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  • Writer's pictureJude

Gangland and the perception of Gang culture in the Media

You’re not serious – is what I want to say to the Director of Gangland. Having watched both episodes so far I am astonished to read that is it – a two-part Documentary series, called Gangland – that only represented Black youth in deprived areas of London. The title is ridiculous when compared to the realistic scale of Gang culture. Understandably there was a focus, nevertheless we have reached a point, or rather we are long past it, where Gang culture is embedded on the face of Black youth within the media. Where our famed are constantly related to their previous troubles in life, despite how small or insignificant their involvement may be. Where most expect a natural or nurtured relation to Gang culture or criminality. Whether your Cousin has been jailed or a Family member has died, the media will bring that fact alive. Perception of Black people, especially youth has been stained in such a way and I believe it is due to representation on top of a racist system which expects less whilst giving less to us within our socioeconomic reigns. In this article I want to offer a review on Gangland, why I don’t agree with such Documentary’s, what it does for and to us and offer ideas for a solution which Gangland lacked.

From my youth abbreviations and glorifications of Gangs made them fearsome, commanded a sort of respect by coercion and such an idea felt closer and more realistic to me to be involved in than succeeding ever was. Having been expelled from School in Year 9 in 2006, I experienced that great depression of endless stabbings, robbing’s and immense pressure of being young. I was not directly involved but it did not matter, a trip to see someone was risking your safety. Attending an exclusion centre I was surrounded by Gang Members, we were all had no prospects just an expectation to worsen or end up in dire straits by our damage chances. All the documentary did for me is press a repeat button within my mind from those times. Defeated Mothers and distraught friends, the paranoia of going somewhere and seeing someone who feels a threat, the funerals I attended because of this lifestyle, the pain me and my friends have felt. It is an emotional period within my memory, considering how they used to line up all the faces on a poster on BBC and Sky showing these are the lives taken by knives this year. It makes you feel empty inside growing up only to see a few heroic representations of what you identified as – only for the heat to rise when you see Damilola Taylor’s face, plastered on TV screens and newspapers all over the place. Growing into environments where Gang culture is rife. Learning about someone else’s death, feeling some type of way as you stress over the fact you could be next. It truly hurts and I reminisce on such a time, to a point I am cold and want to push away the roads whole aura. It is not where we are truly from or want to be, nor is it the true face of what Black people are. African, Caribbean, all identities which come under that idea of being Black.

The History of Gang cultures in the United Kingdom is extensive. The documentarian Tony Thompson is apparently a Gang expert; he wrote a book on Gangs within the UK which like the Documentary allegedly has a Londoncentric lens. The first thing I consider when thinking about UK Gangs is the typical East End Gangster, Phil & Grant Mitchell running the idea from EastEnders in my ignorant youth to the truth of the Krays and the ways of countless organised criminals. There seems to be an appreciation or sense of communal respect for such. You look at articles regarding Gangs on the Daily Mail and read the comments, someone is parading the Krays contrasting them to little boys as if they were not mass murderers in a sense and extortionists, torturers – they ran paedophile rape rings. It appears to me that respect stems from knowing or knowing of the culprits and they have been given that commendable tough East End image. I recently watched Peaky Blinders, fascinated by the Character, who are feared yet somewhat worshipped, and sense of realism with many of its plots. Notice how movies of the Krays are made, British Gangsters overvalued and somewhat celebrated. Whilst a series of films like Kidulthood, Adulthood, pertaining to social realism and facts of our living are criticised for showing realistic scenes but a Kray twin grinding the skin off of someone’s face with their knuckles is praiseworthy – despite lacking the motive to change the lifestyle. I feel many middle and unknowing working class White Brits feel alienated by the idea of Gang culture as it appears to be foreign within the media, despite their own people being heavily involved in gang activities. When the media paints a certain picture of “foreigners” for its mainstay of people, those very same White Brits, it is not received in the same way. These aren’t White people being blamed for these atrocities, and if it is they are deemed sick and troubled – not naturally inclined to certain behaviours. Brexit showed us a truer face of what many of its voters, our presence is largely unwanted. For many of those who consider Black people’s presence a problem it is pinned down to the violence and criminality such a lifestyle ensues as if it a universal taste.

