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.

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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”.