Gangland *That's Not Me*
About a week ago I was on twitter and noticed people tweeting about a ‘documentary’ called Gangland, which was going to be aired on Channel 5 (please don’t waste your time and try to watch it, time is precious, you cannot claim it back). The advert claimed it was going to be, “A rare insight into the lives of London’s most notorious street gangs”. The advert put me off but I still found myself tuned in to Channel 5 whenever the first episode was aired.
I am not going to talk about the programme save for it was the sort of programming that played into almost every negative stereotype there is about Black men. As I watched the programme I became more and more irritated. I wondered (and still wonder) why people agree to take part in these programmes? I thought about the 'road' people I have come across in my life and the fact that a real ‘road man’ would not be seen dead on a programme like this. Bad boys move in silence, (please see Notorious BIG 10 crack commandments) the ones you see flashing cash for the gram and spraying champs in the club then returning to their mum's house on the 12th floor of whatever estate are not about that life. Moreover I thought how many more times will mainstream TV stations (and media in general) continue to pedal stereotypes in a manner that seems factual encouraging people who don’t know any better to think that this is representative of Blackness.
A few years ago Channel 4 did a ‘documentary’ about the difficulties Black men encounter when seeking employment. The idea was good but the execution was woeful. Channel 4 went to an estate in Liverpool and spoke to young Black men there. There were men with varying levels of education however they were all working class; the men that had been to university were the first of their families to do so. This was not a well-balanced representation, please do not misunderstand me I am not being judgmental about these men and I recognise their experience however by focusing on one socioeconomic group Channel 4 did the following:
- Promoted the notion that all Black people are working class
- Used these men to represent all Black men
- Gave room for people to say something along the lines of perhaps it wasn’t race perhaps it was, the way they spoke, lack of education, the way they dress.
Whilst none of the above should be used to prevent people with the relevant attributes from being employed I thought what about the young Black men of middle class backgrounds that experience the same struggle? What about the young Black men with shining academic qualifications, with parents and grandparents that have shining qualifications? What about the sons of Solicitors and Doctors that had a hard time getting work? Or the son of a carpenter that got a 1st Class Law degree, went to Law School passed with flying colours but struggled to get a pupillage simply because of the colour of his skin? What about the young Black men that move to another country as they are unable to get the jobs they deserve where they were born and raised? The common theme is Blackness and what needs to be acknowledged by everyone is that Black people come in different forms; we are nuanced just like everyone else because we are human too! (It’s sad that I felt the need to type that in 2016 tbh).
By constantly displaying Black men as one homogenous group of under qualified, aggressive, low batty wearing, hanging on street corners with music blasting out of their smart phone, unable to communicate outside their social circle the stereotype becomes the normal narrative which in turn becomes accepted as fact even if the concrete evidence says otherwise. Black men are portrayed in this manner with such normalcy that even we as Black people start to accept this propaganda as fact.
A few months ago I was listening to Eddie Nestor’s show on BBC Radio London, the topic was about the police targeting Black males for stop and search. A lady called and said that one day she was walking home, it was dark, a young black male with a hood was walking towards her, she immediately felt intimidated and started to cross the road, then she heard the male say ‘mum’’. She was horrified as she had assumed that this man, her son was a threat because he was young, black and had his hood up. The lady admitted that she did not even take in to consideration the fact that it was a cold January evening, hence the need for his hood being up. This is a classic example of the stereotype being pushed so hard that even we accept it as factual.
Representation matters. If all we see is Black men portrayed as uneducated thugs not only do people of other races accept this as fact, we do too.
Balanced representation is well overdue. When I look at my network or social media timeline I see so many Black men that are doing exceptionally well on their own terms despite the barriers they continue to face. These men are role models and their narratives are the ones that should be promoted and captured in a documentary on mainstream TV.
