Not every black child wants to be a rapper, footballer or boxer

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The Independent Online

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, is one of Labour's rising stars. As minister for constitutional affairs, he is, at 32, Labour's youngest minister. He is also one of only four black ministers in this diversity-supporting administration. He is the child of a north London, single-parent family, who went on to Harvard, a legal career and then, after the death of Bernie Grant, to represent the sort of community he grew up in in parliament.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, is one of Labour's rising stars. As minister for constitutional affairs, he is, at 32, Labour's youngest minister. He is also one of only four black ministers in this diversity-supporting administration. He is the child of a north London, single-parent family, who went on to Harvard, a legal career and then, after the death of Bernie Grant, to represent the sort of community he grew up in in parliament.

Therefore, he is in an ideal position to offer leadership to the troubled black community at a difficult time. So it was commendable that he chose to deliver his Stephen Lawrence lecture on the subject of the destructive effect of gangs, crime and "bling-bling" materialism.

As he is the most senior member of the Government to have broached this issue, what he had to say was important. He suggested that among other problems, the black community suffered from "poverty of ambition" which was why not enough young black men went to university.

He went on, later in his speech though, to say a much more curious thing. He stated that: "We need to knit together all the social and cultural resources that our community has to offer, to give more chances to young people. Who knows how many Amir Khans, Dizzee Rascals or Wayne Rooneys lie undiscovered in our inner cities."

In my book, I'm afraid, this is racial stereotyping of the most basic kind, since it repeats that old canard that for the poor, and especially for poor blacks, the only way out is via sport - particularly boxing or football - or music. In other words, while his views sounded bold and new, they were underpinned, surprisingly, by the same old expectations.

Certainly, there is a problem with bringing out talent of this sort in schools because there simply is not the time or infrastructure to teach these subjects effectively. That's partly why it was so cringeworthy when the white media rushed, after Dizzee Rascal (pictured above) had won the Mercury Music Prize, to explain that the laurels really lay with the white music teacher who nurtured him.

Certainly, too, Mr Rascal, who writes lyrics decrying gangsta culture himself, is perfectly worthy of admiration. Clearly intelligent, he was failing at school until he was allowed to explore contemporary black music in the classroom. In the former respect, he is typical. From my own observations of the young black community in the inner cities, it is the very bright young men who become cynical and bitter about the education system, and what it can offer them, most quickly.

Partly this is because of a wider culture which shows people succeeding only if they have a great talent for the very skills that Mr Lammy mentions - which are highly paid - and have all themselves become hopelessly implicated in the bling-bling culture that is supposed to be the problem.

Of course, young people dream of being famous musicians or football stars. But there are probably as many David Lammys languishing in the inner cities as there are Dizzee Rascals. There are a lot more people - black or white - who ought to be able to grow up feeling that even if they don't achieve fame and fortune, but do lead a modest, decent, ethical life, they will be financially secure, widely respected and appreciated for the simple but crucial role they are playing in a cohesive society. Lammy's rhetoric, I'm afraid, well meaning as it is, brings little hope of reviving that ambition.

Stupid questions and stupid answers

If a woman in the public eye refuses to submit to one stereotype, it appears, then she'll be co-opted into another. Thus, one magazine lucky enough to have the actress Samantha Morton on its cover announces her presence with the line: "I'm not going down that road of having my boobs done."

The film company Miramax is reported to have blocked Terry Gilliam's choice of Morton for a role in his new film The Brothers Grimm because of "a complication with the studio over money and over my weight". Morton isn't asked what the complication over money was - but I think we can assume that Miramax wasn't offering an amount that Morton felt was too great. Instead the interviewer grills her about how she looks (as if that isn't plain from the photographs accompanying the piece). Morton reveals that "I think I'm a healthy size, I'm an 8-10", so the implication is that executives at Miramax consider her to be heavier than they would like.

This makes them look foolish, of course. But it makes Morton look a bit foolish as well. Everyone from Kate Winslet to Charlotte Church has bored on about How They Won't Conform to Stereotypes (usually before hitting the gym). So this sort of English plucky repudiation of "Hollywood values" has become a shallow celebrity staple in itself.

Morton is by all accounts a woman of an original mind, so it would be splendid if she simply refused to play the game at all and utter such banalities. It would be great instead to see her talking about what she earns, what the men in similar roles in similar films earn, and what the pay gap means to women right down the line. Invitations to discuss her perfectly lovely looks could surely be politely declined.

* The other night, a wonk from the University of Columbia suggested on Newsnight that fundamentalist terrorists had a "sophisticated" understanding of how to manipulate the Western media. How foolish and self-aggrandising this rather widely held view is.

The terrorists are not beheading people and then releasing footage on the internet because they are "sophisticated". They are doing it because their crude fundamentalism sanctifies such cruelty, and even demands it. And they are filming and releasing footage of their deeds not because they are sophisticated, but simply because they have the technology to leave no doubt among Westerners about what scary psychos they are.

Even more pathetic, the Western media is showing it not because it is being diabolically directed by knowing fiends, but because it craves shocking sensation and in a competitive marketplace is always pushing the boundaries.

The acts of the terrorists, and media coverage of them, owe more to the psychology behind medieval practices such as public torture, crowd-pleasing executions, and the display of heads on spikes than it does to any sort of sophisticated, modern technique. It is lack of sophistication that Islamic terrorists and the Western media have in common, not its presence.

More's the pity. Had the Western media been a bit more sophisticated, it might not have pumped out pro-war propaganda before the invasion of Iraq. And it would certainly be more wary than it is of pumping out the fundamentalist propaganda that we're seeing now.

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