I remember feeling sceptical when I saw the advert on Channel 5 promoting Gangland: Turf Wars/Murder. My immediate gut feeling was that this will be yet another programme reinforcing negative stereotypes of ethnic minorities; predominantly young, black and poor men mainly from council estates. I was not wrong. Whilst the producer claims that the motive for the programme was to tell the stories of the young people involved from their point of view, I came away from watching the show feeling very disappointed. We have heard these types of stories many times in the past. Why can’t we have TV programmes that focus on the many great things that young people are achieving or have achieved? Not all young black people from poor backgrounds choose a life of crime as a way out. The media can be an effective and powerful tool in creating or reinforcing stereotypes and they can have the power to set the nation’s agenda or focus the public attention on specific issues, this is why they have a real responsibility to ensure that they provide a balanced and fair portrayal of all members of society. People can be influenced by what they see or watch so they might have a preconceived opinion about black youths particularly if what they see is predominantly negative. When they come into contact with a young black person at job interviews for example the images they see in the media may stick in their mind and this might affect the young person’s job prospects; effectively leaving young black people trapped in an unnecessary vicious cycle.
I could not understand what the audience was meant to take away from watching the show. Was is it really necessary to have another TV show that created a moral panic around young people particularly those from minority ethnic backgrounds especially as we learnt nothing new from watching the show? If anything at all, the show seemed to glorify gang and gun culture as a way of making easy money. I hoped that the second part of the series would highlight the pitfalls of choosing this type of lifestyle. However, I am not convinced that this was truly achieved. Whilst one of the young men from the first programme ended up in jail for drug related crimes, there was no follow up on the other people that took part in the first programme. The series focused too much on negativity. Instead of focusing so heavily on negativity the series could have focused more on the black men who were previously members of gangs but have since turned their lives around and are now using their experiences to deter others from making the same mistakes they did.
There aren’t many positive representations of young black people in mainstream media, this has to change. Young black people need to be portrayed more positively. The media should focus more on the positive contributions they are making in their communities and move away from the idea that all young people from minority ethnic groups turn to a life of crime, are deviant and disruptive members of society, and lack ambition.
By Michael B @mxkes_