Songs of a Forgotten Generation
“They don’t believe in their true powers, or the power of this world; they cannot see a world in a grain of sand, nor heaven in a wild flower. Such things are becoming more and more alien to us.”
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:
– Excerpt from London by William Blake
The streets of the inner cities are awash with blood, or so we are told. Only a few weeks ago, the news that London had a higher murder rate than New York City was everywhere here. Although the numbers have been debated, the truth is that this news made headlines in the UK.
What’s the big deal, you may well be thinking. After all, aren’t the two major cities, huge stars on the world stage. Both have similar populations, both upward of eight million (that number is mind-blowing to this northern country bumpkin), though NYC does have a higher population density. But in a country where guns are illegal, you’d like to think that would reduce the number of killings.
Knife crime is devastating inner city areas, and like all other things here in the UK, the problem is magnified in London.
As is so woefully predictable, the government responses have been and are wholly inadequate and dividing, doing next to nothing to help resolve this issue.
Throughout modern history, whenever there has been some kind of civil unrest or some upsurge in crime, governments have always been quick to point the finger of blame away from themselves, and towards ‘soft’ targets. In the fifties it was rock and roll music; the sixties and seventies had the Mods and Rockers; in the eighties and nineties it was gangsta rap and metal; The noughties saw Eminem and computer games as the devil. Today we have grime, or more specifically drill music.
This, so our politicians would tell us, is the root cause for the current surge in violent crimes and knife crime in our cities.
Grime And Drill Music
Grime music has really exploded on the UK music scene the past few years, moving from a genre that was seen as very much underground to today where many of its artists feature in the top 40, sometimes with top ten hits. Whilst it still remains the voice of the forgotten and of the streets, you’ll now see middle class youths snapping up tickets for shows or driving around in parent bought cars blaring out the likes of Stormzy or Skepta (grime artists who have made it into the mainstream) from their speakers.
Drill music is a sub-genre of grime, and still very much underground. The lyrics are hard, dealing with themes including violence, drug taking and the harsh realities of hard lives lived amongst the cracks and other forgotten crooks and crannies of the city.
With this in mind, it is easy to see why the government has zoned in on drill music as being the sole cause of these problems. With increasing pressure, the videos that are of the drill genre are being taken down from YouTube, no doubt the first step in censorship of these records.
This in itself may be seen as an attack. What makes grime music unique is that many of its stars have risen to fame, not through the usual means like record companies and talent shows, but through YouTube. Artists such as JME rap about coming from nothing, living on council estates and not being given a chance to progress through the usual channels.
Music, and the opportunities sites such as YouTube present to those young people give them an escape from poverty and the life choices the government say they are trying to prevent.
It is yet another example of how far removed these politicians are from the lives of everyday folks, never mind those that find themselves on the margins of society.
Poverty and Policies
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody Poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we:
– Excerpt from The Human Abstract by William Blake
The problem with the governments plan to reduce knife and violent gang related crime are many, but can all be shepherded under the banner of poverty, or rather the inability of the Home Office and the government to recognise poverty as a major factor.
Inner city areas, especially council and social housing estates are rife with poverty – let’s face it, people don’t live here out of choice, not in cramped houses that are often neglected by landlords. I’ve written before about the Grenfel Tower, a council owned block of flats and the state of those homes and the faults that led to such devastation.
The people who live in places such as these are often at the bottom of society, especially in a society that places wealth and the ownership of objects above all else. It doesn’t matter that many of the residents of council estates, including those in the cities, are often decent people trying to make the best of bad situations, that they are decent human beings. Because they cannot afford to own or privately rent their homes, they are somehow seen as less.
The children who grow up in such places are often the ridicule of their peers at school. Their parents cannot afford the latest this or that, meaningless shit in the grand scheme of things. They learn early on that, in the words of KRS 1, to stay on course they have to roll with force. As a working class, council estate girl, I can certainly confirm this. It means that to progress, to get on, you need to be willing to be hard if and when the time comes. You have to stick up for yourself.
Of course, most of us don’t end up in gang related violence, so it is not poverty alone.
It is here that the policies of successive governments come into play. These policies, along with the hardship and challenges that poverty brings combine, mingle and interweave until we are left with the hot mess that we have now.
