Wednesday, August 17, 2011

White kids may have turned black, but black kids have turned pikey

David Starkey has been something of a lightning rod in recent days after his comment that the riots in London and elsewhere were caused by 'white kids turning black'. On the one hand, and rather understandably, the Black community has attacked him for suggesting by default that there is something inherently 'black' about a wave of rioting and looting. On the other, sections of the right wing have lauded his comments, because they contain both an excuse and an apparent justification which allows them to ignore the reality that there were just as many if not more white kids than kids from the minorities - whatever the racial make-up of the rioters, it was 'black culture wot dun it'.

The truth of all this appears to have got lost in the recriminations, but one thing is certain - Starkey was wrong, but not for the reasons you may think. There was an essential germ of truth in what Starkey said, and we ignore it at our peril: there is a subsection of black culture which wants to emulate the Jamaican Yardie gangs, and the perceived violence which springs from the gang culture. And in those areas, yes, there are white kids who join in - Yardie violence in the UK is no longer a solely 'black on black' affair. As Yardie gangs became the dominant force in many of the areas affected by the riots, so white kids from the same neighbourhoods were drawn towards them. Songs such as 'Pretty fly (for a white guy)' and characters such as Ali G parody the attempts of some to become a part of such a culture, and while essentially comedy items, we should not overlook the reality behind the smile.

Further, Starkey was partially correct over the use of Jamaican patois by these kids, black and white. Where Starkey was crashingly wrong was to overlook the British influence on all of this. British Yardies who found themselves back in the yards of Trenchtown where the culture originated would last about 5 minutes: there is a world of difference between strutting the streets of Tottenham decked out in medallions, sideways baseball cap and the other trappings of 'gangsta', and the reality of poverty on a Caribbean island - something which I doubt Starkey has ever seen.

The British influence is the 'pikey' or 'chav' influence, a sort of instinctive nihilism which has spread across exactly the sort of kids (and the not so young) who were doing the rioting and looting. While the mock patois of the wanna be gangstas is inspired by the Jamaican roots of the Yardie gangs, it is also tinged by the mockney of troubled white youth. It is not a very long trip from Yardie heartlands such as Tottenham to areas in Kent and Essex where the problem is not Yardies, but the 'plastic pikeys': no hope chavs, functionally illiterate and with zero job propects, who model their own lives on a pastiche of what they believe traveller culture to be. The attempt at the use of a quasi-Jamaican patois, while amusing, has been modified by 'pikey speak', with everyone being called 'Bruv' or 'Cuz', and here you find the roles reversed: kids speaking a strange mix of Jamaican patois and estuary English, tinged by shades of US gangsta.

Of course, the reasons are the same. Certain inner city neighbourhoods were effectively taken over by the Yardie culture many years ago - the attraction was that in an area with little hope for the future, the Yardie culture showed an imperviousness to the forces of law and order, a barrier beyond which the Daily Mail reading middle classes could not pass, and a means of escaping the circumstances which had created them. In other areas, the Pikey culture took hold: modelled largely on an imagined traveller culture where law and order was dispensed internally, benefits were taken but taxes weren't paid, and the arrival of a group of travellers on a publicans doorstep raised real fears about how to get rid of them without having the place smashed up.

Over time, these two rather nihilistic sub-cultures have in some respects melded into one, and spread much further than the original groups from which they sprang. Yardie culture has as much to do with Jamaicans as pikey culture has to do with the genuine travelling community - nothing at all.

In both cases the causes of the problem were the same, and something so far beyond the understanding of Starkey that one wonders whether he would even believe it if it was explained to him. There is a fracturing of British society into 'us and them', the leaders and the lead, which is accelerating all the time. The lack of social mobility, the pretence that increasingly worthless qualifications are an indication of a better educated populace, and the slow disappearance of responsibility all play their part, and perhaps are worthy of another post in their own right later on. But what all of these have created is a nihilistic underclass, ill educated, lacking parental guidance and possibly lacking parents who even understand the reasons why they should provide guidance. They own little, have few propects of ever owning more, are consigned to a shrinking pool of jobs which require no qualifications and find themselves competing for even those few jobs with ever larger numbers of migrants who possess those qualities which they lack. Their experience of youth has been that the police are a distant body who have no interest of tackling the problems of a growing underclass, and on the rare occasions they do, the punishment never seems to fit the crime. And so - why should they care?

So yes, in some respects, Starkey was right - the white kids have adopted a measure of black 'culture'. But he was also wrong - the nihilistic attitude we've allowed to gain the upper hand in some areas comes equally from the black kids there turning pikey, and that's a home grown, white 'culture' problem. Unfortunately, Starkey has given (on a flagship news show) a tool to those who attack militant Islam because they can pretend that it's not 'racist' to turn their fire on 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant kids in the city centres. It is a mistake to see the riots as a product of race, whatever the colour of the rioters, and it is an even bigger mistake to see it as a product of immigrant culture, whether Jamaican or elsewhere. The reality is that we've created this ourselves by allowing an underclass to grow up without hope. We will not solve it by pointing fingers unless we point them at ourselves.


  1. Well written and I would say accurate. Chav/pikey culture has been allowed to run "Riot" literally...

  2. I was waiting for some stupid comment about "MP's Expenses"
    , but since it didn't arrive, yes, agreed, and pretty much what I have been saying myself.