In what can be seen as the latest permeation of scapegoatistm, during a recent airing of BBC2’s “Newsnight” British historian David Starkey blamed the recent rioting in London after police shot and killed an unarmed black man in his cab on whites trying to behave and adopt black culture, which he equates with criminality.
After police killed a 29-year-old black man, Mark Dugan, while sitting in a minicab on August 4, many young people and individuals in communities of color took to the streets, rioting and looting, some say out of frustrations over unemployment and police harassment in minority neighborhoods. Five people died, and many people lost property that was burned, looted or destroyed.
Several rioters did not get involved to send a political message but rather to seize the opportunity to use the chaos as an excuse to loot and wreak havoc.
During the August 12 “Newsnight” broadcast, Starkey agreed that the reason many were rioting was based on “completely superficial” reasons and were an extension of “commercialism,” and then he pointed to what he said was an adoption of black culture by whites.
“What’s happened is that the substantial section of the chaps that you read about have become black,” Starkey said. “The whites have become black; a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become ‘the fashion.’ And black and White, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is a Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England. And this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”
Starkey also distinguished black culture as bad from white culture, which he indicated is good and characteristically refined and marked by articulate and proper speech. To prove his point, Starkey referenced an articulate successful black journalist who, he said, you’d never know was black based on hearing him on the radio.
Starkey also read the text of a British Olympian discussing the reason for the riots written in slang and said rap music as well was equivalent to violence and contributed to the erosion of white culture and youth in the UK.
Starkey’s claims were refuted by the show’s host and by other guests, including author and broadcaster Dreda Say Mitchell. “This is the problem with the ‘them and us’ culture,” she said. “We can’t keep thinking of this as a ‘them and us’ argument.”
“Black communities are not homogeneous groups, so there are many different black cultures,” Mitchell said. “What we need to be doing is thinking about ourselves not as individual communities but as one community … and stop talking about them and us and start talking about our children and using words like ‘we’ and stop putting this blame on different people. This blame culture has got to stop. We’ve got to face head on what the issues on.”
Indeed, racial tensions between and among the general population and pockets of West Indian, Asian and other immigrant communities have fueled some of the violence. Three Asian Muslim men guarding a car wash from looters were struck and killed in a drive-by attack, the Guardian reported. It is quite reminiscent of the Los Angeles riots in the United States, where blacks residents and Asian immigrant shopkeepers clashed during the 1980s.
James Harkin, a reporter for the Guardian, told NPR the reasons for the riots were mixed. He said that while a lot rioting was done out of opportunity, some, especially by those in communities of color, said they were on the streets because they felt disrespected by the police.
“The reasons for this are complex and cultural,” said Harkin. “And they can’t simply be explained by money. It’s more a sense that people really have no stake and it’s a sense that either people are underemployed or if they’re 11 years old, they simply don’t have much to do.”
In the UK, one out of five teenagers is unemployed and more than half of minority youth in that country are unemployed.