Inner City Youth, London
July 20, 2006 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Inner City Youth, London "In 2002, Simon Wheatley began photographing London's publich housing developments...and was able to obtain a level of intimacy with his subjects that provides a true picture of the daunting project of growing up in the intimate confines of drug use, societal neglect, and poverty." This (Flash-based) narrated slideshow features Wheatley's work, and is a look at the culture...and also the music (grime) "as an artistic response to the place and circumstance, an expression of the violence, bleakness, and neglect..." (via Future Feeder)
posted by tpl1212 (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a strong concentration of black people in these images, and I found that kind of surprising. I would have expected it in the US, but I had this idea that the races were more integrated in the UK. The narrator actually makes reference to racism at some point. Is there a lot of racism in England?
posted by willnot at 8:08 AM on July 20, 2006

wow! That was fantastic.

Inner cities really don't offer much hope. Those photographs and narration highlight the facts of the throw away class. There is no opportunity or way out aside from jail, music, drugs or death.

Also, it was finally good to hear some common sense about the exportation of hip hop gangsta culture across the world. It has harmed so many youth in so many countries by making the notion of beating up your bitches, slinging drugs and violence look cool. And the kids just keep eating it up....
posted by Funmonkey1 at 8:12 AM on July 20, 2006

Oh my yes, there is indeed a lot of racism in England. But since almost no one will talk about it, you really have to spend some time there, and kind of let it soak in. You don't really notice it at first, but after a couple of months, you almost can't see anything but the racism. And it runs in both directions.
posted by slatternus at 8:15 AM on July 20, 2006

What slat said.. however, I've found that the racism is so understated, both parties tend to be surprised at how easy it is to actually break away, strike up friendships etc.

It's a ridiculously complex situation, quite English in how hung-up it is. Partly romanticised, feared, misunderstood, etc etc. That slide show felt like driving through a safari, to be honest.

FYI, I live in south east London, and don't know quite how I feel about this whole 'urban' situation.
posted by King_Wang at 8:23 AM on July 20, 2006

Fantastic photographs. I like this new form of audio-captioned photojournalism.

Is there a lot of racism in England?

Er, yeah, depending on where you are and which races you're talking about (eg. in the North of England, tension between white and Asian people is an order of magnitude higher than tension between black and white people in the South).

That said, the grime scene is pretty integrated - many (most?) of the crews have black, white and mixed race members. I've been involved in putting on grime events, and now that I think of it, every single act we've promoted has been a mix of black and white, if not quite 50/50.

It's probably worth pointing out that, from its inception, the grime scene has been 'mixed class' too - there are a few acts and producers who are downright posh (as in one I'm thinking of went to private school, and is from a family famous enough that everyone here would've heard of his real surname) and they are totally accepted in the scene. The Wikipedia entry touches on this with the grime connections with 'middle class' electronic music, I guess. And, since I have 12"s by all of the artists photographed and mentioned by Wheatley, I take issue with his characterisation of the lyrical content as entirely gangsa rap-like, violent and aggressive. Some of it is, for sure, but a lot is more observational of everyday life, and a significant amount is comic, jolly stuff with nary a mention of drugs and guns (the delivery is almost always fast and aggressive, though, regardless of content).
posted by jack_mo at 8:29 AM on July 20, 2006

That slide show felt like driving through a safari, to be honest.

Yeah, it was a bit like that, but I thought the narration made it clear that Wheatley had obviously spent years there, and was close to a lot of his subjects, which lessened the tourism effect for me.
posted by jack_mo at 8:33 AM on July 20, 2006


By and large there is more integration in the UK than in the US. You don't tend to have the massive slums that you get in any US city (aside from a few sink estates, that is), because in general each local neighborhood council is required by law to place public housing throughout its territory. Thus even in the poshest boroughs (Kensington & Chelsea, for instance) you will have council housing cheek-by-jowl with expensive Victorian houses. Where that picture becomes a bit muddier, however, is when you locate the council housing in already-depressed areas like Brixton or the East End. That's when you get more serious problems. Saying that, I feel much more comfortable walking through council housing anywhere in London than I would do walking through the projects back home. Much.