Gangland did an extremely poor job of representation. Its Londoncentric stance homes the idea of a Gang on Black inner city youth, when realistically we are skipping so much more and it is appalling. Glasgow has a staggering number of gangs. Manchester and Liverpool also have many. To count is hard and extensive but to document is to represent. I have never been a gang member or keenly associated with such, and evidently there are Albanian, Turkish, Tamil, Asian, Afghani, White and Irish gangs, and much more; if we consider and list them all it dispels the idea of Gang culture predominantly being a Black thing. Such documentaries minimalize Gang culture, with youths holding guns, entertaining the flashy parts then describing a horrid lifestyle it must have been terrifying for a neutral watcher who if they had no previous idea of Gangs could easily assume it to merely be a Black thing. People say organised crime is different, but I disagree – Child trafficking, Child pornography, hard food, weapons, contract killing and more stems from the command of organised crime. I personally believe such should be demonised much more than poor youth with no prospects or opportune livelihoods. Especially since such networks provide for the middle class, those who indulge in really sickening shit like Child pornography. Their Documentaries end up on panorama, or better yet for those involved – they don’t happen at all. So why does this darkness and immorality have to fall on Black youth? I honestly believe by the various examples we have of Gang culture all over the World, from Paid in Full to the music we hold dearly because it represents us, only one piece of the puzzle of our identity as people is being represented. Sometimes it feels as if many want that image, we have witnessed the fake play a way into this lifestyle to enjoy the image and in comparison, to those who could not avoid they merely look foolish.

I believe life is the way it is in Gang culture due to many factors, though our Governance has been poor. With the financial pressure of constant cuts and steady increase of rent, alongside the rapidly changing areas through the process of gentrification we are breeding poorer people. Who have to work harder to provide for their families, who succumb to crime as an opportunity as it is on their doorstep, who live in unavoidable places and cannot get away from such drama. It is so easy to point fingers at the Soldier on the road committing what appears to be heinous crimes, though there are crime syndicates and families, organisations like the National Front and EDL that have a business or agenda driven front but are either key components to a lot of drug and organised crime. Evidently hate crime, such gangs are more systematically involved. We saw with Stephen Lawrence how White Gang members can cooperate with Police, an extension of their systematically racist agenda. I also see the response, “tougher approaches to gang crime” etc. as missing the point. Not all these youths are Gang members for one, just troubled by their environments which has many factors and reasons for not providing them with safety and opportunities. Such as the demand of London’s rapidly changing City, with introduction of more comes less for the poor. More shops to be owned by Middle Class Business Owners, new flats and ideologically inspired “regenerations” of council estates, which basically means the residents homes will be annexed by rich businessmen who will up the prices rendering such areas unaffordable. They’ll relocate somewhere and that culture will diminish not by helpful resolution but pure alienation. These areas and pop ups are very alienating to the former populace which is being pushed out for the sake of the hip Middle Class. This is evident in Clapham, Brixton, Peckham, Hackney and many more areas. Funding for youth centres being cut to a point many are being closed, 18 out 26 youth centres in Tower Hamlets one of the most deprived boroughs in London are due to close. What are those youths in an evidently poor borough supposed to do?

I attended a Raindance Open Event last week and spoke to a composer. An elderly Black man who questioned my presence at a networking event. The idea was to meet people with similar aims and our conversation sparked from there. We spoke about the representation of Black people in the media, how it has broken down and what this has set us up for now. We both agreed it is harder to implement a lens on the actuality of Black people now on TV. He informed me of the variety of shows we used to have. Comedies, Films on gentrification and racism then, the Riots, Musicals, shows looking at realities of our lives. There was an influx of Black British productions with the introduction of Channel 4. He told me there used to be an Afro-Caribbean department in the BBC, where they focused on shows which appealed to us. Regardless these were times before, with our representation dwindling to a point people cannot identify with us it is alarming. It feels as if we just joined this country, as if there was a wave of immigration and nobody understands at all sometimes for there to be repetitive articles and documentaries pointing at the same things. Though through television and such media, this is just one angle at expanding our representation. I always assumed by intensifying how we are representing ourselves, we will undo this amounted stigma. Hence I am glad the likes of Stormzy, Section Boyz, Skepta, Sterling can succeed and progress they will always have my support. However, I also acknowledge a KSI, who despite being a big joke to me shows another face of what Black people can be, a John Boyega, an Anthony Joshua. There’s an extensive notion of Black Brilliance that we are widely ignoring to promote the same old bullshit and it hurts me.

In conclusion my solution would be to invest within our communities to a point we are excelling in so many areas, though acknowledging it is key. There are countless groups, individuals, all doing something to render a truer image of and to help Black people – such as Recovr, which aims to provide mental health help for young Black people making it accessible. Black History Walks, a series of Black Lectures which focuses on our past, present and networks within Black Britain. British Blacklist, a database for Black Actors and Performers. There is so much more that I am missing, though the general idea is to spread our reach and invest in our own people. Help the local businesses, our purchasing power is tremendous – it brings the communities closers but also we need to recognise areas for improvement, customer service and such. Investing in our areas could be a tactic in preventing gentrification. Youth centres need to become more communal and involved with Parents, dismantling the fear factor for a more genuine hands on approach. We need to bring to fruition our general greatness, to serve as a constant inspiration for our youth – so they do not need to experience the same trauma we’ve been wrapped in for decades. I do believe within the next decade or so, due to how intense social media has become, we will not be able to avoid the positive images and movements within our communities. Though the Government has always been the problem, anything we can do alongside counteracting their decisions will soon see us thrive on a respectable level.

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