This work has examined a range of race riots throughout the second half of the 20th century. The thesis attempted to approach the riots in two ways. The first was to look at social conditions and other problems deeply rooted in British society which also led to the outbreak of riots. The second purpose was to examine the nature of ‘race’ in relation to the events and follow the concept of racialisation in British society.
As for the concept of race, the ideologies about race have been changing in relation to the way of life of the society, its attitudes and the values it has. Stuart Hall defines the race and stresses the importance of different structures of the society:
Race, we have argued, is a key constituent of this reproduction of class relations, not simply because groups belonging to one ethnic category treat other groups in a racially discriminatory way, but because race is one of the factors which provides the material and social base on which ‘racism’ as an ideology flourishes. Race has become a crucial element in the given economic and social structures which each generation of the working class encounters as an aspect of the given material conditions of its life (Hall 347).
As for the concept of race in relation to race riots, this might be contradictory. When looking at the riots, ethnic minorities might be seen as victims of white racist attitudes. On the other hand it is them who are blamed for attacks and problems occurring in the society after their arrival in Britain. Stuart Hall discusses this issue in his Policing the Crisis where he gives the image of British society that associates the blacks with crime. He does not give definite answers; he examines mugging and street violence from the perspective of British society. The phenomenon of mugging arose in the 1970s and it was linked to black youth. According to Hall:
For all practical purposes, the terms ‘mugging’ and ‘black crime’ are now virtually synonymous. In the first ‘mugging’ panic, as we have shown, though ‘mugging’ was continually shadowed by the theme of race and crime, this link was rarely made explicit. This is no longer the case. The two are indissolubly linked: each term references the other in both the official and public consciousness (Hall 327).
Stuart Hall permits that according to official statistics blacks were more involved with mugging. On the other hand, he states that it was not only the issue of black presence in the areas, but it arose because of social conditions in them. One aspect was the hostility between the black and the police leading to police harassment mainly in black areas. Another fact was growing economic recession with a consequence of cuts in public expenditures and high unemployment. As Hall summarizes:
What we are witnessing here, in short, is nothing less than synchronisation of the race and the class aspects of the crisis. Policing the blacks threatened to mesh with the problem of policing the poor and policing the unemployed: all three were concentrated in precisely the same urban areas…The on-going problem of policing the blacks had become, for all practical purposes, synonymous with the wider problem of policing the crisis (Hall 332).
Stuart Hall discusses that even though the black community living in inner cities was considered as a social group characterized by poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, in the eyes of whites they were linked to violence and crime and the notion of race was understood as an open social conflict. Hall disproves that the rise in violence is only the question of race, because it reflects wider social aspects leading to crisis in British society. As debated above in the thesis, Lord Scarman also adopted such a standpoint as he did not see the race as a main source of the conflict.
Twenty years later, Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission since 2006, comments on the changing nature of migration:
Until about two decades ago, we used to worry about single groups of immigrants, usually from the old empire, distinguished by the fact that they were mostly dark-skinned, spoke English and thought of themselves as British people moving to their mother country. They arrived in discrete waves, one after the other […] In today’s post-imperial, post Cold War world, we face migration that comes from all corners, in all colours and speaks many languages. And they are all arriving at the same time” (“People on the Move”).
He appeals that Britain has to react on the global migration which is a feature of human freedom and has to adopt a liberal approach which will lead to immigration and prosperity. However, Phillips stresses that people from different ethnic backgrounds still suffer from racial discrimination. The Equality and Human Right Commission carried out a survey according to which 46 per cent of British society felt discriminated against because of ethnicity, disability, religion and age. 74 per cent of the respondents expressed their views that discrimination occurred mostly in the workplace. The Commission is convinced that the racism within the society still exists and it is one of its tasks to monitor the issue of discrimination, to encourage employers to equal representation of non-white groups in the workplace and provide them, as well as the public and individuals with enough information on the issue of human rights and equality (“Nearly half of Britons”). Phillips comments on what is the task of the institution and what has been achieved so far, “We have made immense progress over the past 30 years in giving women and minority groups the right to redress against discrimination […] But we can do even better by working to change underlying attitudes and biased behaviour. Our task is to make the diversity of our society a source of energy and prosperity, not a cause for friction and inequality” (“Nearly half of Britons”).
Trevor Phillips also maintains that one of the greatest barriers in the diverse society is a lack of ability to talk about differences and for that reason he establishes some basic principles. According to him, one of the basic rules protected by law is the freedom of speech. This right cannot be taken as absolute, especially in a multicultural society where it is a question of judgement and the members of one community should consider in their behaviour what is acceptable for the members of a different community. This also means that people should not use the freedom of speech to provoke or offend the others because this might lead to uneasiness in people with a totally different set of values. The last principle is the most difficult to adopt when coping with the difference and attitudes that are impossible to agree with: it is the principle of toleration. And “in the age of difference” a liberal society should be able to adhere to it (“Diverse Britain Speech”).
In my thesis I follow the outbreak of riots in Britain in the second half of the 20th century and concentrate on Oldham where the most serious riots in the last twenty years have occurred. I also follow the concept of race and the question is whether the notion of it was the main factor influencing the disturbances or not. There is no black and white answer, but based on the research of the situation in Oldham before and after the incidents and from the various discussions on this issue, I would incline towards the opinion that the racialisation problematic as such is not the main cause of the riots. It is very important to discuss the specific context in which the disturbances occur and all key aspects of the society they reflect on.
Figure 2 – Oldham City (“Maps of Greater Manchester”)
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