“We can’t understand the ferocity of these riots,” said Eric Hewitt, chief of Oldham’s police. “Why did the Asian youth attack us with petrol bombs?”
“It’s all because of outside agitators. NF and BNP coming into town to stir up trouble. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” bleated the council chiefs. “Oldham is a thriving multicultural community.”
Bollocks. The riots have been a long time coming and their ferocity should surprise no one. Oldham is a deeply divided town where different ethnic communities coexist, but can hardly be said to have many points of contact outside of work, schools or taxis and takeaways.
The immediate cause of the riots was revenge. Revenge against a racist police force who attacked Asian school kids when they had been called to deal with white racists attacking the kids themselves. Revenge against police who stood by two days later and watched the same racists beat up Asian boys and invade houses to attack their inhabitants. Revenge against police who routinely pick on Asian kids and subject them to racist abuse.
It was a result of mounting tension caused by repeated invasions of the town by NF/BNP types intent on making trouble. Invasions that were tolerated by the police. Invasions that led to hysteria in all sections of Oldham’s community. Hysteria that was pumped up by the local press, carrying repeated stories about how the NF were coming. Hysteria that led to youngsters being frightened to go into the town centre, frightened to leave their own community areas.
The tension was due in part to the reporting of the local paper, the Evening Chronicle. That rag had spent years reporting every mugging of a white person by an Asian youth as a racist attack, rather than the evil action of a piece of anti-social filth. A reporting which was colluded in by the police, who claim that 60% of racist attacks in Oldham are Asian on white. A tension which made all Asian people feel they were being stared at and considered racist.
The tension was due to the separation of the communities, itself a product of Oldham’s deliberate housing policy. Condemned by the CRE in 1991 as racist, Oldham’s housing department had made sure that council estates were ethnically pure. This policy created large deprived white working class estates, away from the town centre with few facilities. It forced Bengali people into Westwood and Coldhurst, Pakistanis into Glodwick. An Asian person in Oldham is more likely to have a neighbour of the same ethnic group than anywhere else in the country.
Growing up separately, people see little in common with each other. Unemployment and poor wages are common in Oldham. They are worse in Asian areas than white, but cut across the town causing a deep-seated sense of grievance. The grievances lead one group to blame the other for their problems, rather than seeing a common enemy in the capitalist system that ultimately causes them. They lead different ethnic groups to identify with race rather than class.
The riots were encouraging in showing that Asian youth have had enough. On the other hand they were depressing to the extent that they led to attacks on pubs and shops seen as “belonging to whites”.
What seems inevitable is that the state will foster the myth that it was all due to outside agitators. They will offer nothing of any real value to the working people of Oldham, but will feel content to blame them for the problems in the town.Back to Home Page