David Lammy praised for response to LBC caller who said he was 'not English'

David Lammy has been praised for showing patience and grace in his handling of a caller to his radio show who suggested he could not describe himself as English because he is not white.

The shadow justice secretary, 48, was discussing the term BAME, which he called lazy and impersonal, on his LBC show, when he offered a more appropriate description of his identities: “I’m of African descent, African-Caribbean descent, but I am English.”

A caller, named Jean, said it was not possible to be both African-Caribbean and English. 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," hy het gesê. “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.”

The caller went on to insist that it was “fine” for Lammy to say he was British, but that he was “not English”. She then went on to suggest that because she is white, she would never describe herself as Caribbean.

Lammy responded: “Well then you probably don’t realise that in countries like Barbados, there are significant white Caribbean populations who have been there for hundreds of years, and they are significantly more Caribbean than I am.”

Jean replied: “All I can say is the whole world is polluting everybody the way it’s going.”

Lammy said her language and outlook on mixed heritage was “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?”

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.

Among those to tweet their praise was the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who wrote: “Huge admiration for my friend David Lammy. Well said.”

The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner called it “absolutely disgusting” that Lammy had had to justify his Englishness because of his skin colour. Sy het gese: “This is disgraceful. The way that Black Britons have to justify their Britishness or Englishness is absolutely disgusting.

“Solidarity with David Lammy who dealt with this impeccably. David is just as British or English as I am and he’s the best of Britain and the best of England.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, wrote: “Bravo David Lammy.” MPs from across the political spectrum commended his patience and composure, among them the Tory former chancellor Sajid Javid who tweeted the clip with the caption: “100% English”.

Lammy himself later tweeted the clip to say: “Don’t ever tell me I’m ‘not English’.”

He had originally been discussing the reported recommendation from Boris Johnson’s racial disparity commission that the term BAME, which stands for black, Asian and minority ethnic, should be scrapped.

Lammy said: “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.”




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