Socialist Worker

The riots: The roots of racism remain

Writer and broadcaster Lemn Sissay spoke to Socialist Worker about the recent riots in Britain

Issue No. 2266

“Racism is an unspoken language—which is why it is so easy to deny.

I was born in the centre of a racial storm, a few months before Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Racism manifested itself in the small Labour-held villages in Lancashire. Wiping the phlegm off of my coat was a nightly ritual.

The roots of racism remain the same today. There is an unspoken agreement in society that black men have a gang problem. Not true.

I am in Australia at the moment. Here they look at the images of English looting—and the images are the same as the Arab Spring.

There is also similarity in the reaction of the powers-that-be, their desperate need to describe the rioting as purely criminal rather than unrest.

Ownership of the story of what happened is more important to politicians than the actual events. The crime story is perfect for them. It is clear-cut and it demands state control. But crime does not happen in a vacuum.

The high street is the political frontline for the young—not Newsnight or Question Time. It is probably the most overtly political landscape in their daily lives. Our cities, towns and villages have been pedestrianised for the sole purpose of selling us more stuff.

Where else would the riots happen but in the place that does not feel welcome to young people, except to see them as moving cash dispensers? What’s shocking is that nobody seems to see it.

Society has been caught in the venus fly-trap of market economics—and they hate the rioters for breaking the rules.

Was there such indignation from the politicians against the bankers’ smash-and-grab?

No, there wasn’t. In light of Rupert Murdoch, in light of the politicians’ bribery and corruption, the question should be: how could there not be a riot?

There needs to be unity between the oppressed and solidarity between the weakened.

There needs to be unity across the board on the left.

There needs to be a willingness to open the borders and embrace immigration as a sign that society is moving on rather than moving back.

The politicians say they’re ‘destroying their own communities’. What are they, rats in a lab?

Since when did they live in their communities and not our communities?

It all goes back to the Benjamin Zephaniah poem, Us and Dem.

There is a window of opportunity here in what has happened this last few weeks. But I am afraid it won’t be taken.

They’ll rue the day. They’ll rue the day they didn’t stand up in front of the youth and disenfranchised and say, ‘Where did we go wrong?’”

Lemn Sissay’s most recent collection of poems is titled Listener

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