Cultural critic Diran Adebayo says the riots in the UK are rooted in materialism and believes people need to be reminded they're valued for more than the things they possess.
Cultural critic Diran Adebayo says the riots in the UK are rooted in materialism and believes people need to be reminded they're valued for more than the things they possess. AFP/Getty Images
It's been more than a week since the fatal shooting of a man by police in London, and the riots that erupted afterwards have shaken England. Brits are divided over the real reasons behind the riots, but many point to alienation and boredom among young people as a key factor.
Cultural critic and novelist Diran Adebayo grew up in north London, in a neighborhood next door to Tottenham, where the riots first broke out. He tells Weekend Edition guest host Jacki Lyden the youth participating in the current riots is a different generation from those that rioted in the early 80s.
"Those riots often sparked out of overzealous policing and discriminatory policing in black communities, and there was a very clear kind of anti-racist politics involved in those times," he says.
The current riots are also giving voice to outrage, Adebayo says, but this time the politics seem to center on consumerism — "and a kind of slightly juvenile, slightly ill-thought-through, I think, politics among the youth."
After these riots began, he says, the youth who were questioned about their motives named government cuts and the recession. Adebayo doesn't give their sentiments much credit.
"They tend to mouth things that are in the social media ether quite quickly," Adebayo says. These riots, he believes, aren't really linked to things like government cuts for youth workers or youth-oriented services.
Instead, the violence arises out of what he calls long-term structural problems around getting people to invest in "normative societal values."
"There is a kind of a level of boredom and alienation and just not a commitment to the values that have kept society to some degree, you know, cohesive for many years," Adebayo says.
There has been talk about more policing. Former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, who was also police chief in Los Angeles and Boston, has agreed to act as an unpaid advisor to the British government. He'll share his experience tackling gang violence.
Adebayo suggests that for society to work well, people have to be respected for things other than material values.
"It's very important that leaders and people of influence start giving messages that we value you as a person for reasons other than what you own," he says. "We have to give people a sense of these other values so that their esteem doesn't just lie in what they own, and I think that's the only long-term solution to these problems."