Bang Bang In Da UK
By Ishmail Blagrove Jnr
The root of the black-on-black violence problem in Britain goes back to the Cold War era. In the 1970s, Jamaicans elected the charismatic socialist Prime Minister, Michael Manley, who had expressed his solidarity with Cuba and many other radical Third World leaders
The CIA, feeling threatened by Manley's rhetoric, began a process of de-stabilising the socio-economic and political climate of Jamaica.
Cuban President Fidel Castro had pledged to build schools and hospitals in Jamaica; this ignited in the United States government a fear that Manley was being influenced by communism. In response, the US smuggled weapons and ammunition to the Island to supply Jamaica's opposition group, the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP).
In an effort to intimidate voters and secure political supremacy, both parties raced to arm their supporters. Militias were formed, political assassinations became common, and the Island played host to an escalation of civil violence which saw 900 people killed during the election of 1980.
This political instability led to an increased ‘brain drain’ on the economy as more and more Jamaicans emigrated to Britain, Canada and the USA. Camouflaged amongst the new arrivals were many of the political henchmen and seasoned killers of the Island's political civil war who found it easy to blend into the social fabric of Black Britain.
They were adopted by communities struggling to come to terms with racial inequality, police harassment, high unemployment, and inferior housing conditions: conditions which made many black British youths become anti-establishment and to regard anti-social behaviour as a form of resistance, an attack against ‘Babylon.’
Behind this backdrop of social inequality, the underworld was never short of new recruits. For many, this underworld represented resistance, salvation and ultimate financial independence from an institutionally racist society.
At that time, marijuana was 'the drug of choice' and the only substance peddled within the black underworld; cocaine was then the exclusive preserve of the stressed-out white middle classes. It was extremely rare then to find black folks using or selling the 'white powder,' especially as it was hugely stigmatised by the rest of the community. It is this very underworld, and the larger community of which it is a part, that were thrown into turmoil when many of the new arrivals began to demarcate territories and turfs of influence using methods of intimidation learnt in the ghettos of politically divided Kingston.
Alas, the mid-1980s unleashed its most potent plague: ‘crack’ cocaine. It quickly became an epidemic that took the world, especially the urban poor, completely by surprise. It offered fresh opportunities for many of those on the margins of society who had been forgotten amidst the excesses and extravagances of the 1980s Thatcher/Reagan consumer culture.
Caribbean ghettos and Britain's dilapidated council estates, a revolution was taking place.
From the concrete jungles of American housing projects to the dollar-hungry
For some, 'crack' cocaine was fuelling dreams of a better life and an escape from institutionalised poverty; for the majority, it was devastating the very communities in which it was being sold. Individuals made vast sums of money, easily eclipsing the most successful marijuana dealers of old.
'Ghetto superstars' were born overnight, while the communities in which they continued to live and 'do business' suffered from the ill effects of increased drug addiction among their fold. Theft and violence rose in proportion to the sight of fast cars, heavy jewelry, and a champagne lifestyle that now defined the new 'urban elite' and ignited the imaginative curiosity of frustrated urban youths who could neither find work nor their rightful place in Britain's 'loads-a-money' consumer culture.
The majority of these new players were disgruntled British-born youngsters, but the Jamaican arrivals wasted no time moving in to dominate the era. Consequently, the mainstream media corrupted the term 'Yardie,' a word originally used to refer to any person from Jamaica, into a synonym for a drug-lording, pistol-packing, black foreigner.
Violence in the turf wars increased as Britain's black youth began fighting back, employing the same vicious, no-compromise attitude which defined their rivals. As bodies fell in shocked communities, the home element gradually regained their lost territories and the grudging respect of the newly arrived.
Alliances were forged where nationality and ancestry held no importance, for the new motto 'getting paid' defused all prejudices. Still the headlines read, ‘YARDIES,YARDIES,YARDIES,’ as the media continued to portray all black men as violent Jamaican foreigners.
As a new generation comes of age, the history behind the current violence has become obscured while legends are born and myths sewn. To a new generation who know no other way, a cavalier attitude towards violence has developed and, to some, is even considered a rite of passage.
They have become their own best practitioners and, unwittingly, the victims of a violent fate. Behind this subculture, there is no vanguard, no community acceptance, no definable benefit to the whole of our people: just a self-perpetuating form of death.
Why are so many of our youth chasing illusions and leaving their mark on the pages of history with their own blood? How do we solve the problem when we know there are no quick fixes? How do we re-condition and re-educate our youth to extinguish their desire to consume and never replenish?
Some point to a range of contributing factors to our current condition: The breakdown of the family, low self-esteem, particularly among boys, racial discrimination, a lack of positive role models; the list goes on.
In truth, our people have fallen victim to a consumer culture which promotes extravagance and excess, yet excludes the vast majority of us from attaining these excesses by legitimate means.
Our salvation lies not in finding some mythical cohesion amongst our various communities and collectively fighting the bigoted stereotypes perpetuated by a mainstream society, but perhaps in changing our own responses to that society by taking responsibility for our actions and addressing the social ills which corrupt our environment and sabotage our legitimate ambitions, and by taking control of our own lives instead of handing it over to the mercy of others.
Only when we begin to act in our own interest and work together with trust and real communication; only then may we begin to truly understand the phenomenon of self-perpetuated violence and addiction that has turned some sections of our communities up-side-down and brought no end to our suffering.
Ishmahil Blagrove jr is a documentary film maker. He has covered stories for such broadcasters as the BBC and Channel 4 news in Britain. He is presently a director and editor of ricenpeas - an award-winning media company.
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