When Arab youth rose up against authority, Western media dubbed it the Arab spring. The first protests were sparked by the death of one of their own at the hands of government authorities. Western media lauded those Arab whippersnappers for being so smart and trendy and using social media like Twitter to organize their resistance to these authoritarian regimes. Many of those young “protesters” were protesting because they were out of work and felt ill-treated by their government. As the “protests” spread across the Arab world, you could almost hear the Western media’s smug tone. Of course the youth were rising up.
This weekend predominantly young people in the Tottenham Road area of London, England rose up against authorities. They were sparked by the death of one of their own. They were fueled by resentment at a government that they do not feel is responding to their needs and to an economy that seems to have no place for them.
I’m sure I’m missing many key differences in particulars, but what struck me most was how the media covered these two uprisings.
Arab spring meet Tottenham riots. National Public Radio this morning focused on the looting and questioned the economic motives behind the riots, making no mention during the half hour I was listening to the death that had sparked the uprising. Rather than praising the creative young organizers, NPR described the “rioters” as using social media to plan their attack. What is this? A tool that seemed a tool of liberation suddenly seems threateningly subversive, altogether too dangerous. Is this an issue of race? An issue of west vs. east, authoritarian vs. democratic regimes? Or, as my dad would say, do the Tottenham “riots” pee a little too close to our collective back porch?
Unemployment in our own country is nearly 3% higher for those ages 20-29 than for the general population. S&P downgraded our credit rating for the first time since 1917 because our government seems slightly dysfunctional in its efforts to resolve a financial crisis that our media can’t decide is real. And let’s not talk about the unemployment rate for African-Americans ages 20-29, or the silent, pervasive racism that our country cannot seem to eradicate.
The photographs of Tottenham are haunting. Maybe we need to ask ourselves which of our own ghosts are peering from behind the images.