporate broader parenting styles, faithfully attend parent-teacher meetings — which are poorly attended in inner city schools — become school governors and local councillors, and actively encourage their children to enter the professions.

On another note, youth initiatives in the black community are sidelined. Churches in the black community have invaluable access to young black NEETs (not in education, employment, or training), however, many have misplaced priorities. Black Majority Churches have a tendency to spend extortionate amounts on rent for halls, stadiums, and flights for international preachers for religious conventions that can last up to seven days, when events and initiatives for young people are strapped for cash and youth pastors are left to make do.

An extensive auto-critique of certain phenomena associated with the black community is needed; this is why so many black people screamed “racist” at David Starkey’s remarks. If there is no introspective self-analysis, outside forces will step in and examine our community, which will inevitably hurt more and are likely to be specious. With regards to Starkey’s critique of what some call “Jafaican,” there has been a weird change in young people’s vernacular. My grandparents’ generation from the Caribbean spoke better English than most street-speakers. Although they had an accent, they used Standard English and were taught that patois was only for home use. Unfortunately, many young people cannot differentiate between the two.

To move forward, community leaders could gain insight from the experience of young people from the black community who are educated or well trained. For example, I attended a “good state school,” yet I was bullied by the black girls in “the black group” for being bookish and not hanging out with them.; this happened amongst black girls in every year group in a multiracial school. Some of my bullies became single mothers and didn’t attend university; they are not fulfilling their potential.

In other words, my message to the black community is to wake up and act like a community. We must address our lack of progress in recent years in order to avoid the loss of another generation to crime and hopelessness.

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  • Londoner

    With all due respect to the writer, I have to say this is amongst the worst commentary I have seen on the riots so far.

    As others have stated, this was not a Black issue or a race riot (we’ve had plenty of those), but an English issue. I’m from Hackney, and was there at the time of the riots. Shopkeepers of all races defended their shops (including Black shopkeepers), mainly because there was no police to be found. Equally, the rioters were of all ethnicities.

    The police were specifically instructed not to protect our working class neighbourhoods, instead to chase the rioters / looters after the event via CCTV. They did, however, protect shops owned by multi-nationals in the West End (main shopping district in London), so you get a sense of their priorities.

    Various newspapers are collating information on people charged with riot-related offenses. From the data I have sen so far, 3/4 traveled outside of their own areas to loot. British papers have also been running stories on the looters, including serving soldiers, teaching assistants, the children of millionaires, a 70 year old man…The demographics of the rioters reflect the specific areas they are from – for example, as the unrest traveled to places like Manchester the rioters were almost entirely white, in Birmingham there were a mixture of white, black and Asian.

    We must also remember the historical animosity many white working class families and communities feel towards the police (very similar to how many working class black people feel), and the history of rioting / public violence and mass hysteria in English culture. This also took place during the school holiday – we have scores of young people with nothing to looking for a bit of excitement. The young people (in particular) who took part have effectively ruined their lives – the police are prepared to spend 2 years going through all the footage and chasing them down. We also have the unhappiest young people in Europe, according to the UN, and a serious lack of opportunity for them across the board. It is also important to note that only a small minority of people took part in the riots / looting, not the majority. (Dreda Say Mitchell has written a lot of this for the Guardian recently).

    This was an English riot. Black English people are a part of England – we do not exist in a separate Universe to the rest of the country. England is an increasingly atomised, unequal, selfish, uncaring country. We have former members of Parliament in prison for stealing form the public purse, senior members of the police force have also recently resigned due to corruption. The head of the police service in Tottenham chose to go on holiday, rather than stay in post for the demonstration that kicked off the riots, despite being warned that shit was about to go down…

    (I do agree that there is an issue in terms of lack of Black male influence, fathering etc. I’m also aware that this is an issue for working class whites as well.. Also consider the white gangs of Glasgow or Liverpool.. gangs are an endemic problem in poor parts of England, and have been for centuries..)

    Furthermore, I find the writers’ depiction of the Windrush generation incomplete and ungenerous. For all the fractured families there were at least as many men and women working hard and raising their children together (such as my Grandparents and their friends and siblings). She neglects the ways in which Black people worked together to combat the racism and injustice they suffered, from our informal banking system (pardners) to setting up Saturday schools and other forms of self-education. We also forced the British to give up some unsavoury and unhygenic practices in terms of food preparation etc. (See the work of Michael McMillan on this.) There is a discussion to be had about how we might channel this energy again, for sure. However, I’ve lost count of the Black professional / creative men I know who mentor youth etc. It all helps, but nothing is as good as decent parenting..

