If poor urban people of color rioted in the areas they live in, in cities in the US, in a serious huge way, what fraction of property destroyed would be their own? What fraction of people rioting would be destroying property of their own, their friends and families, people they’d ever even met? A tenth? A hundredth? What must that look like in the UK right now—whose property is being destroyed?
I’m wondering this because of the argument that people are destroying “their own neighborhood,” which has always come off to me as being steeped in a middle-class misunderstanding of other people’s poverty. Who owns the house they live in? In New Haven, almost all the houses in the POC neighborhoods are subdivided to be rented as separate floors. I literally know 3 couples in the city who own the house they live in; 2 of those couples are either my past or present landlords. If my block rioted, for the most part we would not be destroying our own property.
Are the riots destroying more than the police do? (They’re the only ones within this story who have killed someone.) Are they destroying more than unemployment and hunger do? Are they destroying more than developers would; are they doing the developers’ work for them anyway? What about the community being destroyed when people are evicted, when people hide out or move away because of racism or xenophobia, when people are convicted of crimes and locked up under a penal system built on oppression, when people are taught collective self-loathing in school, when people are forbidden to speak their own languages?
And what does that mean, “their own neighborhood?” What does ownership of the place you live mean, if you don’t even have the money or skin color to own it? What does ownership mean if you live in public housing and know that, any day now, the city can sign it over to real estate holders who will tear it down and build condos with no remorse? What does ownership mean when there is no longer a place to get sufficiently healthy food in your neighborhood, or there is but the only people who shop there come from other parts of town, or there is but only because the white people moving in aren’t being ignored the way your family was for generations?
How can you force ownership, from afar, onto communities that have been made this deeply alienated from where they are and how they relate to the people and places around them, if they have never before been allowed or encouraged to own anything, property or otherwise?
If you loot a shoe store of a company run by a white man overseas that makes billions of dollars, that cuts costs by using sweatshop labor of people of color and then marketing them back to a different demographic of people of color; if you steal a pair of pants from a clothing store that won’t hire people of color from the neighborhood and follows them around the store when they come in; if you break the window of a multi-billion dollar fast food chain restaurant whose $1 meals are, on a bad day, all you have money and time to feed your kids, knowing that the food you are feeding them is damn near toxic but having no alternatives; are you doing anything to your real community? Will you ever meet the people who actually own all of that?