Back in the 1990’s when I was working for The Voice newspaper, also working there an older Jamaican man named Milton. I’m not sure what his official job title was but, depending on the time of day, he would fill the role of receptionist, handyman or head of security. But in my view his real role was as the heart and soul of the paper. With his no-nonsense plain-speaking Jamaican manner he would keep us British-born university-graduate journos in touch with the original spirit of The Voice.

TheVoiceLogo(1)

The Voice was the first newspaper aimed at the Black British market.

By day Milton could be  as polite and professional as the best of them, but at night, when most of the staff had gone home, and the rum had come out, his inner ‘Yard Man’ would reveal itself. He would educate and entertain me with his stories of growing up in Jamaica and his youth in England.  One of his stories involved him and his pals going for a night out in London.  He and his crew would roll up to a nightclub in their sharp suits and winkle-picker shoes, only to be turned away by the bouncers, while the scruffily dressed white men would just saunter in. It was these bitter experiences that led to the formation of the Blues parties and Black-owned nightclubs that were such a feature of the Black-British cultural life in the 70s and 80s. With the advent of hip-hop, house music, and dance-culture that arrived in the late 80s, the race-bar of London nightclubs fell away, as did the need for the Black owned clubs and Blues parties.

when white-owned night-clubs turned us away, we created out own.

when white-owned night-clubs turned us away, we created our own.

Thankfully such blatantly racist door policies are no longer a regular feature of London nightlife, but more a subtle colour-bar still exist in certain professions.

I had a taste of it when trying to move from The Voice into the ‘mainstream media’.  So much so, that I abandoned my career in journalism for nearly a decade.  My recent return to the field was prompted by the advance of social media which removed the need to negotiate with such gate-keepers. In the last year or so, working with on-line groups like Media Diversity and the TV Collective, this appeal for access to the closed doors of the media are a regular topic. The media, like those nightclubs of old, are exclusive places with a strictly enforced door policy that allows admission only to those who face fits.  There is a long-running standing joke in comedy circles, that no Black comedian will be able to get their own show on the BBC until Lenny Henry dies.

No room at the BBC for Black comedians until Lenny Henry dies?

No room at the BBC for Black comedians until Lenny Henry dies?

They and the other broadcasters seem to operate a ‘one-in, one-out’ policy. The chosen Black faces in favour will vary over time – be it Trevor McDonald, or Darcus Howe, or Richard Blackwood, or Kwame Kwei Armah, or Reggie Yates, or Idris Elba, but only one at a time can gain entry. Like the nightclub bouncers of old, even if the gate-keepers of the media are not actually racist, they seem afraid to let too many of ‘us’ in at once, for fear of scaring away their regular punters.

In just the last month we have seen supermodel Naomi Campbell highlighting racism in the fashion industry; Labour MP Chukka Ummuna discussing ‘lazy racial stereotyping’ on British television; grime artist Dizzee Rascal complaining that Radio 1 don’t playlist his songs; and the general outcry from the Black British population about the stereotypical depiction of Jamaican culture in the Channel 4 documentary My Crazy New  Jamaican Life.  It’s all very well complaining, but what are we doing about it?

Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the book of those frustrated ravers of the 1960s.  They didn’t stand outside those nightclubs and picket, or start petitions demanding equity.  They simply moved on and started their own thing.  So by the time I started raving in the late 80’s, we had a pick of nightclubs in east London full of people that looked like us, and played the music we liked, all night long. And guess what else happened?  When our scene became acknowledged as being more attractive, Black DJs and ravers alike were welcomed into those previously off-limits establishments with open arms.

There was a time that Black DJs like Trevor Nelson were not welcome in West End nightclubs.

There was a time that Black DJs like Trevor Nelson were not welcome in West End nightclubs.

So perhaps we should follow the example of the pioneers who came before us.  Rather than singing the same old song, demanding equality of access and greater diversity, perhaps we should set up our own thing?  But one major obstacle stopping us is money.  Most of us don’t have rich parents who can financially support us, and we need to get paid. Not many in our community have the money to start up their own TV stations or finance big-budget movies. And none of us can afford to set up a business that runs at a loss for the first year, whilst we wait for blue chip companies to include our outlet in their yearly advertising budgets.