    I understand that this is an opionion piece, but some facts would not go amiss. The Black Cultural Archives might be a good place for the author to start – http://www.bcaheritage.org.uk/

    • Zaneta Denny

      @Londoner. As I have repeated in the comments section, my argument is not that the riots were a “black thing”. Maybe I should have used a different title, like, “what did the riots mean for the black community”, which is what I was trying to assess, as I found most of the commentary on UK TV and media outlets, especially from black commentators (MPs, pastors etc) to be overly simplified.

      My article was not intended to be a comprehensive summary on Black Britain. It is true that there were good hardworking families who worked together and progress was made, but there is a history of single parent/broken family problems among the Windrush generation.

      Depsite the best efforts of the good families of the Windrush generation, somehow, whether out of choice, chance or socio-economic pressure, broken families are too much of a norm in the Afro-caribbean British community. some good family practices, or whatever unity there was in the first generation born here, may not exist among the second generation….that’s another debate in itself.

      I wrote this article, because I felt few people commentators touched on the points I have made.

    • grandgryph

      it is fine to back track now, zaneta but racism – as you certainly know – has retreated to the subtext and shapes tone, perception and scope.

      so. the boundaries and focuses that you chose all but forced you to reproduce racist ideas under the guise of `tough love’ for a community. many black people do this, these days. really, it is just taking advantage of crisis to spread pathological ideas about black while offering up `solutions’ meant not to solve but divert pressure from the establishment. it is the work of black middle class aspirants the world over. an old racket.

      the psychological effect is that blackness further gets associated with things that most people wouldn’t want to be associated with. and socio-economically, little changes. we saw a similar thing 30 years ago. and a similar conversation unfolded.

      this is not to say that no one should talk about the issues that you raised, but the question is how exactly. much work needs to be done in black families that doesn’t require `outside’ state intervention. however that would mean a more acute understanding of the psychological aspects of black life. this is well researched, however it is used by the `intelligentsia’ and cultural producers to maintain the system – and the mentalities that support it. kind like you’ve attempted or auditioned for in this article.

      you focus on this boot-strapism and `speaking’ clearly (while managing to slide a bit of self-aggrandizement in there). that’s fine. but what about the massive educational and structural changes that have contributed to those problems that you pounced upon? things that this person talked about http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biJgILxGK0o&feature=related.
      notice like how you the reporter tried to shift focus from the very obvious point that society isn’t just failing these youth (of all races) but that even good kids are being hurt or disadvantaged. you’re personal success story doesn’t mean that things are `good’ for everyone – or that the holes in the socio-economic filter have gotten much narrower.

      your approach, scope and thought processes needed to be much more symmetrical and your solutions much more comprehensive. but, i bet you know this. but also know this: your culturally aware social conservative offerings obviously are kind of desperate and aren’t fooling many. we are, indeed, waking up.

  • @ BritishJeanelle

    Council houses ? Those are substandard goods.

    The Britisih like us trapped at the bottom , with messed up council flats and cheap education.

    Look at the cow called Diane Abbott she failted to explain the reason why she felt her son should get better education because she is so married to the concept of labour socialism.

    It is a scam!

    Look at what is happening with all those council flat hety stole, under regeneration schemes. They are building luxury flats.

    All those councils who are doing this are laour ones, because the Conservatives were caught doing that for electoral reasons.

    If you want to be poor all your life Britain is the place to do it, no Spain. But opportunities suck!

    Black in Britain have never had a credible leadership.

  • @ out of Africa.

    Look at the famous ones, Naomi , Mica Paris, Thandie Newton, do you see them dating black men?

    Come to London you will be shocked, these girls are Nazis.

    The can settle for a black man, but they have a mania for white men! They are sick pupppies especially when they think they are pretty!

  • Look Britain is a mysterious country, it is one big masonic lodge.

    If you want to learn something, search for a concept British Israelism. You will be shocked, that is why the British sing New New Jerusalem, it is the national anthem.

    The British are not in your face with hate, but they are still hateful.

  • MyTwoCents

    As my name suggests, I just thought that I would throw in my thoughts. Firstly, after looking the comments so far, I must say that it is no surprise to see that many are being defensive because of what this article is about. You are right though, “It wasn’t just black people who were involved” but you cannot deny that they were not involved.

    I think these riots did highlight a few things. After all, where were the parents when their kids were causing the riots? (possibly there with them) but seriously where were the black men, the role models, the leaders…no where to be found. It’s always been the way in the black community. There’s not enough black people out there showing these youths how to do things the right way. There is no black community in London. Just pockets of black people tucked away in the poorest areas.