It has recently emerged that chief policy adviser to David Cameron, Oliver Letwin, in his memo on the 1985 Broad water riots, made some deeply racist comments. The comments themselves, I believe, show the deep rooted ignorance within our political system to respond to issues of poverty, and instead to blame minorities for almost all of our problems. One such ignorant claim by letwin, was that the unrest was caused by ‘bad moral attitudes’ in black communities, and that encouraging black entrepreneurs would further the ‘disco and drug trade’. to anyone with half a brain, this clearly ignores the fact that the definition of encouraging entrepreneurship (at least should) mean helping people out of bad lifestyles. as such, letwins comments have been rightfully condemned by people on all sides of the political spectrum. This post will look at the deeper implications of Letwin’s ignorant comments.
Letwin’s comments are partly the fault of a largely white political system. it stands to reason that the less contact you have with ethnic minorities, the less likely you will be to understand their needs. The fact that black peoples historical status as the ‘servant’ or even ‘slave’, led to them being significantly thrown into poverty for years after slavery had been abolished, we have inherited a largely white political system. As welfare and crime have become hot button issues on the political agenda in the UK, people like Letwin are likely to label these largely as the fault of black people. The same is true the other way around – white people who negatively stereotype black people as lazy or violent, will be more likely to oppose handouts to poor black people, whether they are entrepreneurs or not. Therefore, these two attitudes not only accompany but reinforce one another. It would sure be interesting to see how the political system would change if politicians spent more time meeting with, and helping minorities and poor communities.
This ignorance and racial stereotyping is created not only through isolation, but through the media representation of black people. Indeed, research carried out between 1995 and 1986, when a lot of our politicians would have grown up, found that television characters, of whom only 6 per cent were African American, were mostly portrayed as lacking a high school diploma or being on low income status. While I am sure some people may be quick to dismiss me pointing this out as namby pamby political correctness, considering local news media may be a source of learning for adults, it plays a vital part in debates on civil rights. As is the nature of capitalism, a lot of this has to do with issues of ownership. A report entitled ‘off the dial’, by freepress, finds that, of all commercial broadcast television stations African Americans own only 5.5%. Also, in places with large racial minority markets, the number of black owned television stations are not correlated with the market. While I am no fan of replacing one set of spin doctors with another, this shows a large gap of perspective being lost. How is it possible to make sweeping statements about race, when such a large section of the population is underrepresented?
So what can we do to bring an end to racial stereotypes? Portrayals of black people that defy racial stereotypes can be actively sought out and promoted. This is where alternative media has a part to play. Also, we should be challenging all instances of racism wherever they show up, even if they take the form of a joke with a nudge and a wink. Ultimately, racial equality cannot exist within the framework of a society that teaches that some people are better than others, thus we should strive for the creation of free democratic enterprises, dedicated not to profit but to satisfying human needs. Such organisations already exist on a small scale among activist groups, such as Calais migrant solidarity. Such organisations therefore need to be expanded so they are visible for both members of the public and politicians to see. Good luck getting the Tory’s and Oliver Letwin to endorse that legislation.
What really caused the broad water riots?
Another Fault in Letwin’s comments is that they follow extremely simplistic knowledge that you would expect to see from a child. It is far too easy to point at black people rioting and say that the race is to blame. However, it requires a bit of critical thought and challenge of authority to deduce what the real causes of the riots were, a concept that is clearly far to contreversial for the mainstream westminister parties.
initially, upon identifying causes of the broadwater riots, some politicians brought up the issue of poverty as a good starting point. Oliver Letwin however, clearly being towards the right of the conservative party, dissagreed, attributing the riots entirely to race issues. The fact that these words were said by a government official, is especially ironic, considering that a leading cause of the broadwater riots was a growing distrust of authority, among black and asian community's. Leading up to the riots, violent police behaviour such as house raids and shootings, is believed to have led to the death of african carribean woman Cynthia Jarret, and the severe injury black woman Dorothy Groce. You can think what you want about the actions of the rioters, but you have to accept that police violence is clearly going to create a large distrust of police. In 1978, the results of a community sponsered survey into feelings of black people in handsworth, found that most of them felt like police treated them like 'dirt', and 'slaves'. This was exacepated by use of the racist sus law, which allowed police to stop and search people, without evidence of any crimes being commited by the people the police were searching. In the hours before the riots started, police in brixton launched operation swamp, a plan to stop crime by systematically swamping the area and arresting thousands of people. Furthermore, a government sponserd report into the riots found that 'community policing', rather than fostering trust, often made black communities feel more surveyed and spied upon. All of this is especially prevalent, considering that poor living conditions in places like Tottenham, have created further negative stereotypes, associating black people with crime. We can deduce from this, that oliver letwins words, if put into effect, rather than bringing an end to violence, will only serve to further social unrest and violence.
Conclusively, letwins words, rather than just triggering a public apology and a bit of media coverage, should serve to make people further aware of ignorance towars race and other social issues, in british politics. campaigns such as love music hate racism should be furthered and encouraged. Also, it is important to remember that Oliver Letwins comments were not an isolated incident. Racist politicians and other people in authority, continue ro campaign against anti police violence legislation. It should be up to us to call out and campaign against every single one of them.