I’ve been in London for most of the summer, working on the last full chapter of my dissertation and spending time with my family at a time of crisis. It turns out that I’m also here at a time of crisis for the city and the country I come from. (I grew up in Glasgow, where England tends to be seen very much as another country at times like these, but have spent enough formative time in London that it feels like home to me too.) All I’ve seen of the riots in person is one broken window from the bus today, and some discomfiting plumes of smoke from the window of the attic room I’m staying in. But I’ve been watching intensely via Twitter.
My first instinct is to draw connections across space and time: to riots incited by police violence in Oakland and LA, and to British unrest in the 80s of my childhood. Today is my last day in London; I fly back to LA tomorrow, in the uncomfortable certainty that I’m unlikely to be leaving any of this behind. I’ve often had an expat’s nostalgia for British politics, whose problems can seem less overwhelming than their US equivalents; that has thoroughly evaporated over the past year.
As the Conservative government insists that it’s all pure criminality, and tired, dehumanizing assumptions about the race, age, and relative humanity of the criminals get trotted out, it’s pretty crucial to understand the politics of the seemingly apolitical. From journalist Laurie Penny’s Laurie Penny’s powerful blog post Panic in the Streets of London:
In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:
“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?”
The chapter I am writing is about dystopia, about––among other things––what it means to describe possible futures when your impetus is the feeling that there will be no future at all. Violence and looting from the excluded and disenfranchised is a way of expressing the inchoate rage that being denied a future creates, as former London Mayor Ken Livingston expressed to the BBC yesterday. It’s an odd feeling to be theorizing around queer theory’s calls to embrace the feeling of no future, to be turning to fictive social breakdowns, on a day like today. Yet making sense of the ways futures are constructed in fiction, history and politics has never felt more urgent to me. Or more complicated.
- WisCon 35
- Acafan conversation