Now on the racism front - put simply, it's bad. There are many flavors of racism here, from the working-class anti-immigrant variety (e.g. the BNP) to the upper-middle class toffs trading nigger jokes. But again, having come from South Carolina, it still doesn't seem as bad as back home.
posted by LondonYank at 8:35 AM on July 20, 2006

Thanks for the post.
posted by ztdavis at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2006

Nice post.
posted by dame at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2006

posted by MikeMc at 10:02 AM on July 20, 2006

LondonYank, I live in Tower Hamlets, East London in a brough which I'm pretty certain the most ethically mixed in Britain. Now, I'm absolutely sure there is racism but I wouldn't say "put simply it's bad". Even though this is an area with pretty much every minority going (including yuppie scum like me) and plenty of poor whites (so vital for the BNP vote) I'd have to say people generally seem to get on pretty well.
posted by rhymer at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2006

I'm afraid to say there are parts of the UK where racism is alive and well. Two anecdotes from the city I went to university. (I don't want to say where because I genuinely like the place, have family there, and I'm not trying to troll).

Anecdote 1: a friend of mine worked in a chip shop while she was a student. She was working with a 17-year old girl who'd been in the job a few months.

When a black family walked into the shop and ordered food, she screamed and ran into the kitchen and wouldn't come out.

Her response? "I've seen them on telly, they're dirty".

Anecdote 2: the girl 'band' Mis-teeq played a gig at my college (it was in the same town as above). When they were finished, I was chatting to the night porter who said: "Aye, they wurr blackies but they wurr dead fit."

You try to challenge racism when you hear it but when the community is so homogenous and they don't even see black or Asian people except in crime dramas then fighting it is near-impossible.

Compare that to London. The other day I was in a Turkish shop buying Danish cheese being served by an Indian woman who thought I was Polish. Now that's a melting pot.
posted by randomination at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2006

Great post - thanks.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:31 PM on July 20, 2006

Yes, I guess what I was saying is that in London I don't see much racism. But then again, if you live in London you kind of assume the UK is a melting pot and that seeing people in traditional Muslim dress on the streets is an everyday thing.

But for most of the country this is far from the case. The UK is 92.1% white (National Stats). Moreover, in practice this means that outside the cities - which tend to have disproportionately high minority populations - the population is very white. And in more remote areas of the country, it's almost entirely white.

So yeah, randomination is right. Perhaps surprisingly, much of the country is homogenous WASP stock.
posted by rhymer at 1:09 PM on July 20, 2006

Good find. Could also turn into an interesting meme: audio plugin for flickr, anyone?
posted by bokeh at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2006

Inner cities really don't offer much hope.

Actually, they're great places to live--access to a level of cultural and social interaction you don't get anywhere else. IANAB (Brit), but it seems like these "estate kids" are more than comparable to "project kids" in the US. Taking a bunch of poor people and forcing them to live in squalor together is the problem, nothing inherent to city's themselves. Mixed-housing helps (building apartments, condos, and houses closer together, and thereby integrating along economic lines), as do social programs that aren't broken (the schooling these kids get, or lack thereof, sounds like complete joke, again, much like US public schools).

Sorry, I just can't stand this sort of vapid rhetoric. What, if they were growing up next to the River Derwent they'd be hunky-dory?

Also, as much as I'm a libertarian regarding drug use, I'm also a former high school teacher--if these kids are smoking that much weed, they're fucked no matter who tries to help them.
posted by bardic at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2006


A good representation of what is just around the corner for the majority of the population. Props to Simon Wheatley and the online presentation.
posted by asok at 2:18 PM on July 20, 2006

bardic, you are joking me right?

Inner cities are great places to live if you have money. If you don't its not a way forward. Everywhere people have tried integrated neighborhoods encompassing all social classes, but the said truth is poor people living in the inner city generally live in extremely squalid conditions without much possibility of getting out.

Exactly how many inner city kids in the US do you see thriving? I've lived in Boston, New York, Seattle, Denver, London, Leeds, oh and Manchester now in Oslo - and in all those places I haven't seen many, if any, inner city projects (council estates, ghettos) that thrive on that level of cultural and social interaction you speak of.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2006

Funmonkey1:"Inner cities really don't offer much hope."

bardic: "Actually, they're great places to live--access to a level of cultural and social interaction you don't get anywhere else."

I think Funmonkey was using "inner city" as a polite term for ghetto.

