- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
1) From a zoomed-out perspective, condemning riots seems to make as much sense as shaking your fist at a hurricane. Riots are not the virus, they are the fever.
2) Much has been written already about looting being the mirror image of the same behavior at the top of the power and privilege ladder.Greed that has propelled us into a global financial crisis and outlook on the world that allows people to assume whatever wealth they have accumulated through legal means is somehow legitimate and moral.
Under the internalized rules of globalized capitalism, it makes sense to outsource jobs, cut healthcare for workers, award yourself a giant bonus, and then parlay that bonus into even more wealth in the financial markets. Under the temporary rules of a riot, it makes sense to take as much as you can carry home while the riot is still happening.
The looters are more honest. They admit the element of thrill in taking something just because it is possible. The captains of industry pretend they are worth their million dollar salaries and that their bonuses are earned because they grease the wheels of capitalism.
3) “Industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence…Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” (Derrick Jensen, Endgame)
4) It is this sort of rationalization that allows a Prime Minister to talk about a violent culture of poverty while playing host to the world’s largest weapons exhibition. This sort of naturalization of the way power-over is supposed to act that allows an MEP to opine that looters should be shot on sight, and not immediately be removed from any sort of public office.
5) Much has been made of the looting. Even progressive and radical writers have made comments that youth in the Middle East are rioting for freedom and youth in the UK are rioting for new televisions. One needs only to look back to France a few years ago to see that riots that don’t include a lot of looting get the same hysterical treatment by politicians, the press, and the public (only in that case, a healthy dose of the Muslim invaders/war against civilization trope).
6) The question isn’t ‘Why did this happen in Britain?’ The question is ‘When will this happen in the U.S.’?
7) Don’t trust anyone that tries to tell you that there is some magical line of demarcation that separates a protest from a riot. They have probably never been involved in either.
8) Multiple talking heads and politicians have used the phrase “tough love” in describing how a culture of welfare depdency caused the riots and how to fix it. I wonder, can riots be “tough love” to society at large? There are worse things than broken windows and burned out buildings.
9) The Los Angeles riots caused $700 million worth of property damage and killed 53 people. The French riots in 2005 caused about $250 million worth of property damage and killed 2 people. The current estimate of the UK riots in terms of insurance claims, police overtime, lost business, etc is around the same. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost over $400 million per day. For 10 years. (and killed over 100,000 civilians by even conservative estimates)
10) The last time we had this degree of wealth inequality in the US we had large and viable anarchist and socialist organizations and radical trade unions operating in this country. This time we have a center-right president giving his stamp of approval to plutocratic policies and a large chunk of the US thinks he is socialist.
11) It should be self evident that the impoverished, the segregated, and the excluded are not only more likely to be involved in riots, but more likely to be victimized be them. This suggests something like the psychological phenomenon of self-harm, only occurring at a community level. The three populations that most often engage in self-injurious behaviors: prisoners, animals living in captivity, and young women who have been survivors of abuse, especially sexual abuse. (There is something here, about self injurious behavior being a way of having some kind of agency in a system that has denied you any.)
12) A large multinational corporation, making goods through sweatshop labor, selling them to big box stores, who get tax breaks to build their stores, drive local merchants out of business and both producer and merchant hide their profits in tax havens and distribute them to already wealthy shareholders. This is a form of looting.
13) The Tea Party (original version) was an act of terrorism. Stonewall was a riot.
14) The most common adjective I have heard to describe the rioters across British mainstream media is “feral.” Of course there is a long history of dehumanizing marginalized people by comparing them to animals, but I am interested in this word. Because of course there is an aliveness, a wildness, an exuberance found in rioting (an unprintable truth that The Guardian finally printed this week). Incidentally, David Cameron knows this as well.
And it is a wildness particularly lacking in our culture after childhood. The feeling of being part of something, of having power, of breaking taboos, of shit getting real. Rioting does rattle the chains of modern life in a way that is exhilarating. What sorts of activities would feed this need, prominent in us all, but especially in adolescence, without being so destructive to the fabric of community?
15) Arundhati Roy has said that another world is not only possible, but she is so close we can hear her breathing. She was not talking about rioting. But, doesn’t a riot reveal another world just on the other side of a flimsy barrier? Things which were unobtainable are now free. Cops which generally play the role of hunter are now the hunted. Anything seems possible.
There is something of great value in the realization that our most taken for granted concepts – private property, social order, decorum – can disappear in an instant if people want them to. Rioting may be crude and ugly magic, but they are magic just the same, and remind us how much of what we take for granted as resistant to change can in fact be changed instantly, as soon as people decide it has no legitimacy.
Currencies. Presidents. Dictators. Empires.
Those who feel change will never come, would do well to remember that it often happens with breathtaking speed, once the conditions are right.
16) Within a few days, over a million people had joined a page on Facebook to “Support the Met Police against the London Rioters”. It was praised by David Cameron. It was started by an unrepentant racist. I’m not saying this means anything. I’m not saying it doesn’t.
17) There is a reason that riots nearly always get set off by police actions. If social exclusion creates the context for riots to occur, policing represents one of the hard edges of that exclusion. Sentries at the racial border, gatekeepers of privilege.
18) It now seems likely that Mark Duggan did not fire a shot. Just as Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré were guilty only of playing soccer in France in 2005. Just as Timothy Thomas was unarmed and running away in Cincinnati in 2001. Etc. Etc. Etc.
19) “I have no particular love for the idealized ‘worker’ as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.” (George Orwell,Homage to Catalonia)
20) To paraphrase Dr. Sofia Himmelblau – the riots may not have been intentional class war, but the response to them is almost guaranteed to be.
21) Riots are so chaotic, full of so much contradiction, that statements made about them tend to reveal more about the speaker than explain what just happened. (This one is no different).
Just once I would like to hear a politician say, “Things are really bad. And I don’t know what we should do next.” We have lost all tolerance for not-knowing. For ambiguity and paradox. But easy narratives – whether “progressive” or “conservative” – whether scientific or romantic – nearly always leave too much out to be of much use in navigating our world.