Brown Riot

The-Clash-White-Riot-1077-destaque

“White riot/I wanna riot/White riot/A riot of my own” screamed Joe Strummer back in 1977. White Riot, the first single off The Clash’s first album referenced the fact that Strummer and Mick Jones had witnessed up close the black community’s furious, take-no-shit response to police brutality. It was a cri de coeur for white kids to find the same sense of communal passion, to unite behind their own sense of outrage at social injustice.

‘White Riot’ was a game-changer for me. Actually, it was a game-changer for almost an entire generation, but the difference between me and them is that I’m not white. I’m a British Asian mash-up of Anglo-Indian, Bangladeshi and Cockney blood. Brown as a Mars bar, the same Pantone reference as the perfect cuppa. But I thought, ‘If there’s a black riot and a white riot, surely there can be a brown one too.’ This was at a time before anyone had heard of Al Qeda or the Taliban and people thought nothing of casually mentioning they were “just popping down the Paki shop for some fags.”

It was a thought that eventually led to me launching Turban Guerrilla magazine in 1999, for young British Asians. Content included interviews with crossover musicians like Asian Dub Foundation and Talvin Singh, the first ever British Asian star footballer and daft stuff like wet sari competitions and the curryhouse premiership. Turban Guerrilla was pretty popular but when our backer pulled out (and we ran out of ‘popodom’-based puns) we had to pull the plug. I got back into advertising but wondered then, as I still do today, why advertising is so strangely mono-cultural. If you’re sitting in a creative department, look around you. It’s whiter than the Cheltenham WI’s AGM, right?

For an industry that’s about understanding people to sell to them, it’s ridiculous. 20% of the UK’s population is from an ethnic minority, yet all the ads are made by white (mostly) male middle class university graduates.

I’ve always been very uncomfortable with the idea of affirmative action, quotas and the like. I don’t want Asian kids (or those of any other race) to be given jobs on anything other than merit. However, I do wish there were more Asian role models in the industry, more brown people in senior roles at agencies to provide living proof that you can do this. When I was starting out, HHCL’s brilliant You Know When You’ve Been Tango’d campaign was the benchmark. It was co-created by the black, working class legend Trevor Robinson. He wasn’t brown (well, not my kind of brown), but he was a huge inspiration. He made great ads and he worked on projects to get black people to vote and get black kids out of gangs. He lost his cred in my eyes when he accepted an OBE in 2009, but that’s not the point. The point is how many black or Asian creatives do you know? How many black or Asian CDs? You can probably count them on the fingers of one hand. Or should that be, on one finger of one hand. So, as the only Asian creative director I know, I’m putting this out there. If there are any other Asian CDs, creative or grads out there, get in touch. My email is antmelder@hotmail.com

It’s not a negative, exclusive thing. It’s a call for unity, positivity, mutual support and inspiration. As Joe Strummer concluded in ‘White Riot’: “Are you taking over?/Or are you taking orders?/ Are you going backwards?/Or are you going forwards?”

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About antmelder
Creative Partner at DDB Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

2 Responses to Brown Riot

  1. Hi Ant, good piece. Obviously, what you have written makes eminent sense. The place to start has to be schools, then art colleges and then universities. Only point of disagreement I have with you is re: Trev’s OBE. Him getting one, shows what’s possible. For anyone.

  2. antmelder says:

    Hi Chris.
    Totally agree with you on schools, colleges, unis. On the OBE thing, that’s just my rabid republican side coming out. Putting aside the race issue, it saddens me that the pinnacle of (people in) this nation’s ambition is to be given a shiny medal by the queen and some letters to stick after their name on their business card. Take Andy Murray for example. He’s just won Wimbledon. Wimbledon! Amazing achievement. Who cares whether the queen thinks he should be given a pat on the back?

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