"...but it seems like these "estate kids" are more than comparable to "project kids" in the US....Mixed-housing helps"

Exactly. I grew up in a public housing project and there were about a half dozen single family homes at the end of my dead end street, the line dividing "the projects" from the private property was an 8" chain link fence with a triple strand barbed-wire top. It may seem like a little thing to some but that just really bothered me for years (that and the parents of my classmates that wouldn't let my friends go any farther than the fence around the school at the end of the street).
posted by MikeMc at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2006

"was an 8" chain link fence"

It was a fence of Spinal Tappian proportions (more symbolic than practical what with the toddlers ambling over it constantly).

posted by MikeMc at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2006

MikeMc, you are correct that I was using a polite term for ghetto. The idea of a chain link fence with barbed wire isn't a little thing it reinforces the class divide all the way....God that must sucked.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:40 PM on July 20, 2006

Nope, meant every word I've said. It's gotten to the point where living in a downtown area is actually much cheaper than the burbs, especially if you factor in fuel costs as opposed to just walking or taking public transportation. There's no crime in making less than the average salary, and there are a lot of reasons why it's more affordable to move closer to, if not into, and urban hub. As for the fact that you don't know many people from urban backgrounds that are "thriving," that's mildly racist of you--says a lot more about the company you keep than anything else.

PS, I'm not an urban planner, but the mixed-housing movement has been quite succesful in many places, precisely because it tends to prevent "ghettoization." It's not perfect, but it's certainly better than the 1960's estate/project model.

And speaking as someone who grew up in an upper-middle class suburb, I can assure you that plenty of kids growing up there are plenty fucked.
posted by bardic at 2:42 PM on July 20, 2006

Funmonkey1, I'm not sure what you say about the failure of inegrated neighbourhoods is totally true. Sink estates are awful but there are plenty of places (in London especially) where relative wealth and poverty live cheek by jowl.

I live in a pretty period terrace, but across the road from me is a local authority block as there is down the road from me and several houses in the terrace are local authority owned.

These people who live in these places seem to live perfectly OK lives to me; they are my neighbours. I dunno, the kids play football and stuff: they seem happy. An edwardian police station nearby is being converted and I think has to be around 35% affordable housing. The rest will be swanky flats. I presume it's going to work out too.

I'm sure these people have problems (heck, I have a credit card bill that would make some of them blanch) but within two or three blocks we have houses worth £700,000 and local authority flats. I'm not saying its some sort of utopia, but I don't see much squalour either.
posted by rhymer at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2006

I'm surprised how much these pictures remind me of the area I lived in as a teenager, in an inner-city in the midwestern US. They're interesting pictures, thanks for sharing. And thanks to all the commentators for the insight on British racial dynamics.

bardic, I think when people bemoan the 'inner city' they aren't talking literally about a centrally located urban area, and implying that urban life itself is where the problem lies. It's just a simpler way of refering to the particularly dense and poverty-riddled areas of big cities, which generally are not very fun places to live. I don't think it's just the squalor, any more than its just the city-- having lived in both poor cities and poor rural areas, I feel there are some definite differences in the dynamics. In some ways, I think the city's a better place to be shit poor-- like you mentioned, there's a great benefit to being in proximity to such a variety of cultural and social phenomenon.
posted by bookish at 2:52 PM on July 20, 2006


Well thats a fist, an crafty attempt to frame me as a mild rascist. Nice try, but no donut.

I get the feeling the last time you lived in a major city and saw firsthand the absolute lack of services and opportunities to young people in deprived areas is never.

I do agree with you that mixed housing is a better way forward but again you have to remember - even in mixed housing areas these kids and families fall directly through the cracks. The community as a whole must have a committment to offering opportunities to those people, however this doesn't happen very often due to lack of funding and a host of other reasons.

Last but not least, surely you can appreciate my snicker at your eagerness to highlight your own upper-middle class pedigree.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2006

This is good, thanks.
posted by blag at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2006

rhymer, I take the point, but again its a mixed bag. For everyone area you point out in the UK where mixed housing has been a success, there are at least another 20 where thats not the case.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2006

Snicker away. If you haven't met people who grew up in poor, urban areas and haven't "thrived," you don't get out much. Of course, I doubt they go around saying, "Hey, look at me, I'm poor and I thrived" to meet your condescending standards.
posted by bardic at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2006


thanks I will keep snickering :) Using a blanket statement like your last missive, i.e."Snicker away. If you haven't met people who grew up in poor, urban areas ......"to describe what I have seen is pretty lame. As a matter fact, I don't recall in any of my comments stating that. Oh well.

I've seen your type before lurking on the internet. There really isn't anything else to say. Bad Bardic, no donut.

*snickers more, shakes head and thanks god for the internets*
posted by Funmonkey1 at 3:21 PM on July 20, 2006

This is my 2,917th comment in the blue. I should try to do a better job of lurking.

