After the UK Riots: No Voice for Blacks

Distorted coverage and racist analysis outraged black Brits, who are now shut out of the post-mortem.

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If we review the footage of looting and burning in the major cities, the majority of those who were trying on sneakers, stealing TVs and burning down buildings were white and over 25. Yet the British media are intent on broadcasting image after image of young black boys in the latest tracksuit recounting their tales of why they felt the need to steal that mobile phone or keyboard.

This has galled a large segment of blacks in England. The majority of the looters were white and were not juveniles. They were not young black men. Professor David Starkey's outburst that "whites have become black" confirmed for many of us that there is a determination to make the young black male the scapegoat. It's official: The Young Black Male is the root of Britain's ills!

But why, we ask, was an aged Tudor historian given a voice to inform the British public about 21st-century riots? Not a day goes by without someone asking me if I have seen the Starkey interview -- such is the level of disbelief about his appearance on national TV. Why was he allowed to vent his vile rhetoric?

At a recent community meeting in Manchester, black teenagers expressed their despair at the news networks' failure to recognize their achievements in enterprise and education. 

The British media are aware that there are deep reasons behind the crimes that took place this August. A lack of education, a lack of aspiration and deep feelings of hopelessness all need to be confronted, and discussed with balance within our media outlets.

Informed and intelligent black voices on the left, center and right all have a place on the endless panels that are convened and reconvened on our rolling news channels. Failing to respect the backgrounds of political commentators and educators such as Darcus Howe and Gus John is viewed by many as a lack of respect for the black voice.

Last night I hosted a community panel that included local black business owners, young black teenagers, a member of Parliament and youth charity workers. All were in agreement that the mass media have been intent on ignoring black voices and anyone who expresses a centrist or left argument. Black youngsters were angry that they were being portrayed by some sections of the media and the government as sick, scum and feral creatures.

Interestingly, the U.K. riots appear to have united journalists and communities of color in England's major cities. There is now a strong desire to discuss the root causes of the riots, regardless of the media's willingness to report on our experience.

This week, John wrote an open letter to the prime minister calling for an end to political rhetoric and poor reporting from some sections of the media because it leads to a " 'Big Society' of bullies, self-righteous and otherwise, and a spurious moral crusade that can only breed cynicism and discontent and fuel social exclusion." 

Yesterday, the deputy prime minister announced the members of the Riot Communities and Victims panel. The panel lacks color and youth -- once again it seems that there is no place at the table for the voice of black Britain. And they wonder why we feel disconnected from society. Or do they?

Karen Gabay is a freelance radio journalist and TV-film producer based in Manchester, England.

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