David Lammy: Prejudices of the few eclipsed by civic pride

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

Lead Business Analyst - Banking - London - £585

£525 - £585 per day: Orgtel: Lead Business Analyst - Investment Banking - Lond...

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Engineer-(Support, ITIL, Software Vendor)

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Engineer-(Support, S...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Turkey and Qatar must step up the fight against Isis

Benedict Greening

Should America pay Isis ransom money to free hostages like James Foley?

Kim Sengupta
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home