"Give in once and it's easy to give in again. Stand up for yourself once and you never give in again."
Tyrone Ballinger spoke to Take Back the City about life, work and control in London.
Q. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Archway, N19.
Q. What was that like? Has it changed much since?
It was social, everyone knew everyone. Its different now, you don't get kids playing out. Violence escalated relatively quickly, which broke down the community. My dad would say if you had an argument with someone you'd have a 'straightner', shake hands and be on terms again. That's gone.
Q. Why do you think this is?
Its hard to say. There are more council estates, more densely populated. The media coverage of knife crime amongst young black males led to paranoia.
Q. You mean the media coverage increased paranoia amongst you guys?
Yes. I remember in my teens people saying "you gotta get tooled up, things have changed”. There was this one older guy Michael—he used to show us how to flick Vicks in peoples' eyes to give us the edge in a knife fight. Its bizarre, but the media made it seem like it was a rational thing to carry a knife if you were living in a certain area and looked a certain way.
There has also been a change in mentality. When I was younger we understood we were second class citizens. A lot of these so called gangs are young men unwilling to accept this anymore. They are trying to better themselves. It leads to confusion and anger as they are pushed further to the margins. In order to influence them there needs to be a breakdown of systems which operate to separate people. As long as people feel separated they will continue to separate themselves further.
Q. What do you mean by “second class citizens”?
A lot of us felt that way. At the heart of it is money. Money was the reason people felt second class. They didn't have it in a society that flaunts it. Music videos, adverts, TV shows were all about the one thing we never had.
Also we knew that the schools we went to weren't the best schools. A headmaster told my brother he would end up “cleaning windows” because of his behaviour. I can't see a teacher showing this attitude towards a kid whose parents are paying thousands of pounds a term.
Q: How did you get on at school?
I struggled with teachers. I didn't believe anyone had authority over me and I did what I wanted to do. If people approached me with respect, it would be reciprocated but when they believed they approached me like they held some sort of power, I was immovable. I remember a teacher putting our class in detention because of a couple kids, so I left through the window. When the headmaster tried to make me apologise I was unable to because I wasn't wrong. My mum always said I couldn't be told, but I think I could if people listened to my objections and met me as an equal.
Q. Problems with authority at school is one thing, in the world of work another. What was your first job?
My brother got a job as lifeguard. He pushed me a lot. I was on the roads and could easily have stayed there. I think once I was working my sporting interest coupled with an instructor, Merrick Joseph, drew me to the gym. He was always challenging people and I got sucked in. I ran a half-marathon because he said I couldn't!
Q: How did you get on with management?
I had the naive view when I started that we were equal. Managers were on a level with frontline staff. There wasn't much hierarchy. My first run-in happened when I was a lifeguard. A duty manager found a blocked toilet and told me to deal with it. I refused. I remember feeling nervous but I knew I was in the right so I stuck with it. He went to the general manager who approached me with an arm-length glove and asked me to unblock it for him. I told him to show me how. He tried and failed and I told him it was a plumber's job. I think if I had just done it I would have lost a lot that day and I would never have stood up to senior management in the future. I believe if you give in once then it's easy to give in again, but if you stand up for yourself once then you can never give in again.
Part 2 of this interview will follow shortly...