I live in Haringay, the same borough as Tottenham, where the riots started that have since spread across London. If you take the 41 bus from the corner of my street, you’ll be in Tottenham in 15 minutes or so. But Crouch End, where I live, is a middle-class enclave, popular with families, full of cute little cafes and bakeries. It’s a world away from Tottenham.
So it irked me when I went out to a pub in Crouch End today and heard everyone talking about the rioters with such certainty in their voices. The rioters were lazy, ungrateful, greedy, badly parented, yobs just looking for an excuse to do some looting. The solutions were simple – stricter policing, bring in the army maybe, have a curfew, tougher sentencing, bring back national service.
As I left the pub and went around Crouch End doing my shopping, I heard the same views expressed with the same certainty. Yet of all those people I very much doubt if any of them had any idea what it was like to grow up on a deprived council estate in Tottenham. In fact, I doubt they’d even met anyone who had any idea what it was like to grow up on a deprived council estate in Tottenham.
Of course, they’re entitled to their opinions anyway. But it saddens me that there was so much certainty, so much unanimity, so much self-righteous condemnation of people they didn’t have a clue about. It seems to me that putting forward so many easy explanations is often a way of avoiding the true explanations, which may be unpalatable. If we wanted the true explanations, we’d have to show an interest in the lives of the people we normally just blank out. We’d have to move out of our middle class comfort zone and go to uncomfortable places and perhaps discover uncomfortable things. We’d find out what makes someone feel so marginalised that the only way they can express themselves is by burning down a carpet shop. We might find out a lot of other things too. Maybe that’s why we never ask.