Jason Black is the founder of the Crep Protect brand. Crep Protect is a protective liquid repellent spray for trainers (also excellent for school shoes). The Crep Protect brand also has specialist-cleaning products for footwear. Jason is more commonly known as J2K. He is a rapper from East London that saw an opportunity to take a product that many of us have used and made it better. The marketing is sleek, sexy and surprisingly aspirational...yes I am talking about a shoe protector. The product is so good it won a Drapers Award for foot wear innovation this year!
Jason went from a box room storage facility four years ago to a whopping great big warehouse now. Multinational companies such as Foot Locker, River Island and ASOS stock the brand internationally. In addition to the business Crep Protect has also been involved in some philanthropy with #crepcollect which is an initiative where people donate trainers which are given to UK children’s charity Variety #allthefeels
Example two: Tony Douglas (@tonydouglasVIP)
Tony Douglas is a multifaceted man with multiple revenue streams. He is an award-winning club promoter lighting up dance floors in the UK and the USA. Tony is also a master networker and hosts an annual networking dinner attended by entrepreneurs and professionals at the top of their game. If that isn’t enough Tony is a music manager and his clients include The Floacist of neo-soul / spoken work duo Floetry. He is an advisor to BET International and actor Arnold Oceng he is also one of the men behind Disrupt Music which is a digital distributor of music of Black origin. Disrupt distributes music to mainstream digital platforms such as iTunes and Spotify to name a few. In addition to the above Tony does a lot of work in the Black community to motivate and inspire young people.
Example three: Tevin Tobun
Tevin is the CEO of the GV Group . The GV Group is the holding company for a number of companies. Tevin started his business career by seizing an opportunity and thinking outside the box. His companies include Food Move a fresh food distributer, Vengate property development, Gate Ventures specialist cleaning company and GV food distribution!
Tevin is not keeping his wealth to himself either in collaboration with Inspirational You he has set up a scholarship fund to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education. He regularly speaks at events to empower young people and share information about how they can actually make their dreams happen.
Tevin is regularly listed as one of the UK’s top 100 influential Black people. Tevin is from inner South East London, attended Hammersmith and West London College, and then went on to study at Middlesex University. I do not know the ins and outs of his background but know that he is a ‘regular guy’ from around the way that wanted more and made it happen.
Example four: Daren Dixon (@darendixon)
Daren started his career in A&R and was the man responsible for signing the rock band Kasabian. Daren’s talent for spotting musical talent earned him a spot as a senior A&R manager for RCA records. He then became the head of International Marketing and looked after artists such as Beyonce. From his career in A&R he was able to connect some very high-profile celebrities with world renowned brands which lead him to setting up The Above and Beyond Group . Above and Beyond is an agency that connects brands with people of influence to create marketing campaigns that are authentic and speak to its target audience. The Above and Beyond group’s clients include, Nike, ASOS and YouTube to name a few and has worked with artists including, Jay-Z, Lauren Hill, Solange, FKA Twigs and Gwen Stefani among others.
These are just four examples that came to the top of my head but there are many more. Just check out, Trapstar, Nego True, Dumi Oburota , Tim Campbell . Of course there are way more men to add to this list but this post has to end! Please feel free to add more names and web addresses in the comments section.
We have a responsibility to look into our communities and promote our local role models. Our children do not just need to look up to pop and sports stars we have role models within our communities. I implore you to share this post and the stories of these men so that they frame our narrative rather than the nonsense peddled on mainstream TV. I also suggest that you use your social media platform to tweet these companies and tell them we want more, we want to be invited to focus groups and included in research. We want more Black people in the production room, behind the camera and writing scripts.
You could also complain to OFCOM by clicking here . Whilst the media need to do better we also need to make our voices heard so that we can begin to be represented more accurately.
A documentary on any of the men listed above would be a welcome change and a small step towards redressing the balance. The fact is that the vast majority of Black men are not gun-toting, weed smoking, drug dealing gangsters, but if this is the narrative that is continues to be shared we all continue to believe stereotypes as if they are facts.
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