‘Don’t tell me I’m not’: David Lammy responds to woman who tells him he can’t be African-Caribbean and English

‘How is it that, in England, you can only claim Englishness if you are white?’ Labour MP asks radio caller

Sam Hancock
Tuesday 30 March 2021 10:25 BST
Lammy responds to caller who says he's 'not English'

The Labour MP David Lammy has been commended for calmly explaining to someone that his African-Caribbean heritage, and the fact he is black, does not stop him also being English.

Mr Lammy appeared on LBC radio to speak about Boris Johnson’s racial disparity commission recommending the term Bame is “unhelpful and redundant”, and should no longer be used.

The long-disputed acronym – which stands for Black, Asian and minority ethnic – “overshadows the fact people from different ethnic groups have varying life experiences and should not be grouped together in one umbrella term”, the commission is set to report.

“Thank God they’ve got there,” Mr Lammy told LBC. “I’ve said for ages that the term is lazy, it’s impersonal. I don’t like being described as jargon. I’m not jargon. I’m black, I’m English, I’m British and I’m proud.

“I want my identities recognised appropriately ... I’m of African descent, African-Caribbean descent but I am English.”

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But a caller to the show, Jean, took aim at the MP describing himself as English – appearing to suggest that the very fact Mr Lammy is black meant he could not make such a claim.

“You will never be English because you’re African-Caribbean ... I can’t say I’m African-Caribbean,” she said.

Mr Lammy countered: “Britain, 400 years ago, started going out into the world, colonised and conquered a lot of the world, a lot of the world has ended up coming back to the mother country ... when I took a DNA test, I had Scottish in me.

“Here I am, having grown up in this country, born of this country, and actually the truth is there’s a myth there’s one English ethnicity, there’s not.”

He continued: “England has always been a country where Huguenots, Danes, all sorts have passed through ... for me, the fact that I was born here and the fact that my sensibilities are English mean I want to claim that heritage as well.”

Jean ultimately conceded that Mr Lammy is “British but not English”, to which the Tottenham representative politely disagreed.

She told him that if she had been born in the Caribbean, she would not describe herself as “Caribbean” but Mr Lammy pointed out there were “significant white Caribbean populations who have been there for hundreds of years”.

“They are significantly more Caribbean than I am,” he added.

The pair ended their conversation with Jean comparing world migration to “pollution”, insisting “you are your inheritance”, which Mr Lammy, again, rubbished.

“Just as you can be in America and be African-American, or you can be Italian-American, or you can be Irish-American, how is it that here in England, you can only claim that Englishness if you are white?”

He later tweeted a video clip of the phone call between himself and Jean, writing: “Don’t ever tell me I’m ‘not English’.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar shared the clip and tweeted that it was “so well-handled,” from Mr Lammy, “but sad that it still has to be explained. Our children will be less tolerant of racism and more harshly impacted.”

And Labour MP Angela Rayner said Mr Lammy had dealt with the “disgraceful” comments “impeccably.”

One Twitter user responded by saying: “Wow. I think you responded beautifully. You didn’t *react* like some of us might, you *responded* with care, patience + courage.”

And another replied that: “This is so painful to listen to. Mr Lammy you are a SAINT. Thank you for being so kind and patient to talk to this woman.”

News that the government would be advised to bin the term Bame first appeared in The Telegraph.

The commission’s report also includes research expected to show that the term “ethnic minority” is more popular with people from ethnic minorities than Bame or “people of colour”.

Speaking to LBC before his conversation with Jean, Mr Lammy reflected on the history of labelling non-white people and how terms like Bame potentially mask the lived experiences of individual groups.

“The problem is, it just groups everyone together and there are very different experiences in Britain if you are Somali in origin ... or if you are Pakistani. Very, very big differences in education, in health, yet we’re grouped together.”

He also questioned why, having just completed the Census form, he could not tick a box saying he was black and English.

Asked about the incoming report on Monday, minister for sport and tourism Nigel Huddleston said while he had not yet seen it in full, the government would “act accordingly” following its findings.

“Well, I haven’t seen the full report of the commission, but … we’ve got to be sensitive to treat people as individuals, and sometimes categorisations can be challenging, or indeed offensive, even if they’re not intended to be so,” he told Sky News.

“But, as I said, I haven’t seen the full report yet, we’ll see what it has to say and then act accordingly.”

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