But in the last decade such financial barriers have been removed by one thing – the internet.  Thanks to this wonderful invention, journalists like me don’t have to wait for a Fleet Street editor to give me a job, or even a commission.  We can start our own blogs and write what we like, immediately we are inspired.  And by linking up with writers collectives like Media Diversity can have our copy read around the world.  Thanks to Facebook and Twitter we can distribute our work, interact with appreciative readers and increase our profiles.  Thanks to YouTube comedians and writers no longer have to convince execs from the BBC or ITV.  They can simply film it, upload it, promote it through social media, and watch those views and subscribers multiply.

And perhaps we’d be less fearful of doing it ourselves if we stopped thinking of ourselves as BMEs or Ethnic Minorities, and instead recognised the power of a worldwide diaspora, an international target audience who needs are currently being under-served. Plug into the power of Black twitter!

The Real McCoy is 20 years old.  Let it lie!

The Real McCoy is 20 years old. Let it lie!

How backwards do we as a people look when we start campaigns demanding that white-owned radio stations should play more Reggae and Soca? Or when we beg the BBC to bring back an old show like The Real McCoy?  Are we really saying that there has been no new Black comedy talent to emerge in the last 20 years? If you really think that, then you’re not paying attention. Would you walk into a white-owned restaurant and demand that they start serving Jerk Chicken? Wouldn’t it be smarter to open-up your own restaurant? Way back in the 1980s Val McCalla didn’t campaign and protest at the lack of Black journalists on Fleet Street – he set up The Voice, and got rich in the process. In the 90s, when Kanya King, like the rest of us, observed that Black artists were getting ignored by the Brit Awards, she didn’t start up a petition, she started the MOBO Awards.

As the film director Spike Lee put it “If you don’t own stuff, you have no power.  When Black people start thinking more like entrepreneurs instead of ‘please Mr White man, can you do so and so for me?’ we will call the shots.”

Or to quote Miguel de Cervantes “Never stand begging for that which you have the power to earn.”

'If you don't own stuff you have no power'. Spike Lee

‘If you don’t own stuff you have no power’. Spike Lee

And for those who argue that we pay taxes, and we pay licence fee and so we deserve to be represented – well we’ve been arguing that for 40 years now, and where has it got us?

So instead of begging those old media houses to acknowledge our presence, let’s side-step the gate-keepers and build our own thing, or support those that already exist. Begging is SO unattractive, and so last century. If you don’t know where to start here’s a list.

RADIO. If you want to listen to Black music that’s not obsessed with the Rhianna/Chris Brown/Jay-Z/Beyonce carousel of electronic dance music that dominates 1Xtra and Capital Extra try Radio stations Colourful and Solar.

TV. If you want news, discussion and entertainment that doesn’t only feature Black people when we’re selling drugs, try TVstations Oh! TV, VoxAfrica, and The Africa Channel.

Web Coms. Fancy seeing some middle-class Black people in normal monogamous relationships? Try the Web-coms BWNG, Venus vs Mars and Meet the McKenzies.

Brothers With No Game - available on YouTube right now!

Brothers With No Game – available on YouTube right now!

On-Line Media Outlets. For on-line news, discussion, and debate try the blogs by – The TV Collective, Media Diversity UK, Ms Mad News and The British Black List

Suggestions for other Black-owned media ventures that we should be supporting are most welcome.

So what are you waiting for?  Be the change that you want to see.

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Comments
  1. Ah Milton. Top top man. Totally agree that we need to make our own opportunities Lee.
    The internet has changed the game for everyone but many of us who don’t feel like we got a fair shake of the stick have been writing and promoting online for while. Weirdly it may even mean we have a bit of a headstart.
    As you say though the big problem is finance.
    I don;t wanna be rich and I really just want to write and be read but I also don’t want to be evicted from my home and having to chose with to have heat or eat. So somewhere there needs to be a paycheck.
    We can build profiles and even do our own things but I don’t think we’ve quite conquered the cash problem yet.
    Sadly it still feels like we are hoping that our improved profile etc means we get some crumbs from the mainstream table.
    Nicely done.

    • leepinkerton says:

      Thanks for your support as always Maurice. But it is my hope that we can make a living without having to beg for crumbs from the mainstream table. we will see……….