And as long as we're talking about my upbringing, I'll go further: I grew up in a suburb mere miles from downtown DC, a city that was going through a massive murder wave during my youth in the 1980's. It was a pretty terrible mixture of urban realities feeding the fears and expectations of white middle- and upper-class stereotypes. My best friend's sister growing up was not allowed to go into DC, because as a young white woman she would, obviously, be raped and murdered the second she stepped into the District. Anacostia (againly, only about ten miles away as the crow flies), might as well have been Mars, and the only reason you could ever want to go there was to buy drugs or be murdered. Pretty much any part of the city beyond Georgetown and Northwest was thought of this way (remember, this was the 80's--Capitol Hill used to be quite affordable and hence, labelled a slum by people who'd never even stepped foot there except, of course, to visit the Capitol).

So this is a long way of saying, yes, cities have problems, and those problems are compounded by the ignorance and, quite frankly, unconscious racism of people who've never stepped foot in a "ghetto," and have never taken the time to talk to these people like human beings rather than statistics. That really bothers me, because I know people to this day who are satisfied living according to their bigoted stereotypes than actually going out of their comfort zones and trying to understand that the rich/poor dichotomy is a misleading one. Obviously, class distinctions exist, but to simply right off an entire social class because they're in the "slum" is the height of condescension. Sure, it's hard, if not harder for them at times, but further compounding stereotypes helps no one.

And to top it off, I've seen enough asinine, if not downright criminal behavior from kids from supposedly "good" neighborhoods to know that most of our expectations and biases (my own included) are bullshit.
posted by bardic at 3:36 PM on July 20, 2006

posted by bardic at 3:39 PM on July 20, 2006


You make the assumption I have put down a whole class of people and then make more assumptions about me all whilst continually pointing out your upper middle class pedigree, your roots and number of comments you've made.

That makes it rather difficult to have an interesting discussion. I happen to agree with your point of people living with there bigoted stereotypes and perpetuating a misunderstanding of rich and poor.

Also, I checked your profile and was aware of your comments merit badge you worked so hard to earn. Thats why I said there is really nothing else to say, because no matter what it ends up as just more fuel for you to go on and on and on.

However, we are probably a lot a like. I too miss Jawbox and some other bands from mid 1990s before Emo came to the forefront.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 3:52 PM on July 20, 2006

That was really good, thanks for sharing.

I'm a new arrivee in London (about 6 months in) and come from an upper middle-class Australian background and I'm currently living in the NE part of London, in Holloway. It definitely seems to have a broad and integrated racial and economic mix. In fact, one of the things that has stood out for me here, at least in London, is that rich and poor are more integrated than back home (Melbourne), where the suburb you're from is a reasonable indicator of your wealth.

And I saw a dude catching the tube this morning with a comb parked in his large afro... wicked! :)
posted by Onanist at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2006

For everyone area you point out in the UK where mixed housing has been a success, there are at least another 20 where thats not the case.

Funmonkey, I'm not saying you're wrong. But I wouldn't mind a bit of supporting evidence for this statement.
posted by rhymer at 4:14 PM on July 20, 2006

I mean, if I'm going to start viewing the folks round the corner as squalid I want to be able to back it up.
posted by rhymer at 4:17 PM on July 20, 2006


Ok. Let's take Manchester. You have areas from Oldham to Middleton that are integrated and represent the better side of mixed housing. Crime is still disproportionally high, but on the whole its a lot better than many other places in the Greater Manchester region. Then you have a place like Salford which to a large degree remains a wasteland (this has been promised to change through a gentrification process, but iit seems the council can never quite actually get things rolling).

I am not being scuentific, but there was someone who sharply influenced my views on the council estate situation. My girlfriend was a social worker in both Oldham and in Salford. Not only were her cases quite horrible but they displayed things on deeper levels. Like people without access to decent educational opportunities, drug addication, stark poverity and that the Manchester City Council cared more about decent roads for the Commonwealth games than its own citizens.

For the record, ecveryone deserve to be treated with respect and equals. I truly believe there is a forgotten class in mixed housing and on the proverbial estate. I have seen it with my own eyes. Its very hard NOT to witness areas and people that have been neglected since the industrial revolution.

Maybe my statement is wrong about 20 that don't work but I have seen and been in areas that tell me differently.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 5:02 PM on July 20, 2006

oops from Ancoats to Oldham to Middleton!
posted by Funmonkey1 at 5:03 PM on July 20, 2006

Am I the only one who noticed that while he told the boys stories and seemed to know some of them quite well he only referred to the girls in their babymama capacity?

That annoys me.
posted by fshgrl at 7:48 PM on July 20, 2006

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