*By Sukant Chandan of Sons of Malcolm and Carlos Martinez of Beat Knowledge
Friday 19th Nov 2010
To make it clear from the outset, we are not saying that Maverick Sabre and Professor Green are racists; not at all. From what we know about them, they are aware of many social and cultural issues. From reading interviews with Maverick Sabre in particular, it’s clear he is a conscious brother with great talent and intelligence. Professor Green is also an intelligent, talented and well-respected artist who undoubtedly opposes racism. This track and video may even have been conceived as an attempt to address some negative aspects of our lives in order to move positively away from them.
Nevertheless, the most anti-racist and conscious of us will never wholly rid ourselves of white supremacist ideas, as they have been beaten into our consciousness, constantly reinforced by the education system, the media and the music industry, which always seeks to colonise our youth and community’s natural wealth: our culture. So it’s important for us to look out for each other when we might slip up, and discuss in a mutually respectful and calm way in order to build towards freeing our peers in our communities from the mess we are in. Many of us are doing this in many ways, including in such forums such as the recent Hip-Hop History evening, an inspirational event featuring a panel that included highly respected artists such as Lowkey and Akala, at which over a hundred youth took part in a deep debate on issues such as sexism, racism and violence within music.
So although we understand that Maverick and Professor are not racist, we consider that there are a number of very problematic elements to the track ‘Jungle’, which combined with the music video raises some deeply troubling issues.
The video is based in Hackney, in North East London. Hackney is one of the poorest boroughs in England and has a high concentration of working class people, including high concentrations of peoples from backgrounds from the Caribbean and Africa, Turkish and Kurdish peoples, and East European and Asian. The video starts of with Green stating:
“Welcome to Hackney, a place where I think somebody's been playing Jumanji.
A manor where man are like animals, an' they'll yam on you like they yam on food.”
So this video features two white artists telling a story about how life in Hackney is like a “jungle”. To show this, exclusively Black people are used to portray a “jungle” life of back-stabbing, violence and crime - a dog-eat-dog world where the only two white people in the video are simply observing.
Apart from one young man, the video depicts only Black men committing graphic violence against other Black men with the use of various weapons including firearms. Admittedly, this is not the behaviour of upstanding human beings concerned with their fellow humans, but to compare these people to animals in the context of this video whereby those passing comment (Sabre and Green) are white men surrounded by a sea of Black on Black ultra-violence leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Or as one friend put it in relation to the video: “Dehumanised discourse, stereotypical ‘Black behaviour’, while two white boys take an observational stance, worried about getting ‘yammed’”.
We don’t know how much input Green had into the writing and the direction of the music video. Often in the mainstream industry, artists have very little say on the artwork and videos, so it would be interesting to know Green’s level of involvement in the conceptualisation, writing, directing and editing of the video. As it stands, this video is more akin to Daily Mail propaganda: fear culture injected into the underground music scene.
The theme of de-humanising the Black subjects in the video continues with Green stating:
“London ain't cool to cruise through where the hunters pray, Looking lunch today, and your chains looking like fresh fruit to a hungry ape.”
Although several other ‘jungle’ animals are used to talk about Black crime in Hackney, using the term “ape” in a video (when the word is mentioned the video cuts to a young Black man’s face at 1:13secs) is massively insensitive. Is it so difficult to understand that this can be construed as deeply offensive and racist?
Presumably some would argue that it's just a fair representation of reality, where Black people are over-represented in street gangs (an issue that deserves to be dealt with in a serious and considered manner). However:
a) While many gangs might be majority Black, most have white members as well. Given that Professor Green is a white artist making music that has its origins in the Black community, you'd think he would have the cultural sensitivity to paint a more balanced picture. Yes, Professor Green is from the ‘ends’ himself and is perfectly entitled to comment on what life in poor inner-city neighbourhoods is like (indeed this is to be welcomed), but we can’t afford to ignore the issue of race, which still runs deep in the society we live in. As the respected US professor Cornel West points out: “All people with black skin and African phenotype are subject to potential white supremacist abuse.”
b) Any artist trying to communicate a socially relevant idea has a responsibility beyond simply painting a picture of a dystopian reality. In the words of the legendary singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson: “The role of the artist is not simply to show the world as it is, but as it ought to be.” The net result of this video is to promote white supremacist ideas - that's not helpful.
c) No doubt Sabre and Green would claim to be anti-racist. Hence they need to actively take responsibility for countering racist attitudes. Racism is overwhelmingly concentrated in the white community; therefore white cultural figures such as Green (especially where he's making a good living off Black music) need to have a clear, unambiguous, public anti-racist policy and to be an example to others.
Hackney has some of the worst levels of working class crime in the country. The reasons for this are many: for example, high levels of unemployment; poor provision of youth services; gentrification; concentration of poverty; neglect from the state; and many more.
Hackney has a large Black population and high levels of crime but our mainstream media does a very good job to portray non-white people in England as untrustworthy, crime-loving, dangerous savages and all this video seems to do is reinforce and glamorise that, which is a great shame as Sabre and especially Green are actually in a position to challenge that.
Also, there are plenty of white people involved in crime in east London, but to someone who relies on the Daily Mail or the Sun for information, this video would simply confirm their prejudices that violent crime is an exclusively Black affair.
Again it promotes ideas that Black people are condemned to a world of Black on Black violence. When in reality, the main problems for Black people are deep-seated racism that affects every aspect of their lives. From being 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police, twice as likely to be unemployed as white people, racism in our schools (which actively deletes Black people’s history in relation to England) which creates racist attitudes in society at large through to the dehumanisation of Black peoples of the Caribbean and Africa.
Instead of just saying ‘this is how it is’, could not have Sabre and Green not done something to show why it is like that? Hackney being the second poorest borough in the country obviously has a lot to do with the fact that for many people being a part of the system is not an option. Surely reinforcing white stereotypes of Black people was not the intention but as Sabre said in a recent interview: “If you've got four minutes in someone's head, in someone's room, a young person - why say bullshit to them? The most important thing to me is that people can say I really connected to your song, whatever the song may be, and I understand something about myself more or something about society more.”
It also has to be said, for fear of sounding clichéd, most of our youth are humble, intelligent young people who want to do well in life even though they are usually aware and spend nearly every day of their lives countering the many obstacles a racist and exploitative system puts before them.
Our youth need a culture that is not scared to address the negatives, but in a way that uplifts them, inspires and informs them, and gives due credit and direction to the potential and actual power that is in the hands of our youth. We are not “apes”! We are beautiful and intelligent human beings who are fighting for our cultural, moral, social and political freedoms. And for those who are falling victim to the society’s traps, our job is to unite with them positively and bring them into our freedom struggles.
*Sukant Chandan runs the Sons of Malcolm website and is a filmmaker, political analyst and works with young people
Carlos Martinez runs the Beat Knowledge website and is a music producer, writer and cultural activist