Channel 5’s Gangland documentary became the topic of social media, the Black community and most likely anyone else with access to channel 5, twitter, Facebook and time to waste.
The documentary series showcased the life of British Gangs and the people they have affected. However, to many, it might as well have been called Black Gangs in London.
Some saw it is as the media’s attempt to once again paint a negative portrayal of the Black community. Some asked why there were few positive stories of the people who left the gang life. Many wondered why there were no white or Asian gangs shown in the documentary.
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” Malcolm X
These are all valid questions but also invalid queries.
First and foremost it has to be said that the majority of Black people are not leading the lives shown in the series. Yet, the majority of us will be impacted by the stereotype it gives off. Sadly, some of us may even know someone who is fatally impacted by criminality similar to that depicted in the series. So, what is merely a documentary to most is real life to others.
When Notting Hill Carnival was being vilified; it was people of the same mindset as the people from Gangland, that were ruining the perception of the event for everyone else.
Often we hear the phrase “No snitching”; yet it seems like a film crew can quite easily give some narcissistic gang members cameras and they will ‘snitch’ on themselves. The question becomes is this symbolic of their lack of care for the repercussions of their actions, lack of shame in their crimes or a belief society and the police have abandoned them to do as they please?
Yet, is this Black culture or merely London youth culture (a minority of said culture)? Too often the concept of “Blackness” is equated to a minority of characteristics; personified by a minority of Black people. Black people do a whole host of activity and most of them aren’t stabbing or shooting other Black people. But we already know this. So why did so many of us complain after watching Gangland?
Gangland fulfilled its goal as a documentary; to create discussion and primarily gain viewers. It fulfilled that goal by pursuing the best tactic in modern media.
‘If it bleeds it leads’– Nightcrawler [Film]
Gangland was made for TV. This is the same TV world that produces TOWIE, Geordie Shore, Ross Kemp On Gangs, Benefit Street and Channel 5’s bailiff fly-on-the-wall documentary, Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away!. Do they show positive sides to their stories? Yay, let’s watch people lose their possessions and cry on TV. Sounds like fun! Yet, it gets commissioned and viewers!
Outside of nature and historical documentaries, the majority of series on the human experience will show the negative, taboo or criminal side of society. Do you know why TV shows show mainly negativity? Because people don’t watch positive shows anywhere near as much as they watch negative shows.
Think of the Matrix. Agent smith explains why the first matrix did not work. It was perfect and everyone was happy; but people’s minds rejected it. Much like TV that is all positive or simply shows positive and good will stories. The TV world pulls in views from fear, outrage, shocking behavior and actions that go against the status quo or public order.
Some of you are reading this like. “no that’s not true’. Do the test: Post something positive to your wall and post something negative; you will see which gets more shares, comments and reactions. Even within the Black groups on Facebook; people will too often swipe past a positive post and choose to comment on something negative instead. Maybe, this is because positivity perceived as normality; therefore, people are more likely to respond the abnormal negative news.
Yet, the best example can be found on what we choose to watch and discuss. The BBC made two very good documentary series about Black History called ‘Lost Kingdoms of Africa’ and ‘Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes’. Neither of them received anywhere near the coverage and social media discussion Gangland has received. I am sure a lot of you haven’t seen either of them. Yet, here we are discussing and inadvertently promoting a ‘negative’ documentary.
The same people watching, supporting, deploring or querying Gangland have most likely seen Topboy, Brotherhood and listen to the music that acts as the soundtrack to the TV show, film and this documentary.
“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” Malcolm X
We cannot be hypocrites in our analysis of ‘the media’. By picking and choosing which forms of media to denounce and which to support. Whether it is, fiction vs non-fiction or music vs visual media, they all potentially give the same perception of Black culture to the wider British society. A negative one!
The difference is this is one documentary. The documentary makers didn’t give the men and boys in the series the guns, knives or lethal intention. They gave them a camera and allowed them to reveal a way of life. A way of life that anyone who actually cares should be fully aware of.
On the same day, the second episode of Gangland was filmed, there was a CCTV video of 3 youths riding a push bike through Brixton and shooting someone with a shotgun in broad daylight. Who will people blame for that? The CCTV company?
Or should we start looking introspectively and acknowledge the problem; rather than finding excuses.
“There’s a civil war going on with Black people, and there’s two sides, there’s Black people and there’s niggas. The niggas have got to go.” Chris rock
Chris Rocks poignantly summaries the hidden thoughts and discussions Black people have. These thought manifests themselves behind closed doors, in ‘respectable’ households and in secret closed groups on Facebook.
Let me make this point clear. The vast majority of Black people and Black youths lead normal lives and aren’t walking around with guns and knives. However, we are all impacted by the perception this series and the wider media gives off. Yet, that media also includes Black people and Black media/music sources. The documentary was actually produced by a Black Man.
I could quite easily just repeat what I said in defense of Notting Hill Carnival and Black culture. However, we are not talking about a two day event anymore. We are talking about a way of life that obviously isn’t productive, positive or defendable.
Black people are fully aware of the problems in our community privately. But increasingly, we find it hard to acknowledge them publically. Why? Because many of us know that we will be stereotyped and generalized based on the actions a minority of people whom look like us. Thus, denouncing them feels like denouncing ourselves and giving legitimacy to that generalization.
