Shouting the Loudest

The Economist tells us that racism and resentment haven’t gone away, they’ve just gotten more complex. Oh good. Old-fashioned white-on-black racism is old hat; now the happening thing is Caribbean children resenting Somali children and Sikhs resenting Muslims. So much more diverse and multiculti that way.

Kirk Dawes, a black former police officer who now runs a mediation service in Birmingham, commends the way in which the police and the council have purged overt racists from their ranks. But he criticises the way both have relied on “community leaders,” especially those of a fiery type, as interlocutors with ethnic minority groups. “There is a belief that those who shout the loudest can best solve the problems within their community,” Mr Dawes says. Some of those community leaders were prominent in the protests against Asian shopkeepers in October, which later turned violent.

And were based on rumours anyway, and perhaps even worse, were based on a very peculiar, unpleasant, (racist, surely) way of thinking of ‘Asians’ as essentially one body, so that if a few Asians do something, it makes sense to boycott all Asian businesses, or all Asian businesses in a given area. ‘Community leaders’ aren’t always the clearest thinkers around – probably because this community thinking is not a very clear kind of thinking.

Birmingham’s Asians are more pointed in their criticism. The police, they say, were so keen to avoid offending black sensibilities that they allowed the protests to run out of control. They also failed to shut down a pirate radio station that purveyed hostility against Asians. In that, the police may have been following lessons learned in the past. An attempt to silence a similar station in the 1980s had sparked rioting.

There, you see how tricky free speech can be? You can’t win. You try to silence a station and that sparks rioting; you let a station babble away, and that sparks rioting.

If only people would act sane or at least minimally decent of their own volition; but that’s probably too much to hope.

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