The Brixton Riots: Background information when reading My Name Is Leon

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My Name Is Leon

by Kit De Waal

My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal X
My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

The Brixton Riots

This article relates to My Name Is Leon

Print Review

Brixton RiotsWith his nappy black hair and dark complexion, the boy at the center of Kit de Waal's debut, My Name is Leon, is caught up in the middle of the racial tensions of 1981 South London. The biracial child has a nine-year-old's agenda, born of anger, and stumbles innocently into a roiling stew of grownup rage and frustration. The bigger snapshot of the day shows a fragile tinderbox of young Afro-Caribbean men who were unemployed, with lots of time on their hands, engaging in marginally legal and illegal activities for pocket change and something to do.

Brixton RiotsThese disenfranchised were the British-born sons and daughters of Caribbean immigrants who had settled in London after World War II. The young men, in particular, were suffering high unemployment after the economic troubles of the late 1970s. Additionally they were caught between dueling cultures; seen by many as enemies of Britain because they seemed to resist assimilation as they clung to West Indian music and traditions. The authorities, stymied for ways of coping with what appeared to be rampant crime and drug abuse, resurrected an ancient anti-vagrancy law that permitted police to stop and search anyone they suspected of a crime, black or white. However, black British men noticed they were being stopped and searched much more frequently than their white counterparts and began calling the police out on the racially discriminatory practice. At the upper levels of government, tempers flared as liberals and conservatives argued ideologies.

Brixton RiotsSuddenly, in April of 1981, the largely minority community of Brixton ignited. At the time the so-called Brixton Riots or Brixton Race Riots, depending on who you ask, set new precedents as far as levels of fury and destruction were concerned. Besides the massive economic losses due to vandalism and looting, dozens of innocent bystanders and almost 150 police officers were injured resulting in over 200 arrests. Worse, perhaps, than the cost to community wellbeing and property, was the way the fabric of the police/civilian relationship was rent.

Decades later gentrification has taken hold in Brixton, making it one of London's up-and-coming communities.

Police behind shields during Brixon Riots, courtesy of sirrobertpeel.wordpress.com
Police carrying man, courtesy of sirrobertpeel.wordpress.com
Police car on fire, courtesy of quiz.com

This "beyond the book article" relates to My Name Is Leon. It originally ran in September 2016 and has been updated for the July 2017 paperback edition.

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