Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Murder, bigotry, and the Daily Mail

In April this year, civil servant Ian Baynham was kicked to death in Trafalgar Square simply for being gay. It was a truly horrific crime, born of an irrational bigotry. However, in the wake of schoolgirl Ruby Thomas's conviction for manslaughter, how the Daily Mail covered it is truly stupefying.

Anton Vowl has already covered this. However, as I put him onto it via Twitter, it would be remiss of me not to throw my two cents in.

The agenda on offer is evident from the headline;
Portrait of a private school savage: What on earth could have driven this 17-year-old from an elite school to kick a man to death - without a flicker of remorse?
Yes, that's right. We're going for the class angle. The article begins with a truly surreal description of how "she turned up in court looking like the former public schoolgirl she is, with her hair fashionably straightened, make-up just so, and a glossy women’s magazine tucked neatly under her arm."

Because, you know, working class girls are just ugly, scruffy messes wearing bin-bags. I mean, they certainly don't do things like straighten their hair or wear make up. Do they?

It goes on that her crime was of the sort "we normally associate with shaven-headed, bull-necked Neanderthals, not a pretty, smartly dressed teenage girl — ­especially not one from a seemingly ­comfortable background who has enjoyed the benefits of an expensive education." Or, only poor people do this sort of thing. Mud-bloods. Not - gasp - the middle classes!

Okay, so there is a link between poverty and crime. But that's crimes driven by desperation and need, or at least originating there and leading onto something else. People of any class can be violent, bigoted, and murderous twats.

But it is not just the spectre of class that horrifies the Mail;
But Ruby Thomas was also ­undergoing a more alarming ­transformation. She began emulating the language and mannerisms — or, at least, what she and others ­mistakenly perceived as the ­language and mannerisms — of black urban youth culture.

‘She talked as if she was black and never realised how completely ridiculous she sounded,’ said the former Sydenham pupil. ‘She would call herself a “gangsta”. She was almost obsessive about it.’

Indeed, when a friend told Thomas that she looked ‘mixed race’ in one of her Facebook photographs (in fact, the result of copious amounts of fake tan), she replied: ‘WhoooooHooo.’

But the ‘ghetto culture’ she had become obsessed with is also intrinsically associated with violence and sex. Her photo album charts her transformation from sweet youngster to a teenager in provocative poses that were trashy, brash and displayed an aggressive sexuality.
This girl wasn't a wretched poor person, so of course the blacks must be to blame for her behaviour. Because, of course, "black urban youth culture" equates to violence and "aggressive sexuality." Fear the black youth. And especially fear young women who might have a hint of sexual power about them. It all just leads to violence and murder.

Of course, being one of those politically-correct, self-loathing, brainwashed-lefty types, I'd be paying more attention to this little snippet;
Ruby’s father, Richard Thomas, was a carpenter. He was also a violent alcoholic who ended up stabbing his neighbour to death in 2002.

Thomas was waiting for Brian McIntosh (the two had been involved in a series of petty quarrels) outside his flat in Streatham Hill when he returned from a nightshift at the Imperial War Museum.

Mr McIntosh tried to escape, but fell over in the street. Thomas was last seen crouching over him. ‘Enough,’ Mr McIntosh pleaded after Thomas began plunging a knife into him, stabbing him 28 times.

But Thomas was overheard telling him: ‘It’s not enough, you haven’t had enough, you have never had enough.’ Mr McIntosh died from appalling injuries to the chest and abdomen. He left a wife and young child.

Thomas stood trial for the crime at the Old Bailey, the same place where his daughter would stand in the dock just seven years later. Like her, Thomas was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for just two years. The parallels are haunting.

Ruby Thomas was only ten when her father killed Brian McIntosh and 11 when he was imprisoned.

By then, he had separated from Ruby’s mother, Louise Lovely. The couple, who also had a son — ­William, now 21 — had been together for more than a decade, but had never married.

Louise Lovely was a good woman by all accounts, who managed to send her daughter to Sydenham — a private girls’ day school — on her salary as a legal secretary. It was Ruby Thomas’s chance to escape her traumatic family history, to make something of herself. It was a chance that was utterly squandered and, instead, marked her descent into violence, promiscuity and drink.

Ruby was bright and excelled at maths, but rebelled almost from the moment she joined Sydenham — a school which prides itself on attracting pupils from a wide range of backgrounds — and had a reputation as a bully and a troublemaker.

‘She hated everything about Sydenham,’ said one contemporary, who asked not to be named. ‘Pupils were not allowed make-up or short skirts, but Ruby always broke the rules.

‘She had a really nasty attitude. She would calls other girls ugly and laugh hysterically if she made them cry. She bunked off all the time and was always swearing and talking back at teachers. Most of us tried to steer clear of her because she was just so rude.’
If we're looking for reasons, then having a violent alcoholic murderer for a father and thus developing into a bully and troublemaker at school are pretty much the flashing alarm bells.

But the Mail views emulating a tired stereotype of "black culture" as "a more alarming ­transformation" than gaining "a reputation as a bully and a troublemaker." And it views the fact that she had an expensive education (and so should be better than all that) as "the most disturbing aspect of this deeply troubling case." None of that violent father business, you wet-liberal apologists.

And then, of course, there's the bigotry. You don't yell "fucking faggots" and kick a man to death for holding hands with his boyfriends because you "want to be black." Or is that just me?

Vowl's opinion of this piece is somewhat muted;
The idea that someone who went to a 'good' school (and who should therefore be middle class) is the most disturbing aspect of the case. The idea that 'black urban youth culture' is intrinsically violent. The idea that a 'sexually aggressive' woman is also a criminal. There's a whiff of something unpleasant there.
But I would go further. The Mail, as a rule, is unpleasant, and by more than just a whiff. But it is too easy to become desensitised. To write what it says off as just another piece of ranting lunacy from the extreme right of the media world. We shouldn't. We should continue to lift the veil on, and tear apart, the vitriolic bullshit that spews forth from this and other rags.

It continues to implant, in our collective consciousness, the idea that "black culture" is associated with violence. That sexuality is something to be feared. That this is more important than the callous murder of a man simply because he was gay. These ideas must always be challenged.