Young, damaged gangsters like child soldiers, says MP
Its a bastard when you’re trying to write a post on how media re-presentations of black/brown males draw on, circulate and actually create a vital figure in the public imagination – the angry black man (I call him SVS – Scary, Violent, Savage); and the examples come across your screen so fast you have to pause for several hours just to point one out. Its kind of like watching those automatic tennis ball launchers in action (darn it, that tennis metaphor again) ooooo there goes another one. And another, and another …
The latest example, while originating in the UK, has been spread around the globe courtesy of the Associated Press, to show up in widely-read antipodean newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald and the Dominion Post. The creation of the ‘angry black male’ is a global effort it seems and finds eager readership in countries colonised by the former-Empire from which the article springs. How fitting. On the surface exploring the problem of ‘gang culture’, the article itself does little to demystify the issue. There are no interviews with youth-gang workers, ex-gang members, or anyone who has daily contact with these social ‘deviants’ and might therefore give some insight to their lives and frustrations. Or provide a counter to what is being sold. Just the lone voice of a fearless MP ringing familiar alarm bells…
LONDON: Young members of Britain’s criminal gangs are so damaged by the violence of their lifestyle that they resemble the child soldiers of the Third World, a British MP said.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has warned that a violent underclass in Britain is ”almost completely detached” from the values of the rest of society.
As the article continues, Smith goes on to characterise the targets of his frustration as dangerous, violent, criminal, and in possession of a ‘stick-it-to-the-man’ attitude. Listen carefully and you can’t help but hear/see:
When I say ‘gangsters’ I mean BLACK. But just in case you didn’t get it, I’ll associate it with the Third World so that you know I mean BLACK. And on the off-chance you’re really stupid, here’s some relevant imagery so that you just can’t miss it – I mean BLACK!!
Now those aren’t his words – merely my interpretation of the said/unsaid. I’m not arguing that Iain Duncan Smith hates black people. Not at all. Nor does the member of the press that provided the ‘fitting’ imagery. It would be ridiculous to contend that there are politicians and ‘news’-producers colluding together in backrooms to ‘get darkies’. When you start to notice how racist ideologies of the inferiority of blackness and by contrast superiority of whiteness – circulate throughout the media and society, then you realise no such calculated effort is required. It comes natural and easy with very different motives in mind. For a politician invoking fear in their constituents leads to votes at the ballot box. Nothing says “be afraid” in the public imaginary (or is that nightmare) like the angry black male. By contrast, the invoking politician takes up the role of ‘white knight in shining armour’ – eager to allay those fears through getting tough. That’s what Knights are – tough. But not violent. Tougher policing measures, tougher welfare policies, tougher everything really. For the press – invoking the angry black male titillates a public all too eager to put a face to their fears; an easily identifiable culprit that has them purchasing newspapers, watching the nightly news, and exclaiming indignantly in the tearooms. Fear sells. We’re talking exploitation – the (mis)use of black/brown bodies for gain or profit. Which really just makes the article’s parting shot that much harder to swallow.
They are completely mentally broken. They have no concept of empathy or socialising or understanding. They have a very stark two-dimensional attitude to you and everybody else and they deal with you in that way.
That the fantasy of the SVS, the angry black male, fails in any way to capture the diverse lived realities of a black youth in the UK or a brown man in Aotearoa, is of little consequence. For in this article-plus-image and a thousand others like them, he is fixed, immutable, always-recognisable … and basically fucked. When it comes to getting up in front of a judge anyway. Or standing face to face with a policeman carrying a taser – even worse, a gun. But hang on – that can’t be right, or else black males (in Aotearoa Māori/Pasifika males) would therefore be disproportionally represented in criminal convictions, imprisonment rates, taser attacks. Or struggle to find jobs. Could images, fantasies, re-presentations really be that powerful?
While it is clearly not his intention, when Smith links gangsters in Britain with child soldiers in the Third World he is in some sense more accurate than he means to be. One could argue that the transnational economic and political structures that dehumanise populations and exploit poverty in Third World nations produce misery and a killing rage; just as the dehumanisation and exploitation of black/poor/non-white immigrant bodies for profit/gain does in the UK. When the tory MP bemoans “a growing underclass … that is almost completely detached from society” I want to ask “What do you mean by detached”? As in, indifferent? Disinterested? Try – disenfranchised, disparaged and non-wanted – except that is, as the poster child for all that plagues what Smith calls the “rest of us”. For if you are to believe the story’s narrative, it is not the powerful and well resourced that create those ills, but the most marginalised and powerless. Not so much detached from the values of ‘the rest of society’ – values evident in predatory capitalism, exploitation for profit, and rabid individualism; but quite simply their most shining example.