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Poverty Safari

Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass

By Darren McGarvey
15-minute read
Audio available
Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey

Poverty Safari (2017) is an unflinching and intimate account of life within Britain’s most marginalized communities. Scottish rapper Darren McGarvey draws on his own difficult personal history growing up poor in Glasgow to present an impassioned polemic on the causes, effects, and lived experiences of social and economic deprivation.

  • Budding activists interested in mixing theory with personal history
  • Middle-class readers seeking informed insight on the working class
  • Anyone concerned about the pernicious effects of social inequality

Darren McGarvey is a writer, activist, and hip-hop artist best known by his stage name, Loki. In addition to producing acclaimed albums, McGarvey has been active in addressing poverty in the UK, serving as the rapper-in-residence at Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit, and presenting eight programs for BBC Scotland.

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Poverty Safari

Understanding the Anger of Britain’s Underclass

By Darren McGarvey
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey
Synopsis

Poverty Safari (2017) is an unflinching and intimate account of life within Britain’s most marginalized communities. Scottish rapper Darren McGarvey draws on his own difficult personal history growing up poor in Glasgow to present an impassioned polemic on the causes, effects, and lived experiences of social and economic deprivation.

Key idea 1 of 9

The cycle of violence that systemic poverty brings can be hard to break.

Darren McGarvey stands in front of a group of prisoners. The air is tense, his audience, all young incarcerated women, are apprehensive. He needs to break the ice and to earn their trust. So, he does what he always does: he raps.

In rhyming verse, he explains his rough upbringing. He references cheap alcohol and gray council flats. This is how McGarvey begins the songwriting workshops he teaches to prisoners all across Scotland. Over the next few weeks, he will hear his student’s stories, too. Inevitably, they will speak of poverty, drug addiction, and abuse. They will speak of lives that make crime hard to avoid.

The key message here is: The cycle of violence that systemic poverty brings can be hard to break.

McGarvey is able to connect with his students because his own life has been shaped by the dual forces of poverty and violence. He grew up in Pollok, a poor, working-class neighborhood on the southside of Glasgow. In the early nineties, when McGarvey was a child, this area often ranked as one of the most economically deprived places in Europe.

And growing up in Pollok meant that violence was all around. The rampant economic insecurity within the community drove many people toward crime and drug use. Kids, under constant stress from poor living conditions, often resorted to fighting as a coping mechanism. Winning fights provided an ego boost and ensured that other children would not bother you.

The violence of Pollok was a domestic issue as well. McGarvey’s mother was an alcoholic. Her drinking could sometimes make her fun and affectionate, but just as often it made her mean and erratic.

McGarvey recalls one particularly harrowing night when he was five – things really got out of control. After having too much to drink, she chased a terrified young McGarvey around the house with a knife. Luckily, there were others there to pull her away, before it was too late.

Living around all this violence is very disruptive for an individual, especially a young one. You begin to be always on alert, and your behavior becomes dictated by anxiety and fear. In order to survive, you have to adopt attitudes and behaviors you may not even like. For McGarvey, this meant hiding his interest in art and politics. After all, in his neighborhood, these interests were considered too pretentious.

Worst of all, after a while it all seems normal. It becomes hard to imagine a lifestyle where there isn’t always the imminent threat of violence. As we’ll see in the next blink, we’ll explore how this feeling is expressed in the world outside of Pollok.

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