More on riots, moral panic and black people

Teddy boys! Who is responsible for this outrage?
Following on from my last post 'Should we be scared of black culture's influence on white kids?', here's an excellent article in the Economist about how all the things we're hearing in connection with last week's riots are hardly new, with quotes from older reactions to criminal youth and rioting: 'We have been here before'.

Here are the best ones about the topic of being scared of black people:

Brixton is the iceberg tip of a crisis of ethnic criminality which is not Britain's fault — except in the sense that her rulers quite unneccessarily imported it.
Sunday Telegraph, November 29th, 1981
It's the desire to be able to give this kind of reaction that led to some people deciding on not very much evidence that the white people rioting last week were 'wiggers' or somehow had become black.
It is deplorable. It is tribal. And it is from America. It follows rag-time, blues, dixie, hot cha-cha and the boogie-woogie, which surely originated in the jungle. We sometimes wonder whether this is the negro's revenge.
Daily Mail front page story, 'Rock 'n Roll babies', 1956
And, from the Economist article, concerning a House of Commons debate from 1842:
Still, at least no Jamaican patois, eh? Ah no, the same Commons debate saw an MP denouncing parts of the country suffering a "preposterous epidemic of a hybrid negro song".
That's 1842, my friends.

So, none of this stuff is new at all.  When sweating nervously and worrying about what makes young people and the working classes so very violent and rebellious, some will always choose some outside scapegoat to absolve us of the responsibility for trying to see what we might be doing to make some people so angry, or face up to the possibility that this might just happen from time to time.

Sometimes that's a genre of music, or a new technological advancement that poor people's tiny little minds are too fragile to be able to deal with, and sometimes it's black people. Even when it's white people misbehaving.

And while I'm making up posts mainly of great stuff written by other people, here's a point made by Iain in the comments to my last post about kids speaking in 'Jamaican Patois' that I wish I'd made myself:
The children who grew up in inner London in the 1960s and 70s didn't speak the "gaw blimey apples and pears" Cockney of their grandparents; they developed a slang and accent which grew into what's now described as Estuary English. That in turn is being replaced in urban London by an accent derived from the background of those urban Londoners. Not just Jamaican influences, but also that from urban USA, from the Indian subcontinent, and also from more traditional London. Even the infamous case of saying "innit" at the end of every sentence is derived from a similar construction in Hindi.
In all this worry about kids speaking in Jamaican patois, we seem to have forgotten that it's not even Jamaican bloody patois. It's something with lots of influences.

Go and have a look at the full Economist article. Go on! Go! It's better than anything you'll read here.


Matt said...

Did you deliberately keep typing 'patois' as 'patios'? I hope so, it made me laugh.

Love your site. It gives me hope that there are still enough people out there to prevent the current government's plans to turn the UK into the laughably embarrassing backwater of Europe.

We are behind so many countries on so many levels (politics, education, infrastructure, media, technology, ethics, justice, care, etc.) it's embarrassing, and yet somehow we have the gall to point and laugh at others.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Did you deliberately keep typing 'patois' as 'patios'? I hope so, it made me laugh.

Gah! No! My fingers keep farting when I try to type that word. Even going back to correct it just now, I still kept replacing patios with patios.

Thanks for loving the site. Look around the sites in the links on the right for more people not gurning at the EU and thinking we're the brilliantest at everything.

Anonymous said...

"I still kept replacing patios with patios"


Still, excellent articles, keep them up!

Alex said...

Odd. Mashing together Jamaican Patois, Indian English, Cockney and Yankinese - it's pretty much how creole's happen. Maybe Starkey was almost slightly right by accident.

Anonymous said...


Sam said...

On Language Log, The linguist Geoff Pullum has also commented on the absurdity of Starkey's guff about Jamaican 'patois'.

Anonymous said...


I cannot see a "contact me" link, so I am posting a message here for you, so that maybe you can review this article:


Basically, from what it seems to me, this was a (horrible) love triangle murder. Yet the deadline says:

'Freedom is just around the corner': Chilling texts sent between husband of murdered Muslim woman and alleged lover and gunwoman

And then the article mentions she was Muslim four more times. I think this is Islamophobic as this murder had nothing to do with religion. I mean, if the fact they were Muslim was mentioned when describing that they had been going out for a walk after breaking their Ramadhan fast, then fair play - but to mention it in the headline and then to mention it again in the article when it has no bearing on the story seems like Islamophobia to me.