Services are ever being cut every where you look. The town where we live has been identified as a growth spot by the government, and construction is already underway to increase the number of homes by the hundreds, though the plans are that the population of the town will increase by thousands over ten years. Despite this, the local hospital is forever being downgraded – against the wishes of the residents – so much so that it no longer has an accident and emergency department, and seemingly every week there are reports of this or that service are no longer available.
It’s not only hospitals, it’s all services that might otherwise provide a lifeline for those vulnerable youths, services like children centres and youth clubs; affordable sports facilities and equipment. I could go on but you get the picture. Despite the government telling us that services don’t suffer when the money gets taken away, we all know that’s not true.
Even the subject of cuts is not an easy one to tackle. For example, the cuts also affect issues surrounding money, whether that be benefits or free childcare. When the Tory party came into power in the UK, a main tacit of their campaign was ‘to make work pay’. Sounds alright, don’t you think? Many people did, even those working class folks who slaved away all week and still struggled to survive, all the while yet the next man, who chooses not to work can live a life of relative comfort. Of course ‘make work pay’ really meant to make not working, life on benefits, become unbearable.
And the real problem here of course, is that the government weren’t fair. For example, bedroom tax was applied to those deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council house, despite the lack of smaller council properties. Even where I live, the largest council estate in my town, there are only a handful of two bedroom properties within a sea of three bedroom houses.
Those with genuine disabilities, those whom you would like to see looked after and given help were deemed suitable to work, people with cancer, ex-servicemen with severe battle related injuries, and many others were let down by the system. People died or committed suicide, and Atos, the company responsible for enforcing these government checks to determine a person’s ability to work, called the Work Capability Assessment have come under fire in recent years.
Unaffordable childcare and lack of resources, combined with poverty often means that today, both parents (if both are still at home), or the single parent must work full-time to make ends meet. Those at the bottom cannot afford to be picky, especially those with little or no experience, education or training, must take jobs that take them away from the home for eight or more hours a day. Shift work is a particular struggle. Ultimately, what we are left with is a generation of latchkey kids. Children and teenagers who are left to their own devices. There’s no youth clubs, or sports facilities, and if there are, they can’t afford to use them.
As the mother of two teenage sons, I can tell you how difficult it is to parent them. It’s at this time they are beginning to find their independence, and it is at this time that they can fall into friendship groups or experiences that you know are not in their best interests.
So imagine how easy it is for those youths who come from troubled homes and backgrounds to fall into gang life. They find a family with those others, somewhere where they feel they belong. It doesn’t matter, or they can’t see that they are being used, often by older, more organised career type criminals, because for the first time they are no longer powerless, they are no longer poor and can afford to buy the things that society sees as markers of success.
To say that all of these problems are caused by music is ignorant. By doing so, the government can deny any responsibility for the violence that stalks the city streets. Instead they talk about police powers of Stop and Search which then fans the flames of racism and call outs between differing ethnic groups.
Divide. Separate. Conquer.
The Erosion of Us
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.’
– Excerpt from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake
We have forgotten ourselves.
Centuries of conditioning under this Capitalist system has led to the erosion of ourselves. We’ve forgotten that we are the stuff of stars. We’ve been led to believe that we are separate from everything else, that we are apart from nature itself.
We’ve been lied to.
The problems faced in this world, not only my countries knife crime problem, stem from the separation of us from the land and from ourselves.
I know I bang on and on (and on, some might say, wink, wink), about the land and it’s importance to us not only as a species but also spiritually, but it’s because it’s true. I feel it in the very fibre of my being, and if you feel it too, you’ll know what I mean. It would take an essay in itself to describe it.
People kill one another, thinking that the next person is their enemy when in fact they are killing themselves. These youths and young men that wage war on the streets see themselves as soldiers, but the war they are waging is against themselves. Their enemy is them, another young, angry man who only wants to make his way in the world but the world has conspired against him, and so they fight, but not their real enemies, not, poverty, nor abuse, or even the very systems that oppress them, but one another.
They don’t believe in their true powers, or the power of this world; they cannot see a world in a grain of sand, nor heaven in a wild flower. Such things are becoming more and more alien to us.
Until we start to recognise the reality of our forced separation from the land, then these issues will not be resolved, but instead will intensify.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
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