The essay stems from a series of black British research, related to the journal «Race Today» (1969-1988) and to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, which, from the 70s, started to draw attention on Law and Order’s and official media’s construction of blackness as danger or problem. In particular they focussed on how, through representations and statistics manipulations, the association between blackness and criminality crystallised in British mentality: that is on how black Britons were not only silenced, but also made visible. Stuart Hall opens his Black Men, White Media (1974) underlining how «there is something radically wrong with the way black immigrants – West Indians, Asians, Africans – are handled by and presented on the mass media». While in Police and Thieves (1982) Paul Gilroy denounces the fact that racism was progressively becoming an integrating part both in police education and in institutional statements, and that the struggles of black communities were deprived of their legitimacy: «blacks have been identified as the “dangerous classes” whose criminal culture erupts periodically […]. The popular conceptions of their criminality embodied in the mugger, the Rasta and, latterly, the rioter have been defined and amplified by the police». The essay wants to analyse especially the novel The Siege of Babylon (Farroukh Dhondy, 1978) and the travelogue Behind the Frontlines. Journey into Afro-Britain (Ferdinand Dennis, 1988). Both explore what Gilroy refers to as “The Myth of Black Criminality”, that is «the images and representations of black criminality which [seem] to have achieved a mythic status in the lexicon of contemporary race politics». By giving voice to the “angered” youth, these texts unveil a different reality behind the one officially reported: they investigate the reasons leading black Britons to “un-social” behaviour and answer back to those images fixed in the national unconscious; but they also show how the body and the style of the militarised black activist or the dishevelled Rasta had a role in the process of re-signification of blackness from a marker of shame to a marker of pride, while pointing out to the problematic association between blackness and masculinity.

From Mugger to Rioter: The Myth of Black Criminality in Two Black British Texts

Francesco Cattani
2018

Abstract

The essay stems from a series of black British research, related to the journal «Race Today» (1969-1988) and to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham, which, from the 70s, started to draw attention on Law and Order’s and official media’s construction of blackness as danger or problem. In particular they focussed on how, through representations and statistics manipulations, the association between blackness and criminality crystallised in British mentality: that is on how black Britons were not only silenced, but also made visible. Stuart Hall opens his Black Men, White Media (1974) underlining how «there is something radically wrong with the way black immigrants – West Indians, Asians, Africans – are handled by and presented on the mass media». While in Police and Thieves (1982) Paul Gilroy denounces the fact that racism was progressively becoming an integrating part both in police education and in institutional statements, and that the struggles of black communities were deprived of their legitimacy: «blacks have been identified as the “dangerous classes” whose criminal culture erupts periodically […]. The popular conceptions of their criminality embodied in the mugger, the Rasta and, latterly, the rioter have been defined and amplified by the police». The essay wants to analyse especially the novel The Siege of Babylon (Farroukh Dhondy, 1978) and the travelogue Behind the Frontlines. Journey into Afro-Britain (Ferdinand Dennis, 1988). Both explore what Gilroy refers to as “The Myth of Black Criminality”, that is «the images and representations of black criminality which [seem] to have achieved a mythic status in the lexicon of contemporary race politics». By giving voice to the “angered” youth, these texts unveil a different reality behind the one officially reported: they investigate the reasons leading black Britons to “un-social” behaviour and answer back to those images fixed in the national unconscious; but they also show how the body and the style of the militarised black activist or the dishevelled Rasta had a role in the process of re-signification of blackness from a marker of shame to a marker of pride, while pointing out to the problematic association between blackness and masculinity.
Francesco Cattani
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11585/774228
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