Some will believe speaking about “Black on Black crime” detracts from #BlackLivesMatter. Yes, they are separate issues, but they also have a symbiotic relationship. We have to accept that system and the individual interact to create our perception in society. In short, the actions of the brothers in gangland impact some minds of the police officers in London. Yet, of those minds would already have a negative perception of Black people anyway. The problem is if you happen to live near or look like the people in said show; then you are going to be generalized by the participant’s actions. That does not mean the police do not already have problems with institutional racism. It merely means that Police Officers are human not robots. Like all of us, they will be influenced more or less by societies perception of people. Even grime artist Big Nasty admitted this in his video on Gangland.
Sadly, some of us know that a Black person whom publically highlights negative issues and denounces the actions of some Black people, will often be accused of betraying the community. They will be labeled an Uncle Tom, Coon or house N*gger.
The problem here is there is no middle ground in discussion; people are either quick to blame the system, government or white supremacy. Or quick to blame ‘N*ggers’, missing or bad parents or a supposedly inherently criminal culture. Yet, the all negative actions are a by-product this equation:
(Personal choice x Society system + condition) – Education / Weighing up pros vs Cons = likelihood of choosing a negative action
Yet, the problems the community faces will not be solved by picking sides or assuming only one factor influences negative behavior. It is not anti-black to admit we have problems. Just as it is not pro-black to assume those problems are all only caused by racism. Both viewpoints are unhelpful and narrow-minded.
“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace” Malcolm X
This is not Black people vs N*ggers. There are only Black people and how we treat, help, critique and support each other. A minority of Black people perpetuate stereotypes, some do negative actions but the majority lead positive lives. All despite facing the same inequality and unfair conditions such as, employment opportunities, underfunded education and institutional racism. Some people will be able to overcome these inequalities to a more or lesser extent. Whereas a minority will simply fall into a life of crime, but that doesn’t mean they have fallen into a never ending pit of crime. They can still turn their life around. So it isn’t as easy as simply pretending they do not exist or shunning them from the community or society. Despite what Chris rock says, there is nowhere for them to go.
Yes, there are lots of factors that influence why people turn to crime. Yes, other groups, ethnicities and cities have gang culture. Yes, the documentary could and should have shown them as well. However, whether they are giving the spotlight or not, it does not diminish, improve or stop the problem with predominantly Black gangs in the series and London in general.
I cannot end this piece with a solution. All I can say is I have personally asked the community what can be done. From what they have said I believe the key is to empower the youth to make better personal decisions despite the hardship that they may face. It is giving parents more guidance and ownership on the actions of their children. It is schools being given the support and funding to create a thirst for learning and a belief that there is a career path outside of crime available to them. Lastly, it is the police and community forging a better working relationship, transparent accountability and trust. All communities have a criminal minority within them; the goal of the community and the police should be to not give them power and influence over the majority.
We all need a future! Children, teenagers and even adults need belief in their future. A man without hope and fear is the most dangerous man in the world. That man has nothing to hold him back, nothing to say “maybe we should not do this” and nothing that he is not willing to jeopardise. To some being sent to prison gives more discipline and structure to their life than the lack of opportunities they face in the outside world.
Whether you support the documentary or not, it has undoubtedly created a discussion. Hopefully, that discussion will mean the stats below will decrease not increase.
Yet, the takeaway point is; if you want positive stories told about, share them yourself, promote them yourself and support the people who tell them! Do not wait for ‘the media’ to do it for you. This is 2016 you are part of social media. You have the power to influence the perception, generalisations and stereotypes of Black people. So use that power positively if you really care.
Example the good news and inspirational stories section of this site is the least read section. But it has positive stories that should be promoted….
Here the stats from the show
- 17 teenagers were murdered in London last year: up from 11 in 2014, 12 in 2013 and 8 in 2012.
- 3,600 is the number of gang members in London, according to current Met police intelligence, with 225 recognized gangs
- Fifty-eight gangs are considered particularly active – accounting for two-thirds of offences where a named gang has been identified as being involved.
- 40% of London shootings are gang-related. Gangs in London are also responsible for 17% of serious violence and stabbings, 7% of personal robbery and 12% of aggravated burglary.
- 1 in 10 children aged between 10 and 15 know someone who is a member of a street gang, according to the Office for National Statistics
- 27,487 incidents of knife crime were reported in the 12 months to September 2015, an increase of 9%.
- 4,994 incidents of gun crime were reported over the same period, an increase of 4%.
- 6,000 violent offences were committed by London gang members in the three years up to February 2014, including 24 murders, 28 attempted killings and 170 firearms offences.
- 323 gangs are reported as being criminally active by police forces across England. We have a long way to go before we get close to America: the most recent estimates from the National Gang Center in the US suggest there are 30,700 active gangs with a total of 850,000 members.
With that all said! Let us know your thoughts
Did you enjoy the documentary?
Did you think it was badly or well made?
What do you think is to blame for the gang culture in London?
Please comment below and challenge someone to think a little deeper
By Antoine Allen
Feel free to comment or tweet me your thoughts