Everyone and their dog put pent to paper in the aftermath of the recent riots in England. I resisted the temptation because I just don’t know. And neither do you and neither did they.
But now that middle-class commentators are being wheeled out by the BBC to tell us all that Britain is broken, that we have a feral youth, that we have lost our moral compass I have to put pen to paper and say – “shut up – because you just don’t know”.
I was brought up in a solid middle-class household on the outskirts of Liverpool. I have two degrees, no debt, a lovely home and have never been unemployed. I live in Crieff, and only occasionally see a non-white face. I have absolutely no idea what it is like to live a life of poverty, social isolation and deprivation. Neither do you, I’m guessing, and neither do the commentators called on to talk about what went wrong.
I am a single mum and since being a young teen my son has been much taller and stronger than me. I mention this only because there has been lots of talk that mothers should have kept their sons at home. How exactly? The situation never arose for me, which is just as well as I have no idea how to restrain a grown man determined upon leaving the house without my permission. Do you?
And is it really all down to poor parenting? While he is a wonderful young man I knew that he was only as good as the company he kept. Teenagers are unfinished articles, prone to quixotic actions, with little sense of danger and little concern for consequence. I know that because I was one, I grew up with lots and I raised one. They do stupid things because their pals tell them to, because they want to fit in, because it looks like fun, lots of reasons but not many of them rational. My son had, and still has, great friends, for which I am grateful. I’m also grateful to their parents for instilling in their children the same core of values that I gave to my son. But this need not have been the case. Had he met and been influenced by a different set of friends could I be sure that the values I gave him would have stopped him taking more notice of his new friends than his old mother? I cannot be sure. If you have children can you be absolutely sure? I doubt it, so why are the commentators so sure?
I feel pretty sure that he wouldn’t throw a brick through a shop window. If he was walking down a road and saw a box of wine sitting on the pavement I’m not 100% sure that he wouldn’t take a bottle. I think probably not but am not certain. I do not know for sure. If a friend was to take a few bottles and later bring them back to share I’m not sure that he wouldn’t take a glass. I’m not sure that anyone can be completely whiter that white on those grounds. We all like a bargain and do we always question where the man paving our driveways got the slabs?
My point is that if we cannot be sure about these things in our own privileged worlds how can we possible know what it is like from the viewpoint of poverty and deprivation? I don’t think we can. Parenting probably did play a role in the riots but parenting does not take place in a vacuum and can’t be divorced from social conditions.
I think we can try to find out what the root causes of unrest are but in the meantime will all the experts please just SHUT UP because you don’t know.