GOOD Books: Recounting Riots

Posted by Kat Fatland

GOOD Books is a weekly round-up of what we're reading and what we wish we were reading.

This has been the year of riots, from the earliest days of the Arab Spring in mid-January to the events in London over the past week. But riots are hardly a 21st-century invention: people across the world have rioted throughout history when they conclude they can't get the government's attention any other way.

Riots are always destructive, but they also have the power to bring about needed social change. Here are five books recount memorable riots of the last century and the legacies they left for future generations.

 

Fires in the Mirror (A Play)
By Anna Deavere Smith
208 pages. Knopf Doubleday. $14.00. 

In the early 1990s, residents of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood were majority black and West Indian, with a sizeable Jewish minority. Tensions between the groups reached a breaking point in August 1991, when a car in a Hasidic rabbi's motorcade jumped the sidewalk, striking the young son of two Guyanese immigrants. Bystanders began beating the driver, a riot erupted, and a Jewish man was stabbed to death. All told, the three-day riot produced 190 injuries, 129 arrests, and $1 million in property damage. Smith interviewed intellectuals, religious leaders, and artists about the event, writing a play that explores how people see their own identities and perpetuate the barriers between racial and ethnic groups.

 

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
By Sara Marcus
367 pages. HarperCollins. $14.99

Although not a physical riot, the Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement turned the act of rioting into performance art that celebrated women and addressed topics like rape, domestic abuse, and sexuality. The riot grrrl movement began with two bands in the Pacific Northwest, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, who sought to respond to attacks on abortion and Anita Hill's accusations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, as well as a general backlash against feminism. Girls to the Front chronicles the history behind the figurative riot and how it empowered a generation of girls.

 

Riot and Remembrance: America's Worst Race Riot and Its Legacy
By James Hirsch
368 pages. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $25.00

Beginning May 30, 1921 in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, a run-in between two teenagers in an office building grew into an 16-hour-long riot that injured 800 people and left a staggering 10,000 people homeless. The town spent the next 50 years trying to forget about the incident: both the city government and families of the victims burned evidence that reminded the town of the tragedy. Hirsch examines the Jim Crow policies and interracial tensions that created the environment for the riot, as well as the story of how Tulsa has grappled with its legacy ever since.

 

Among the Thugs
By Bill Buford
317 pages. Knopf Doubleday. $15.95

Between 1982 and 1990, Bill Buford, editor of British lit magazine Granta, decided to join up with a group of British football supporters (known as hooligans) to study what made them so violent, nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, and ultimately destructive. The group of Manchester United fans allowed Buford to follow them as they wreaked mayhem in stadiums across Europe. He was in Turin, Italy, when 200 fans marched through the town setting fire to everything in sight, and at the Football Association Cup semifinals, when 95 fans were crushed to death. He witnessed one fan head-butt a cop, suck out his eyeball, and bite it off. The stories are hard-core, and Buford provides an insightful analysis of the phenomenon.

 

Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution
By David Carter
352 pages. St. Martin's Press. $15.99

In 1969, when homosexual acts were illegal in 49 states, a group of people at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, decided to fight back against yet another police raid. The subsequent riots lasted for six days. Carter’s book details the riots themselves, the history of the Stonewall Inn, and the story of how Greenwich Village came to be a haven for gays facing persecution. The book concludes with the first-ever gay rights parade in 1970 and the emergence of the Gay Liberation Front.