|Tottenham MP David Lammy|
Last week the London School of Economics held a talk called 'A Tale of Tottenham: Race, Riots And The Future' with guest speaker David Lammy Tottenham's current MP, the event was joint hosted by the University's sociology department and Runnymede Trust, a independent race equality think tank.
Being born and raised in Tottenham my interest in the event ran both professional and personal, since generally Tottenham doesn't resonate a positive community image, especially not after last Augusts riots.
I can't tell you how many times I've encountered expressions of shock from informing particular people that I come from this part of London, often followed with a not so funny joke implying that I must 'know a guy that..[Choose your criminal activity]' or other off the cuff remarks implying my affiliation to a black inner city stereotype.
The event started off well with Rob Berkeley director of Runnymede Trust opening the evening and introducing the guest speaker, while he did this interesting Runnymede facts about racial inequality in Britain flashed up behind him on the screen; such as unemployment amongst the ethnic minority youths is twice as high than that of white youths, this gap is bigger than it was in the 1980's.
David Lammy who has been Tottenham’s MP since 2000, was the successor from Tottenham’s much respected former MP Bernie Grant who died that same year, Lammy started with apologise for his resent controversial press coverage over smacking children and explained that he was misquoted when saying parents inability to smack children had lead to the riots. He also explained from the start that the discussion of Tottenham must be put in context with the current social events, economical climate, 2008’s recession and of course British history and race relations.
Lammy as promised went on to discuss a variety of issues that affects his constituency such as gun & knife crime, unemployment, poverty, racial inequality and the mistrust in law enforcement agencies which sees black boys regularly stopped and searched, black deaths in police custody (which has never resulted in a prosecution let a long a dismissal), and out of touch sentencing from judges not familiar with the community. Lammy was keen to point out that Tottenham’s biggest problem is that it is racially diverse, the black communities he represents come from various countries in West and East Africa and the Caribbean, from this he explains the importance of the government and law enforcement agencies to reflect this diversity in its employment and questioning the need for community reference groups if the police force, judges and civil servants employed the very type people they are said to be representing the interests of.
Other interesting points raised by Lammy was of the importance’s of open discussions on race to improve British race relations, pointing out our sensitivities to racial descriptive words which are hindering our progress (cue very brief mention of Diane Abbort). The topic of state benefits and benefit fraud was mentioned, with the focused centred on the affect revoking housing benefit will make to London resembling Paris where ethnic minorities are forced to live on the outskirts of the capital. Another subject raised by Lammy was that of our current culture which promoted a sense of materialistic entitlement and its role within the selfish capitalist model top politicians are so quick to come to define lately.
The evening ended with questions and answers, where I believe much of Lammy's personal political agendas came up, such as why he had not chosen to take a cabinet role, his political connections and the extent he campaigns in parliament for Tottenham. On these questions Lammy expressed seeing himself as a community leader were accepting a cabinet role would detract from his duties, he also spoke on conversing with current Prime Minister David Cameron on the hardships faced by Tottenham residents and pleading for more public sector jobs in the area.
I don't dispute Lammy’s passion for his constituency, though in contrast to the man who visited my Tottenham home during his first political campaign drinking tea and talking with my family, his sense of duty to his community has somewhat become jaded by political grandeurs.
The talk I felt was typical of modern politicians, who generally tend to speak emptily of issues, pointing out problems without actually addressing the root cause nor providing adequate solutions; this really disappointed me about Lammy and the talk.
The general undertone of the talk was that of race and poverty, specifically of the black variety, though while Tottenham is richly populated with a black community, the borough ranks 5th most diverse borough in London with over 50% of the borough identifies itself as white. While the blacks of African and Caribbean descent make the next biggest ethnicity group (around half of that of the white ethnic group) Tottenham is also home to Asian, Colombian, Albanian, and Turkish communities too.
This to me highlights the racism in British politics, that the colour of one’s political figure head represents their ethnic grouping. Lammy being black naturally represents the black Tottenham residents and not the diverse borough as a whole that vote for his leadership. What I say next maybe a bold statement but I do believe this particular reason is why Britain is unlikely to take a black (or any other ethnic minority) Prime Minister soon, as doing so would perpetuate the idea of the country being of minority white or equal white and ethnic mixing (i.e. America).
The topic of poverty and unemployment dominated much of the discussion, yet I felt this was most under discussed and was disappointed that this never developed into a class discussion.
According to fullfact.org Tottenham’s unemployment rate is almost a third less than East Ham, the London Borough which has the highest unemployment levels and just 2% over the London average. These statics where taken from 2010 data, though this may have changed slightly since 2011 it does still provide perspective on Tottenham’s high unemployment figures; though my reasoning for using this data is in no way to undermine the issue of unemployment in Tottenham since many of those found unemployed are black, cue the class discussion.
Much of the community issues black Tottenham residents face are similar to that of white working class communities such as Dagenham and Dewsbury Moor which Owen Jones' discusses in his book Chavs, these communities too have to deal with unemployment, poverty, crime, drugs and dependency on the state, Tottenham's problem is that black British communities are twice as likely to fall into this class compared to their white counterpart. While the issue of racism will inevitably be a factor hindering black peoples social mobility, poor educational prospects is another; though it is common knowledge that black children have for many years been steadily under performing in education this problem should be seen more as a class issue than that of race since black children are not inherently stupid as it implies. This is also confirmed with the data study and map compiled by Londonhigher.ac.uk that shows the percentage of young people from lower income backgrounds will progress on to higher education at the same rate as other working class boroughs regardless of the ethnic diversity within the borough. Though interestingly the map also shows that more young people from lower income backgrounds that live in affluent boroughs like Kensington & Chelsea will go into higher education compared to predominately working class areas!
In no way am I trying to devalue the issues that affect Tottenham though I often feel that we have become too comfortable picturing black people and black populated areas as culturally inherit to crime, unemployment and underachieving, which is exactly what David Starkey insinuated on the notorious BBC newsnight soon after the riots.
Lammy said at the very beginning of the talk that Tottenham needed to be discussed in context with everything taken into account though this wasn't done, Tottenham like other black populated areas of London find their reputations tarnished by the issues that affect their back communities, also the issues that affect these black communities are failed to be seen as anything other than a 'black problem' due to the racism in this country.
Being black in Tottenham you may face racial discrimination but you will also be dealing with working class issues such as limited access to higher education, poor job prospective, unemployment, dependency on state benefits which all makes social mobility impossible.
The talk in my opinion only encouraged the stereotype that Tottenham is a predominately black area riddled with crime, unemployment and benefit fraudsters caused by racism and which circumstances are just accepted by its inhibitors.
Growing up in Tottenham the issues of racism, unemployment and crime were apparent though this defeative spirit of one’s circumstances was not the Tottenham that raised and nurtured me, you only have to look at Tottenham's history to see that the black communities have fought long and hard for racial equality and a better future for their children, which I why I'm proud of my affiliation with borough.
I Think its due time Lammy repeated his door to door campaign and reconnect with the borough that raise him also!
A Tale of Tottenham: Race, Riots And The Future, LSE
Lammy how to discipline children?, The Guardian
Unison.org.uk/factsheet #11 Speacking up for black equality