    • Evadney Campbell says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. There are many of us who want to support our own and give time energy etc to do so but, we need to live therefore, we need to be paid. Until we consciously support our ventures by patronising them, paying for products we produce, advertising with the media outlets trying to establish themselves, we will continue to rely on mainstream for our bread and butter. We need to continue spreading the word though Lee, so well done for this insightful article.

  2. I hope so too.
    Like you I am getting involved in a number of black lead orgs.
    None of them are in a position to pay though, so in every case it’s a labour of love hoping that one day they come good.

  3. Nicely put sir and timely in that there is a definitely a recognition that the internet is a very useful tool to circumvent the obstacles that have been put in-front of us. Without question we need our ‘own building’ that is not dependent on funding or on condition of others. There are many initiatives in progress at present that will see its emergence very soon and is what perhaps prompts your observations.

  4. Reg Amari says:

    Truth is truth Lee… Technological advancement has really paved the way for us as a people, within the wider framework of mankind to cut loose of all the excuse.. We don’t need to look thousands of years into the past to find a vast amount of greatness.. 20 years of personal experience is far enough.. Great story… Keeping author-rizing

  5. Denise Rawls says:

    Thank you for posting this. Yes we have the power to do our own thing until the mainstream catches up and if they don’t they are the ones missing out on creativity and talent. I started a greeting card business to be the change in that market – who are my biggest client group – yes white Europeans and Americans. We are not good at supporting our own businesses we are still seeking inclusion rather than being leaders. We should all remember we were here first, we are the original people – lets take our power back and rock this media world rather than allowing the mainstream to just make money using our ideas. Great article.

  6. kneedeep says:

    Lee, PCL aka Westminster Uni……. Good to know you’re back in the game

  7. Kas says:

    I applaud you for you excellent review of the past and what could be our future. I am tired of people blaming slavery and white people to hide our own failures. I grew up in the 70s, where I also went to an all white stage school and was racially abused by the kids and teachers. I went to work in the city but could never get higher than a grade 1 position because there was already a black person in grade 2 and I had already filled the post of the last grade 1 who left.
    However, I did not give up and educated myself that I could have choices or start my own business. Yes I have had failures in business but that is life, but I didnt blame what had happened to me in the past to be in my future. The only person that can help you is you.

  8. […] So perhaps we should follow the example of the pioneers who came before us. Rather than singing the same old song, demanding equality of access and greater diversity, perhaps we should set up our own thing? But one major obstacle stopping us is money. Most of us don’t have rich parents who can financially support us, and we need to get paid. Not many in our community have the money to start up their own TV stations or finance big-budget movies. And none of us can afford to set up a business that runs at a loss for the first year, whilst we wait for blue chip companies to include our outlet in their yearly advertising budgets…Read Full Article […]

  9. Ayinde says:

    I agree with a lot of points raised in within this article, and salute to you Lee for putting this together…I have one question though? Where is the best place to discuss the issues and solutions to the problems we face as black people in business?

    I only ask as I feel we can all share our thoughts and feelings surrounding this subject matter, but unless we come together and form our own consortium of educated people to represent us properly and REALLY take serious the issues we do face then discussions like these have little affect.

    Excuse my ignorance if I’ve missed any organisations that do look after our interests as black business owners, I have only been in London for 7 years, most of which I’ve spent trying to set up my own business. But I have also been to many meetings discussing this subject and found that the organisations that put them together don’t last long enough to offer any real support.

    And I’m not just talking just financial support either – take for instance the Capital Xtra situation…alot of people I know where upset about Choice loosing its identity.
    A discussion was taking place on Facebook between some DJ’s I know and they where just complaining, so I suggested just as Choice FM was once created because our audiences were not being catered for, why not do it again – They argued very strongly about advertising revenue and all sorts of other policies regarding licensing that would limit that ability, so as I’m not a DJ or somebody that has ever tried to set up a radio station I didnt have much to say.

    However I did say I refuse to believe that another Choice FM could not be created regardless of policy and other issues, if you acquire a large enough clientele base then somebody somewhere is going to want to business with you. Well there’s a large market that would like to consume music the way they used to in those Choice FM day’s, what we lack is proper business representation that will look look at legitimate ways to overcome policy that white owned business’s do everyday!

