David Lammy: Prejudices of the few eclipsed by civic pride

Share
Related Topics

Little more than a week after the first disturbances on the streets of London, one thing is clear: there are those who will use the past week to promote their own prejudices.

The English Defence League has mobilised, seeking to racialise the riots by linking them to immigration. In Enfield, a group of men believed to be EDL members marched through the streets chanting "England, England, England". Meanwhile, Nick Griffin has been appearing in BNP strongholds to agitate and play on people's fears. His goal, like that of the EDL, has been to create division and stoke resentment for his own political ends.

Others have displayed breathtaking ignorance. David Starkey, speaking on Newsnight on Friday night, took the opportunity to slur Britain's black community. To the astonishment of the other studio guests and millions watching at home, he offered his own warped diagnosis: "What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs... have become black."

This talk is as misleading as it is dangerous and divisive. Inconvenient as it may be for Starkey and the EDL, those who engaged in criminal behaviour came from all races. Equally importantly, so too did those who came forward to volunteer their help with the clean-up. In Tottenham, people's response was not to turn on one another but to come together. In the most diverse postcode in Europe, black and white volunteered together at the community centre, cleared rubble together from the streets and stood together in solidarity with those who have lost their homes and livelihoods.

Many will long remember the courageous and dignified speech made by Tariq Jahan, whose son Haroon was one of three men killed guarding shops from looters. Instead of calling for vengeance, he demanded unity and restraint. "Today, we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united," he urged. "This is not a race issue. The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of society."

In Southall, 700 Sikh men turned out to defend their temple, their homes and their neighbourhood, in the absence of the police. Men as old as 80 took to the streets in a show of unity. "We are not just protecting our temple, we are protecting the whole of Southall," said one. His words, broadcast on the national news, soon reverberated around the internet.

The cynicism of a prejudiced few has been outshone by something far more powerful. By civic pride. By neighbourliness. By a modern patriotism, felt passionately by a generation of people who chose Britain. I recognise these emotions well. I saw it in my mother, a member of the Windrush generation. One day, aged 10, walking back from school, after discussing the war in the Falklands, I turned to Mum and said: "I suppose we're on the side of the Argentinians, because we're South American." Her response was to slap me across the back of the head, snapping: "Don't you dare talk like that!"

This is a patriotism more truthful and more authentic than any EDL thug. It is the reality of modern Britain that the likes of David Starkey prefer to ignore. Britain's immigrant communities have stood shoulder to shoulder with their neighbours this past week. They, and we, should be deeply proud of that.

David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen spoke of respect for all cultures and faiths in her Christmas message  

Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

Jane Merrick
Iraqi soldiers trained by the US were routed by IS’s smaller force  

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

Patrick Cockburn
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015