Why David Lammy MP is not an Englishman (but perhaps could be) | James Thomas

David Lammy MP presented a radio programme on LBC last Monday during which a member of the public told him that he will never be English. A video of this exchange went viral on twitter and many said that the comments made by the caller were racist.

‘Racist’ is a word that carries less and less weight every day. As the recent report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities put it, racism has become a simplistic catch-all explanation for anything and everything – a slur just like papist, kafir or heretic.

The MP for Tottenham made a series of interesting remarks throughout the conversation which undermined his case that he is in fact English. He claims, “I was born in this country”, this is of course irrelevant since English is an ethnic distinction not a citizenship category and in any case Britain (like most countries) follows the principle of Jus sanguinis (right of blood) in its citizenship law, with some exceptions. 

He goes on to make the tiresome claim that “England is a nation of immigrants” stating “it’s a myth that there is one English (notice the tone and expression on his face as he says the word) ethnicity, there’s not”; this is of course wrong. Yes, England was once populated by the Angles, Saxons, Normans, Danes, etc, but these groups all those centuries ago saw themselves in terms of those categories and their descendants intermixed and became the English, a distinct people with a distinct culture and language. Every ethnic group is similarly constituted of ancient tribes who intermarried. Afro-Caribbeans, a group label he often ascribes to himself, are descended from many different groups and much more recently than the English – are they not an ethnicity? 

He then says that after taking a DNA test he discovered that he has some Scottish ancestry. This being the case, surely, there must be such a thing as Scottish ancestry and people who are entirely ethnically Scottish. Is Scotland not equally a nation of immigrants once populated by the Celts, Picts, Vikings, etc? Perhaps he hasn’t given the matter much thought.

Now, if everyone in England can be English, where does that leave those people who have ancestry in this part of the world for centuries? Those of us with surnames like Smith, Chapman, or Robertson and whose ancestry goes back to when surnames were adopted. Another LBC presenter has the answer, Maajid Nawaz, who tells us we are Anglo-Saxon and that he too is English though not Anglo-Saxon. On the other hand, Humza Yousaf MSP claims to be a Celt and accused George Galloway of race-baiting when he told him he wasn’t a Celt, an interesting remark for someone who openly holds white people in contempt. Yousaf would appear to claim both Scottish and Celtic identity, perhaps Viking too God only knows.

Anglo-Saxon and Celtic are historic terms which we Britons regard as defining us as a people, understanding them to be historic peoples who we descend from not civic identities. No one really considers themselves to be such things today, we are English or Scottish. But can someone whose ancestry goes back a very short amount of time be English or Scottish?

There are certainly many examples throughout history of people assimilating into an ethnic group that is not their own and becoming loyal to it. Examples include Satyananda Stokes, an American quaker who moved to India converted to Hinduism, changed his name from Samuel Evans Stokes, Jr. and who participated in the Indian independence movement, as well as Robert of St. Albans who was an English Knights Templar in the 12th century who converted to Islam, lead an army against Christian crusaders and married into the Ayyubid dynasty. Many more examples of this phenomenon have occurred.

These are of course extreme examples, someone from the Caribbean need not convert to a new religion or completely betray where they came from in order to assimilate into our culture and examples of such people certainly exist. Mr Lammy, however, seems to want to have his Jaffa cakes and eat them too. He will say – when it is convenient to him – that he is English, since he enjoys Walkers crisps. However, he has no problem shedding his English identity when it’s politically expedient, stating in the past “I’m afraid, as Caribbean people, we are not going to forget our history, we don’t just want to hear an apology, we want reparation” and “I have a Guyanese passport and since Brexit that Guyanese passport has more value than before!”.

If one is English, one is so to the very last consequence and therefore, David Lammy MP ought to make his mind up. 

Photo Credit.

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