Perception is reality, whether we like it or not, it remains the same. It is why stereotypes exist and are projected on a daily basis. It is why the media is capable of using these stereotypes to manipulate how a person or a social group is perceived in public. It is why racism often stems from ignorance, ignorance of which can be defined as having a narrow perspective/understanding of the world. The idea of perception being reality is why sensationalism in the media is able to thrive and influence. It is why unless you are a critical thinker, unless you are someone who questions the information you are fed and, unless you are able to unlearn – your understanding of reality will often be inaccurate because it will be limited by your lack of insight. Unfortunately, despite the internet, we still live in a world full of ignorance.
On Tuesday 19th July, a number of people gathered at Hyde Park on the hottest day of the year, in order to make the most of the weather – a normal activity. As Metropolitan Police Commander BJ Harrington stated, “4000 people assembled in a London park, that’s not unusual for one of our central London parks”. So if it wasn’t an unusual occurrence, why were so many police officers on site and why were so many carrying riot shields?
According to Commander BJ Harrington, it is because what had begun to take place was an “unlicensed music event”, the police were sent to ensure public safety. Which according to the law is true; entertainment licensing may be required for any form of music entertainment with an audience of “more than 500 people” and if it is taking place outside of the hours “between 8am and 11pm”.
What had started out as the gathering of “a largely good-natured crowd”, unfortunately, ended in three stabbings, police vehicles being bottled and Hyde Park’s McDonald’s being looted. Please note that this is behaviour I do not condone, I am not in support of such violence or crime and nor am I an advocate for it. However, I do have issues with how the event was represented in the media, especially at the hands of specific prominent news outlets. I do have issues with the lack of questions in regards to why people may have responded to the police in the way that they did, we’ve heard a lot from the police’s perspective but few reports from the perspective of the attendees, aside from videos that they themselves posted on social media. I do have an issue with the implication that all who bear the same skin colour must be akin to the “violence” that took place.
The initial updates of the event being shared by attendees began on a positive note, whilst scrolling through my timeline I saw videos of people dancing and being generally festive. I switched to the moments tab later on during that day and read quite the opposite. The first thing I saw at the top of Twitter’s ‘Moments’ tab on the evening of the 19th, was this headline… “a planned bashment ‘link-up’ and ‘spontaneous water fight’ in London’s Hyde Park led to violence, with one policeman stabbed and another sustaining injury.”
Where do I even start with the amount of social damage this kind of headline has the power to do? When writing a headline, you have the freedom to be extremely particular with your choice of words because it is short and it is the first thing a person will see regardless of whether they choose to follow through and read the story or not. Whilst I understand the importance of having a “punchy” headline that will draw the reader in, I believe not swaying the reader’s judgment towards an unjust bias is also important. Is that not part of a journalist’s duty at the end of the day? The answer is, yes.
First of all, bashment – this music genre of Jamaican origin had no influence whatsoever on any of the crime that took place, yet this headline indirectly implies that it did. The mention of the genre of music is unnecessary in the reporting of the incident. Consider it a game of word association, “bashment!”… “violence!” This use of language wrongly ties the music together with the violence, this will have and has had a negative effect on how people view not only the genre but the culture that it stems from as well. People who are knowledgeable when it comes to cultures outside of their own may not have their judgement affected by such a headline, but there are vast numbers on Twitter who may have never interacted with Jamaican culture before, what does this say to them? That is a first impression unlikely to result in the manifestation of positive or even unbiased thoughts. This is the issue I have, the removal of that one word would have prevented the perpetuation of a negative stereotype. Why was it included in the first place?
The mention of bashment is particularly ironic considering the recent talk of pulling the plug on Notting Hill Carnival; the largest street festival in Europe created “as a way for Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their own cultures and traditions”. An event that has been a huge part of the culture in London for 52 years, an event where bashment and dancehall music are at the forefront.
Earlier this month the Evening Standard published an article which states that the results of a poll show that “Carnival is ‘frightening and intimidating’ and drives residents from their homes.” My question is, what are they actually afraid of? Who exactly are these residents and who exactly are they afraid of? Why are they afraid? Why this particular event? Why this particular tradition?
This is an altar call: can anyone from the congregation of selective fear please step forward and explain this to me?
