David Lammy has been widely praised after he patiently responded to a woman who suggested he could not describe himself as English because he is not white.
Standing in for James O’Brien on LBC the shadow justice secretary received a call from a woman named Jean, who said it was not possible to be both African-Caribbean and English.
“It is a myth there’s one English ethnicity”
She told him: “You will never be English, you are African-Caribbean.”
Lammy countered with a brief history of British colonialism and explained that the fact that he has African-Caribbean roots does not stop him from also being English.
The Labour MP for Tottenham said his parents were among many people from around the world who “ended up coming back to the mother country”, and said the idea of an English ethnicity was a myth and that Englishness as an identity was civic in nature.
“Here I am, having grown up in this country, have been born of this country, and actually the truth is it’s a myth there’s one English ethnicity – there’s not,” he said. “England has always been a country in which Huguenots, Danes, all sorts of people have passed through.
“So when you say you are English, I’m not saying that doesn’t mean something to you and matter hugely … but it is to say that 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.”
But Lammy struggled to keep his nerve after Jean said the world is “polluting everybody the way it’s going.”
He described Jean’s language as “negative” and asked her why her perception of English identity was racialised.
“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 effectively, Jean, if you are white?”
Don’t ever tell me I’m “not English”. pic.twitter.com/pODPhOJw8W— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) March 29, 2021
The conversation was shared widely on social media, with the clip quickly racking up more than two million views on Twitter, where David Lammy became the top trending subject on Monday evening.
Here’s what people had to say:
Amazing – powerful, eloquent argument on race and nationalism – compressed into four minutes of radio – parliamentary oratory may not be over after all… https://t.co/Sj8lv2ezh1— Rory Stewart (@RoryStewartUK) March 29, 2021
Among the very many dispiriting things about that racist phone call to David Lammy is the fact that the woman thought it was perfectly ok to say such offensive things – on national radio. The last few years have simply legitimized bigotry. The political discourse has enabled it.— Otto English (@Otto_English) March 29, 2021
“I’m English… I’m Angolo-Saxon.”— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) March 29, 2021
Jean is not going to be happy when she finds out where the Saxons came from. https://t.co/khjb9d8Zq0
Lammy shouldn’t have to deal with this. But he does so very well. https://t.co/tit287SqtL— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) March 29, 2021