Everybody loves a scapegoat. So when gangs of “feral youth” ransacked England last August, it wasn’t surprising that a bipartisan parade of politicians and pundits reduced the complex issues of the riots into political point scoring.
On BBC2’s Newsnight, historian David Starkey offered these wise words: “The whites have become black.” In the broadest of strokes, Starkey pinned one of the most destructive events in recent British history on the culture of sagging pants and gangster rap. One can only imagine the stuff that’s going to come out of his mouth once he hears about daggering.
Trying to make sense of Starkey’s brain, and to perhaps see if there is some kernel of twisted truth at the center of his remarks, we tapped Owen Jones, a lefty-journalist type who was sitting across from Starkey when he made his now-infamous remarks, and James Delingpole, a self-identified “libertarian-conservative” author who would have appeared on Newsnight that fateful evening had he not been on vacation.
VICE: Make this easy for me. Whom—or what—do we blame for the craziness that happened in the UK last summer?
Owen Jones: The rioters had many motivations. Some were looking for a thrill, some for status, and for others it was about frustration. What brought it all together was a perceived lack of a future. When people feel they have one, they don’t jeopardize it by rioting. So do you think it was more of a poor thing than a black thing?
There are a lot of problems between the police and the black community. The fact that black people were disproportionately represented has to do with this. But most of the people who actually rioted were white. How was this situation different from the riots in 1981, which were also largely sparked by tension between minorities and police?
The public felt there were legitimate grievances with the 80s riots. This time, you don’t have that because the attention has been focused on looting. Why should we be paying attention to anything else?
Forty-three percent of the rioters arrested are eligible for free meals—they’re officially poor. The future looks bleak for young people. And our attitude toward these social problems is that they’re actually individual failings. Do you think these riots were justified?
No. I don’t think anything positive has come out of it. People are still ignoring the plight of youth.
VICE: Did the rioters have legitimate grievances?
James Delingpole: This wasn’t Occupy London. Most of the rioters were members of the underclass. They’ve never had a job and have been cushioned from economic realities by welfare, enabling them to have a good lifestyle without loyalty to Britain. Where does black culture fit in to all of this?
Underclass culture is celebrated in hip-hop. You talk to blacks about school and they say it’s playing the white man’s game. Ask anyone what black culture is, they won’t say Herman Cain—it’s all bling and basketball stars. Don’t you think there’s a bit more to it than that?
After the riots, earnest blacks sent me emails saying, “That’s not my culture.” But that’s a straw-man argument. What Starkey was saying is that whites love to get down with the homies and then say, “Hang on a second, this is not black culture.” That’s abject hypocrisy. So you’re not equating black culture with rioting?
No. Blackness doesn’t make you predisposed to criminality. But the black culture of easy money and living fast was prevalent among the rioters. How do we eradicate this tainted strain of black culture? Get Bill Cosby over there?
Blacks have a negative attitude because they feel they don’t belong. We need to introduce a culture without handouts and welfare checks, because that encourages the separatism.
Photos by James Dow and Rose Hall.