I assume it is this “violence” that they fear. Violence of which, to whatever degree, occurs at every single festival. Do we consider destroying, or if we’re to be a little less “dramatic”, diluting the traditions of all existing festivals in the UK in order to appease the “fears” of all those who live in close proximity to any one? Or is it just the black-led ones?
This is why the footage of teens jumping over barriers in McDonald’s to steal cheeseburgers and the footage of street fights surfacing on social media is extremely unfortunate. It is ammunition for anyone with an influential voice to use as justification for the erasure of black culture here in the UK. I mean, the Carnival poll was commissioned by Tory MP, Victoria Borwick.
“I’VE BEEN WORKING PERSONALLY WITH BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. THIS WAS NOT ABOUT THE BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS, THIS WAS ABOUT PEOPLE INTENT ON CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR, WHO SERIOUSLY ASSAULTED MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC AND MY OFFICERS. THIS IS NOT ABOUT BLACK LIVES MATTER AND I WANT TO BE REALLY CLEAR ABOUT THAT” – METROPOLITAN POLICE COMMANDER BJ HARRINGTON.
Tuesday 19th July was field day for all digital journalists either biased, prejudice, racist, or perhaps with an agenda.
Moving on swiftly to the topic of social media (where most of the news publications were able to easily source their information and media). Social media is great when used correctly. Unfortunately, amongst all the valuable information/knowledge that can be gathered from Twitter, for example, there is a lot of noise in the same space. An influx of opinions, perspectives, and buzz that collectively have the power to influence.
Social media is also the main reason why the “global village” idea exists at the expanse that it does today and the reason why it takes only the actions of 3 people to destroy the reputation of 300. But black people are not monolithic, we are very much capable of acting as individuals and the actions of one do not automatically represent the beliefs of the other. With that being said, this incident had and has nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter protests, nothing at all. Nor does it cancel out any of the work being done for Black Lives Matter.
Despite the number of headlines I’ve read that have not only associated the violence with bashment but with the peaceful #BlackLivesMatter protests also, I don’t see the effect that this has had on the perception that some people may have of the movement as defining at all. From my perspective, the majority of all those aware of Black Lives Matter will have already formed their opinions. Let’s say they were against BLM, this Hyde Park incident is merely a garnish for a dish they had already prepared.
That doesn’t change the fact that there were in fact people chanting “Black Lives Matter” as they threw bottles at police cars, that cannot be disputed. I will speak on injustice whenever I can and I will always be for the rights of black people, but I cannot justify that. Being physically violent and attacking others, (not out of self-defense) whilst simultaneously screaming “black lives matter”, in principal is like shooting yourself in the foot. This is not even a case of respectability politics. I’m not at all suggesting that if Black people “behave”, that it will put an end to racism. What I am saying is that I care about black lives enough to also not be accepting of self-destruction in the name of “the lifestyle” or “racism will still carry on anyway so why not?”
But let’s have a look at some of those headlines I mentioned previously, the ones that wrongly associate black people as a monolithic chunk, with violence:
EVENING STANDARD: HYDE PARK TURNED INTO ‘WARZONE’ WHEN YOUTHS CHANTING ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ CLASH WITH POLICE AFTER WATER FIGHT DESCENDS INTO VIOLENCE.
Come on guys, a bit dramatic don’t you think? A warzone? Seriously? This headline is the most sensational of them all. When Black Lives Matter had absolutely nothing to do with the police clash, what does this headline explicitly imply? – That the two are directly linked. Isn’t it a journalist’s job to provide accurate information? This headline is entirely misleading.
THE SUN: WATER FIGHT TURNS INTO RIOT. COP AND TWO OTHERS STABBED DURING HYDE PARK WATER FIGHT AS YOUTHS CHANT ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’.
The recurring use of the word youths did raise an eyebrow I must admit but is not the most problematic use of language. I mean, yes it is true some, a percentage, were chanting “black lives matter”, but again as a journalist, it is your job to be aware of the fact that the two have no link. Another misleading use of socially damaging language, but I can’t say I would expect much else from The Sun.
I still find the term “youths” questionable, what connotations does the noun have, who would you associate it with?
Words by Charisse Chikwiri.