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I recently attended an excellent roundtable event at the House of Commons, run by the Runneymede Trust as part of their Westminster Riot Roundtable programme looking at possible links between the summer disturbances and race issues.

Students from several schools in areas affected by the riots presented their research among local residents and young people and concluded that according to most of their respondents, race had little or nothing to do with it.

I won't try to summarise the really enlightening discussion that ensued, but wanted to share three particularly interesting points that were raised - discussion very welcome:

  • One participant related that when rioters were asked why they had attacked their own communities, they responded "what community?"
  • Lots of comments tended to sideline or minimise the looting elements of the disturbances, seeking answers in other aspects that could not so easily be dismissed as 'just criminality'. However, several participants pointed out that status and entitlement are related to the possession of material goods in a consumerist society, and so their seizure is a political act regardless of the articulated intent of those looting.
  • One of the very last comments was by a student who had not spoken so far, who said (and I paraphrase) "You can say it's not about race, but it is. Because they tell you at school that if you work hard you will succeed, and that's true. But in the real world you can work hard and you don't succeed".
  • All of which led me to think that the questions that are being asked:

    • how could/why did young people attack their own communities?
    • was it political or just criminal?
    • were the riots about race?
    • might be better phrased as:

      • What does community mean for young people in our most deprived neighbourhoods?
      • what does the looting tell us about young peoples' relationship to brands and capitalism?
      • how is the relationship between race and opportunity evolving in our cities?
      • What other questions aren't being asked that should be, and are there good discussions of the above that I've missed?


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