Over the last couple of weeks Channel 5 aired a ‘two part documentary’ called Gangland. The show followed some young black men and women in inner city London and exposed the intricacies of their gang lifestyle showing guns, drugs and that infamous plugging scene. The show caused outrage on social media, and rightly so, as the producers clearly took advantage of the young vulnerable people. This was yet another show that depicted young black people as violent drug dealers with no hope or future. And why we can’t deny that this was reality, it’s the lack of balanced representation in the media that has really annoyed people.
While the reality shown is true, there are also many other examples of young black people who are working in their communities to promote change. There are numerous examples of positive young people who are successful entrepreneurs, graduates and talented athletes and musicians. It’s those stories that don’t get told on the national media platforms and the misrepresentation does nothing to stop the stereotyping by people who are unfamiliar with inner city London life or just black people full stop. I could go on about the injustices around misrepresentation of black people in the media and profiling by the judicial system but I’m sure there are plenty of other articles which have touched on that other the years.
I’d rather talk about solutions. I’m much more outraged by the fact that there was a reality to film rather than the reality being filmed. There are multiple reasons why those young black people were selling drugs, holding knives and guns and willing to risk their lives for money and respect. And there are also many solutions. I’m not going to even try and attempt to address all the solutions (I’d be writing a dissertation!) but I can summarise and say that black people need to start with building community and building economic power. Community and economic power brings political power, influence in the judicial system and some level of control and influence over mainstream media. The Jewish community is the perfect example. They have an extremely strong culture based around family and community. They own their own houses, shops, banks, schools and medical centres. Hence they have economic power which translates into political, media and judicial influence.
The foundation is community and this starts at home with the family. The black community has an issue right at the core, at the heart. And this is the lack of strong and stable families.
In the black community it’s normal and sometimes even expected that parents will separate. For some, it’s completely acceptable to have multiple baby mothers or baby fathers. When this happens the mother is usually left at home and the children miss out on all the benefits of being raised by two parents. Having a strong male presence around is essential for a child to develop into a well rounded individual, and this is especially true for young boys. A good father teaches a boy how to be a man. How to work hard, respect people and treat women. The pressures of society start getting real from around 13 years of age onwards. This is when kids go to secondary school and are exposed to so many more people, environments and cultures. This is the point where a stable family at home is essential to keeping children on the right path. The voice of the parents at home needs to be stronger than the voices on the streets. For a young man, this needs to be from their father. Don’t get me wrong, mothers can do a great job but when young men start growing up, that male presence becomes extremely important in teaching them how to be a man, instilling values and dishing out the discipline. When the family is broken, not only is the father not around but the mother then has to work twice as hard just to be a mother. She’ll need to work more hours and divide her time between various responsibilities which means there is less parental support for young people at home. When this happens in an environment that is rife with negativity, most of the time it only ends up going one way.
The voice of the parents at home needs to be stronger than the voices on the streets.
I can use my own story as an example. I grew up in a fairly nice neighbourhood and went to a pretty good school. But being a young black man who was curious and just discovering the pleasures of life, it was inevitable that I would get involved with the wrong people somewhere down the line. I was generally a good kid but society pressures to be seen as ‘cool’ and living in London, an environment where trouble ultimately finds you even if you are not looking for it, means situations arise that could go either way. I’ve had multiple situations that I’ve been in where things could have got deep. The usual things that young boys get up to (I won’t snitch on myself lol) but every time I had a real pivotal decision to make, I always thought about the repercussions, not necessarily from the law, but from my dad and family at home. Luckily for me (although I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time) I had a very strong and stable family at home and a father who absolutely lay down the law in the house and instilled certain values in me. This meant that I thought twice when making decisions on the road. I was accountable, and sometimes even scared, of my dad and this made me not want to go to far into things that would get me in trouble at home. The funny thing is that if you met my dad now he’s one of the most mild mannered and calm people you will ever meet. But trust me, he was that uncle to my friends and cousins that you did not want to get on the wrong side of! My dad got the right balance of allowing me to be free to experience life and make my own mistakes while always being there in the background holding me to account, setting boundaries and teaching me right from wrong. I am EXTREMELY lucky to have had a stable family at home, it’s allowed me to be grow into the man I am today and ultimately kept me out of the trouble that I definitely would have got into without that support.
The fact is, not everyone is lucky enough to have that family support so I while I know everyone is ultimately responsible for their actions and don’t agree with them, I understand them. Who am I to say that had I had been in the same situation growing up, I wouldn’t be doing the same things as them.
To try and solve all the issues that Gangland highlighted, we can ask for more Government funding for youth centres, create more positive examples in the media and challenge racism in society (all things that amongst others that need to be done) but to achieve real change something needs to happen from the inside. And that means family and community. Until we come together to challenge ourselves about why we accept that our families breakdown so easily and until we accept that we need to change first, no amount of external support will achieve real change. We need to promote strong and stable families and strong and stable communities. I hope to be part of the solution by doing all I can to use this platform in a positive way.