‘Am I making you feel uncomfortable?’ Understanding the ‘gang narrative’

– Akemia Minott


This is the first in a 3-part series authored by speakers from our upcoming event, Resisting Policing and Racial Injustice. Here, Akemia Minott, a respected Moss Side Youth Worker and founder of 8 4 Youth, discusses why anger and passion are legitimate responses to structural racism and injustice.


“Did I make you feel uncomfortable? Ok, well I’m not apologising.

Try multiplying the uncomfortableness by maybe 100 and imagine

feeling that every day and you’ll have some idea of how we live.”


There was a time when I wouldn’t stick my neck out in a meeting with those deemed ‘higher’ than me. Now however, I represent myself, young people and the community I live in- rather than an organisation that would be concerned about the possible political backlash or potential funding problems that speaking out of turn could bring.  This has made it easier to be honest and allowed me to speak with passion and, dare I say it, anger. Others in the meetings seem fascinated by my passion, regularly remarking on it in- though in an almost amused way. The anger that sometimes peeks through the passion however makes people uncomfortable, at least most of them.  Occasionally someone will try and respond in a patronising manner which, to be honest, always comes across badly.  Most simply look uncomfortable, though one or two understand where the anger and passion comes from. They may approvingly give me a nod and a smile as if to confirm my point.  All but the secret smiler are, I assume, coming from a place of privilege, typically academia or management but most certainly not experience.

So why the anger and passion? If they had experienced the impact of institutional racism in the police or the criminal justice system, my anger and passion would be more understandable. I wouldn’t be expected to apologise and its likely they’d feel angry too.  If they knew first hand, rather than through the media or some distant person they heard about, the true impact and devastation that happens as a result of institutional racism they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Rather, they’d join in on my anger too.  If they knew the extent of the trauma felt by many communities as well as individuals, they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable, they’d feel angry too. If they were then expected to sit in a meeting where attendees are usually in a position of privilege, not considering anyone close to them could ever be a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable, they should feel angry too.

Anger is something that Black and Brown communities feel all the time but are forced to deal with daily; whether through over forms or through microaggressions.  A source of anger I experience often is the Gang Narrative. The Gang Narrative is the labelling of young (predominantly Black) men as potential or probable gang members based on little or no evidence and often supported by a ‘matrix’ or ‘OCG’ (organised criminal group) of very loosely associated names. Therefore, it is often based on mistaken beliefs and stereotypes rather than fact. For example, GMP have 89% Black British young men on their database yet 78% of Serious Youth Violence is White British.

For people living in these communities, this has long been known to be problematic.  Along with this narrative are the real-life ‘Threat to Life’ notices, the Joint Enterprise doctrine of criminal liability, and the disproportionate use of Stop and Search against these young black men (while official figures have dropped, they appear to have been replaced by Stop and Harass).  The Criminal Justice System uses the ‘Gang’ as an integral part of trials, verdicts and sentencing, which disproportionately affecting Black Communities. The narrative therefore, is virtually impossible to disrupt due to its entrenchment and normalisation throughout the system.

Let me ask- how many people, when seeing a group of young Black Men, have crossed the street or held their bag a bit tighter or took any other ‘precaution’?  I’m not judging you if you have because the systemic portrayal of stereotypes of this group is historical and relentless. We need to be celebrating the reality, which is that the majority of young Black men are leading positive lives in spite of all this, rather than judging them for the actions of a few.

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when passion seems to have some anger behind it?  Don’t feel uncomfortable. Listen and try to understand because it’s probably coming from a place of lived experience and pain resulting from the constant feeling of uncomfortableness.  Try and understand because that’s the only way we’ll be able to move forward and create a fairer more just society.