So strange to watch people’s responses to civic unrest — I don’t lean essentialist, but I can safely say that growing up as a black male in the US (or the UK, or many places) gives you a relationship to things like cops, public security, and visibility that contradicts nearly all the mainstream media narratives around you…

And there’s a rich thematic vein running through black literature from its very start (slave narratives) where acts of violence are a necessary precondition to personal liberation. To go from being defined as property to achieving one’s own humanity requires all sorts of “violence” – semantic and physical and psychic and social. And these aren’t so easily separated. For more on this, the final Covey scene in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) is a great place to begin.

417px-Frederick Douglass portrait

Of course, lofting a brick through the window of a locally owned mom & pop shop means you are Part of the Problem and a wanker to boot (Here’s an impassioned video clip from last night ‘Truly extraordinary speech by fearless West Indian woman in face of Hackney and London riot’.)

And lofting a brick through the window of a FootLocker or a multinational bank basically means you’re giving more thankless labor to whatever underpaid person does janitor work there — but, also, perhaps, with that breaking something in you changes, your relationship to Captain Hegemony/abstracted corporate power/The Man/dreary chain stores/civil disobedience/personal responsibility. Maybe you have to start with a less-than-articulate act of changing your city before more eloquent thoughts or actions can be formed. Or maybe not. Maybe you’re just busting things up.

One useful strategy is to remember the enormous differences between this week’s widespread top-down economic violence (US debt idiocy, Eurozone crisis, etc) whose perpetrators are so shadowy and slippery and difficult to envision or grasp versus the EZ news spectacle of photogenic ‘riot porn’ violence that also happens to be obsessed with the bodies of those doing it (not so much the causes).

At times like these, I see a lot of value in actions that help make the former as tangible as the latter.

* * *

The above photo shows London reggae shop Dub Vendor. They’re fine — although you can see above that the building next to it is in bad shape indeed. (Sonido Martines sent me the image, from El Pais). Let’s rewind 20 years. Here’s some high quality UK dub-reportage that I picked up in Brooklyn awhile back: Raymond Naptali and Roy Rankin’s Brixton Incident. It’s a gem of a song. Front line youth, squat living as better than the Council flats, “no work for the unemployed”, timeless reverberations from another London “riot caused by the cops”.



  1. Thanks for this post, Jayce.

    Muted response to the riots amongst friends here in the U.S. (who seem to view this as some distant “lawless” event rather than harbinger of what’s to come, as we follow Britain down the path of post-imperial economic contraction) is surreal indeed. I was especially struck, in video clips of “riot porn” posted online, by the complex racial and class contours of the social behavior around the riots, which did not for the most part seem to rank along “battle lines” but rhizomatically, with all manner of people milling about, both participants and gawks. A randomness that belied a more stringent divide, between the actors and spectators. (To be sorted later by CCTV, no doubt.) I can’t believe the number of times I’ve read the phrase “feral youth” in the reportage (first by Kit Malthouse, a deputy mayor of London: “just, you know, feral youth who fancy a new pair of trainers”). As if some of the youth-driven protests in the Middle East, Athens, Paris in 2005, never happened. As if one could just deal with social unrest by sending out “animal control.” (I couldn’t help flash from images of German Shepherds attacking looters and/or bystanders to images from Birmingham, AL nearly half a century ago: One doesn’t want to condone violence, but I like your way of keeping the question open. Penny Red’s blog entry was pretty good:

  2. For a moment, I thought the title referred to the BEST COMIC BOOK SERIES EVER (which is about a po-mo anarchist cell, psychic warfare, ultraviolence, mystical truths, dualities and paradoxes).

    “Maybe you have to start with a less-than-articulate act of changing your city before more eloquent thoughts or actions can be formed. Or maybe not. Maybe you’re just busting things up.”

    This hits the nail on the head, for me. Yes, the media narrative surrounding the situation in England is insultingly easy (there was a lag between the murder of Mark Duggan and the riots which included a peaceful protest by neighborhood residents; there are reports that the riots started when cops beat down a 16 year old girl). Yes, the media’s selection of stores hit up by looters is both tinged with racism itself and reveals the racist urban geography of late cultural capitalism. But these are points that are too complex for soundbites, and for some reason the rebel kids respond better to cool pictures of riot porn anyway. What is most important now is to use this impulse as a jumping off point for something bigger and better, to get the right questions out, to come together to organize together and build the movement that this insurrectionary moment is calling for. If not, it’s just going to dissolve into a bunch of court cases, with obscenely harsh and punitive rulings, and an EVEN MORE FUCKED UP NEIGHBORHOOD.

  3. speak, rupture, speak.
    that’s the most coherent thought about the London situation that’s been thrust at me since it began. and it’s killing me. thanks.
    eloquence without flowers or daggers.

  4. Excellent nuanced analysis which is badly needed right now.
    Some good may be glimmering at the bottom of all this shit pile – if one reaction was a rebuild of community, a reclaim of the streets as oppossed to hi tech ‘shop the mugger’ hysteria…


  5. Very Encouraged to see (some ) Americans taking a discerning and concise view of events unfolding in the Uk!!(and make good sense of it!!)
    Seems many over here cannot yet make rational sense of it…too busy hopping mad from their knee jerking reactions …stay informed and spread your words
    Mo Sean

  6. and MUDD UP!! havent heard that in years when i used to spend a lot of time gettin’ MudD uP!!!

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