Yes, they are all black

Back in 2006, I said to Charlie Stross that the zeitgeist of the near future would be exasperation. I also said something similar as a comment on the Halting State book-in-progress, so if you think everyone in it seems grumpy, you’ve got me to thank.

But, of course, we’ve now landed in the near future of 2006. Scottish independence didn’t show up on schedule, but a shitkicker of a recession did, and the exasperation seems to be doing pretty well. After all, I think we could all agree that los indignados are as exasperated as they are indignant. Which makes me ask: what if David Starkey was right? Scholars of blogging will recognise the move I just pulled – I think of it as a Dillow, after Chris Dillow, who begins most of his posts with a bit of provocation for the dads that usually consists of him claiming to agree with some horrible rightwing ogre or other.

Having Dillowed, let’s get to the point. Obviously, it’s not his bizarre belief that everyone around him speaks Jamaican patois (Language Log fisks), or his bog standard moral panicking, or getting himself up in Enoch drag, that I wish to examine. It’s his contention that “the whites have become black”.

Random serendipity takes us to Jezebel of all places (party like it’s 2008!), where they’re covering American youth being advised to fix their problems by lowering their expectations, because the economy sucks and has done so since 2007, they’re in enormous tuition-fee debt, and nobody has any intention of doing anything at all about this. The comments at Jared Bernstein’s are pretty good too.

Here’s John Harris in West Bromwich for the Guardian, as part of a really excellent trio of field reports from the riots:

The rate of youth unemployment here is 33%; the town centre has a pinched, sad ambience, and there are precious few of the usual high street names….”If they’re stopping EMA [Education Maintenance Allowance],” added another, “what do they want us to do?” Hearing this, I wondered whether this was a line cynically pinched from some talking head on the TV, and parroted back at me, but all six said they wanted to go to college – a music course was mentioned, with retakes of GCSEs – but in the absence of the EMA, they were now wondering whether it was worth it.

Shiv Malik, in Salford and also back in the office, playing a blinder:

In one of the first barometers of attitudes from the generation who have found themselves entering the job market during the economic downturn, the survey overseen by academics at Teesside University, found that 57% said that employers were discriminating against them because of their youth. It also found that almost one in four were depressed about their future.

Teesside youth and communities expert Professor Tony Chapman said the results were “very worrying” especially if it meant that young people would now give up on their future. And at the heart of this depression lay a lack of security. Only 49% believed they would have a secure job in five years’ time…

In interviews with the young people it was clear that they were shocked and angered that their futures had suddenly been made so uncertain by the hiking of student fees and the abolition of the education maintenance allowance…

Housing benefits are being slashed for the young more than for the old through the mechanism of the share room rate. The house building budget has been slashed by 60% at a time when a housing shortage has hiked up prices, making it impossible to get on the housing ladder. And on top of the scrapping of the Future Jobs fund and the tripling of student fees, local councils have also aimed their cuts on youth services as they are not deemed essential services. Another exacerbating factor is that of fast inflating rents in the private rented sector, where most young people now live because it takes years for them to get their own social housing…

Also, this piece of Pual Lewis’s isn’t much for analysis but is plenty of field reporting.

This from Adbusters (aww! party like it’s 1999) is predictably quite the rant, and it kicks off with that UN “survey of childhood” that made the papers a while back. As a former boy, I doubt strongly that I would have been happier through spending more nights in with my parents, but if you read past the first stick or so it picks up force and effect. It also makes the case that the problem is not moral and not even one of “consumerism” or any such – rather it is political and economic and architectural, an issue of power and money and buildings.

Here’s a fascinating chart that I was sure I’d blogged somewhere, from the Resolution Foundation. It shows the type of housing tenure in various income groups. Under 35s are on the left, general population on the right.

So where am I going with all this? First of all, back to the exasperation. You think I was pissed off in 2006? At least there was a long slow upwards drag ahead. I eventually got rid of my student overdraft by quitting T&F Informa and taking ship aboard Telco 2.0, in the credit-crunching summer of 2007. A few classes further back, though, everyone was being delivered from the education system direct into the great crisis, just with even more student debts, after a school career characterised by even more hectoring and testing than mine. This all started long before anyone cared about it – a detail that stands out in my mind is that we had mock mock exams to prepare for the mock exams intended to prepare us for the exams, and I recall being really terrified of the future as far back as year 7 because I cocked up an end-of-year paper.

Outside the school gates, property went through the first wave of hyperinflation in 2001-2002 and wages stopped rising a year afterwards. And, well, what I said:

Meanwhile, we were told we ought to consume and keep the economy going, take part in the creative industries and volunteer, but do this while joining the job market, to borrow heavily to pay for further and higher education, to accumulate savings on deposit, to save for retirement (or in other words, to pay others’ pensions), that we were a bunch of unserious greenies, that we were politically apathetic, that we would face the consequences of climate change (after it became respectable to worry), that we were all drug fiends and music characterised by repetitive beats was against the law, that we weren’t getting on the housing ladder, that we were borrowing too much money (this from the people who brought you Citigroup) and that people who were slightly younger ought to be punished for playing hooky in order to demonstrate against the Iraq war. To cap the lot, we were told we were drinking too much. If we were, who could guess why?

So, is David Starkey right? Is it, in fact, true to say that the young have all become black, in a moral, political, and especially, economic sense? I rather think it is.

Whether you like Robert Altemeyer’s thesis that about 20% of the population are predisposed to authoritarian thinking, whether as leaders or followers, and gravitate to it quite independently of what the authoritarianism is about, or whether you prefer an analysis of racism that emphasises a Marxist view in which it’s a substitute for class, or whether you take the view that it’s one of the ways society defines an enemy on which it can project its own moral failings, I think you can make a case that youth-hatred has become a substitute for racism.

If you’re not meant to harass the black kids any more, it’s far easier just to harass the kids, incidentally getting the black ones, than to harass nobody. That would imply real change, and the authoritarians, they don’t like change.

This is a caricature, of course. But I do think it is interesting and relatively new that young people think they are the targets of systematic discrimination as such, while their interests are in fact affected by problems we would find no difficulty at all in denouncing as injustice if they were, for example, all black. They are, actually, disproportionately unemployed, indebted, under-housed, bothered by the police and by the forces of authority more generally, subject to constant insults by the official media, and the losers from major changes in government policy.

Of course, everyone will say that they had no intent to discriminate against the young. But it was impossible to do anything serious about racism until the barrier of intent was crossed, and it was no longer sufficient to say that the black people just happened to get searched by the police at absurdly high rates, because after all nobody had ordered the police to do that.


  1. 1 exclusion zone « Alternate Seat of TYR

    […] bet you thought I was kidding. But try this lede: Taped to the inside of a Sainsbury’s window in King’s Lynn, a […]




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