Obviously these are not the only reasons one could come up with, and I’m sure those against the war would see this as a mere distraction, but the widely reported part of Blair’s Callaghan speech (http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php?id=news2005&ux_news%5Bid%5D=tbpublicrealm&no_cache=1) is just controversy for controversy’s sake. Saying that ‘we won’t stop this by pretending it isn’t young black kids doing it’ is bad analysis, bad presentation and bad politics. For one thing, he doesn’t really say what ‘this’ is, but one imagines he’s talking about the recent stabbings in London so it must be knives, guns and gangs.
Now he didn’t say it in so many words, but this has been reported as being about ‘black culture’ (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,,2054958,00.html). What he did mention was a ‘gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids’. Is this gang culture something specific to black kids? Is murder a black thing?
Of course not. First, TB needs to get out more (of London). In cities where there a few black people there are white kids in gangs, Asian kids in gangs, using weapons and occasionally killing each other. Indeed, if we can assume that the rate of white people murdering is the same everywhere, using his analysis we’d expect the murder rate to be higher where there are more black people. But this isn’t even close to being true. The murder rate is highest in Nottingham, followed by St. Helen’s, Leeds, Rotherham, and Newcastle! London is mid-table. (http://www.reform.co.uk/filestore/pdf/Urban%20crime%20rankings,%20Reform,%202006.pdf)
It is true that black kids are more likely to be perpetrators and victims but this could be just because they are more likely to live in poor areas in cities. If we strip out all the people who live in the countryside and middle-class suburbs, we may well find that ethnicity is a poor predictor and white kids are just as likely to be involved. It’s not some imagined ‘black culture’ but inner-city culture. Tony may not have noticed, but if you go to the sink estates in London (and this is largely a London story because that’s where journalists live) they are full of black faces. And I bet any black kids in his future neighbourhood just north of Hyde Park (where a house like his will cost £3.6million) aren’t involved in gangs.
And then there is the solution… ‘community’:
‘The black community – the vast majority of whom in these communities are decent, law-abiding people horrified at what is happening – need to be mobilised in denunciation of this gang culture that is killing innocent young black kids.’
Black people have long been denouncing and doing good works to ‘stop the violence’ (Boogie Down Productions, 1988), but it doesn’t seem to have done a lot to deal with the despair of living in poverty in a consumerist age. The government would need to do something about that, but isn’t prepared to radically redistribute resources.
Furthermore, the idea that there is a ‘black community’ is ridiculous. Are we really to assume that Baroness Scotland should to be mobilised on this issue, and it’s got nothing to do with the white people on the Kingsmead estate? Does it mean that the ‘white community’ should be mobilised to denounce child killers (because recent child killers have all been white)? Am I to shoulder some responsibility for Soham because I’m white and male?
This is communalist politics at its worst. By all means tell us that black kids are disproportionately involved in gang crime, but don’t leap to the conclusion that there’s a specific black gang culture that’s part of ‘blackness’ and that only the ‘black community’ can deal with it. There’s no such thing as a homogenous ‘black community’, just poor areas where black people are concentrated, with the usual inner-city issues. Everyone in these areas, regardless of skin tone, has an interest in doing something about their youth. They are the community.