    I think we need to put together a group of black professionals working in fields representing everything from Law & business to economics and politics, this way we can at least start to tackle the issues we face in a REAL way for all black business owners…just my opinion

    • leepinkerton says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Ayinde. I am not best placed to point you to business organisations, as I am no longer in London, nor am I a business owner (I’m just self employed). But I am sure that such organisations exist. Just do a google search. But before you do this, just ask yourself if you really need organisational support. Black people have been setting up successful business in this country for years. Mr Palmer set up Jet Star records to distribute Reggae, Dyke & Dryden hair products, Val McCalla set up the Voice, Patrick Berry and Neil Kenlock successfully set up Choice FM, until they chose to sell it. It should be easier today, than it was in the 70s and 80s cos now we have the internet and social media. But one big piece of advice – don’t follow anyone else’s business model. If its already been done then forget it. Create something new that no-one else has thought of yet. If you are providing a need to an un-served market, as all of these men I mentioned did, you will definitely succeed. But if you are hoping that Black people will support you just out of loyalty, then you are doomed. Best of luck my brother. Accomplish what you will!

  10. At long last; an African realising the possibilities of today’s technology. One troubling question, where are the African programmers, designers, technologists? Whilst Ushaidi and countless other African innovations are occurring, it is noticeable, that within Europe and USA where are the African technological innovators?

  11. Impact 10 says:

    This is such a refreshing and dynamic article, please take a look at Reckless – the web series. A mixed cast put together by a driven black female who not only wrote but directed and produced this thought provoking teen drama. Take a look, subscribe and let us know what you think.

  12. Kes says:

    Sound observations, Lee. And fascinating to hear about Milton’s pioneering days dodging the gatekeepers. Pretty sad that, decades later, there are more black American presidents than there are black writers employed by at least one leading British newspaper I know.

  13. A powerful piece of Journalism and an affectionate tribute to a man, who seems to have been more than what others saw. You were in a great position to have seen and heard from a perspective that is invaluable. It takes courage, yes I say ‘Courage’ to be able to write with such conviction, and inform those of us, who have seen radical movements being made and enlightening those, who will come after us…that a real, proactive change is already HERE…!!

  14. Keni stevens says:

    The most honest article i’ve read in a very long time. Truly inspiring.

  15. Vicky says:

    Well written. I truly enjoyed that and feel inspired, Thank you.

  16. leepinkerton says:

    After a year and a half of doing this, this has been by far my most widely read and most commented on blog post yet. I am truely touched. Thanks to all of you for reading, commenting and sharing. But now what? Lets not just talk about it, lets BE about it. Let’s set up our own business and/or support those that already exist. In the words of the late great Marcus Garvey ‘Up you mighty race, accomplish what you will’!

  17. Ian says:

    Hello all, yes I am a black man, until we all stop putting down ourselves in order to be appreciated, and come together, then this will always be a problem, i have no problems in seeing black business rise, but i see some selfishness too, we need to realize that if we are to progress, we must be the people of care and compassion to our own and not be colonized into thinking that because we have the business nous, things will change, we have to change our mentality and then things will change, we have been damaged by the colonial stage which has caused us to doubt ourselves, so i hope that all listening to what is said here will adhere to what is best for them and unite without selfishness, and grow with unity

  18. I am, as we speak, downloading footage to edit that we were asked to document the creation of a new opera entitled Trouble island written by William Grant Still through rehearsal workshops and first ever public performances. Here is a tangible example of how we can side step the gatekeepers after being ignored by the ‘gatekeepers’.
    Made up of a black cast along with musical and artistic direction this production has tremendous appeal in its subject matter,content and delivery.
    Six public performances were decided upon to offer example of what wishes to become a full production.
    Please come to see and hear it. All details are on the Facebook page Troubled Island the opera.
    We at http://www.peoplepictures.me will be putting together a promotional package to assist the company pursue further funding.
    There is a performance tonight in Catford and the final one at the Museum of London docklands which houses the London Sugar and Slavery Gallery a suitable backdrop for a story based on the Haitian Revolution.

  19. akinsankofa says:

    very good post Lee

  20. Yve Laing says:

    So glad I was pointed in the right direction to this site. Will keep a keen eye on how it develops.

  21. Black Lawyer says:

    Hey Lee Pinkerton. Is this your blog? I have always loved your writing…….loving this blog also. I still have articles that you wrote for ArtRage…..

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