Token Black faces in high places is no cause for celebration

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Blogs, Uncategorized
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Unlike most in the Black community I did not view the peerage of Doreen Lawrence as a cause for celebration. Many of us see the acceptance of Black individuals into the exclusive clubs of the ruling white elite as a sign that we as a race are progressing. I don’t see it like that. Let’s not forget that three of the five killers of Stephen Lawrence still have their liberty. To make matters worse last month it was revealed that instead of pursuing the suspects in the immediate aftermath of the crime, the Metropolitan Police spent their time operating a covert surveillance operation on the Lawrence family and their supporters. In their all-to-familiar style, instead of pursuing the criminals the authorities expended their energies trying to smear the Black victims. Will Doreen’s presence in the House of Lords bring the remaining killers to justice? Will it reveal which members of the establishment knew what of the surveillance operation and when? Somehow I doubt it.

Will Doreen Lawrence's presence in the House Of Lords advance the cause for racial justice?

Will Doreen Lawrence’s presence in the House Of Lords advance the cause for racial justice?

At the same time we are told that the Police officers who shot Mark Duggan dead in the street, and those present when Smiley Culture ended up with a knife in his chest, have no case to answer.  Rather than advancing the cause of racial justice, I see Lawrence’s peerage as hush money – like giving a crying toddler a lollipop in the hope that it will shut them up.  To liken the process to the days of slavery, it’s like the slave masters taking one of their most troublesome field negroes and giving them an easier job in the house, thus both pacifying the gripes of said slave, and at the same time removing a rallying point from those disgruntled comrades still left in the field.

Or as Professor Gus John so eloquently put it in a recent article for the Voice without wanting to diminish in any way Doreen Lawrence’s passion for justice for her son, we must not fight shy of pointing out the cynicism of the British state and particularly of the Labour Party in seeking to hijack and fashion Doreen Lawrence into its own grotesque creation.”

I am not trying to detract from the tireless efforts of the Lawrence family over the last 20 years, but in truth she is not a wiley and seasoned political operator versed in the dark arts of the party politics.  She is merely an ordinary wife and mother who was thrust into the spotlight by the outcry from the community when her son was brutally murdered, and the Justice system seemed not to care. How much impact can she really have?

Barack Obama - has the plight of Black people in America improved under his leadership?

Barack Obama – has the plight of Black people in America improved under his leadership?

But my sense of disquiet is not confined solely to the amateur politics of Doreen Lawrence.  Remember back in 2008 when we were all filled with a similar sense of optimism when Barack Obama became the President Of  The United States, and supposedly the most powerful man on earth? Now in the cold light of day, five years later, we can see that Obama has not had the effect that we hoped he would. He has not been able to reduce Black unemployment, or stop the tide of Black men dying on the streets or joining the conveyor belt of the Prison Industrial Complex.  Despite the softening of the Marijuana laws in many states, he has not ended the War on Drugs that results in the criminalisation of so many Black men, and he was not even able to get his signature policy of Obama-care through Congress without a host of compromises. The most powerful man on earth seemed powerless to change the racist ‘Stop and Frisk’ policy adopted by the New York Police Department, or the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida. In truth, having a Black Commander in Chief does more harm than good to the prospects of the average African-American.  Because of him, whites can claim that we now live in a post-racial society where discrimination no longer exists, and affirmative action is no longer necessary. And the Black activists are muted in their criticism because they do not want to undermine the first Black POTUS and give more ammunition to his opponents. And Obama himself is being less proactive in his own appointments because, unlike all of his white predecessors he does not have to pander to the Black vote, and doesn’t want to be accused by the opposition of favouring African-Americans. (Remember that even the much maligned George W. Bush had a Black Joint Chief of Staff (Colin Powell) and a Black Secretary of State (Condoleeza Rice).  So tell me again how much progress Blacks in America have made by having a Black President. It makes all the more puzzling to me why Black people over here are asking when we will have a British Obama?

Duwayne Brookes - Stephen Lawrence's friend getting involved in party politics.

Duwayne Brookes – Stephen Lawrence’s friend getting involved in party politics.

Back in Britain, in a new twist in the long legacy of the Stephen Lawrence case, Duwayne Brookes, the friend who was with Stephen on the night he was murdered, has announced that he will be standing as the Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate for Lewisham. We also learnt this year that Brooks too had suffered a campaign of covert surveillance, attempted smearing and harassment from the Police.  No doubt Duwayne, like Doreen, feels that if he is part of the Political establishment, he can effect change, and stop such miscarriages of justice from occurring in the future.  It was probably such noble motives that Shaun Bailey had when he became a Tory Prospective Parliamentary Candidate and advisor to David Cameron.

Shaun Bailey with David Cameron - valued advisor or token Black?

Shaun Bailey with David Cameron – valued advisor or token Black?

It took him a while to realise that Cameron’s all white, Eton and Oxbridge      cabinet were ignoring his suggestions and side-lining him – for his appointment, just like that of Doreen Lawrence is merely a token gesture, designed to make us believe that they are listening; that they really care. With Doreen, just like Mandela, whites in power elevate one Black person and deify them, to show us that now everything is alright. Mandela became President and so racial inequality was eradicated in South Africa in one fell swoop? Doreen Lawrence becomes a Baroness and so racial justice has been achieved in the UK?

No doubt the recently retired Police Superintendent Leroy Logan wanted to make a difference when he joined the Metropolitan Police 30 years ago.  His own father had been on the receiving end of rough treatment by the Met, and he nobly wanted to try and influence change from the inside. But despite being a founding member of the Black Police Association and one of the highest ranking Black officers, he could still not stop Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan from being shot dead in the street, or Roger Sylvester, Frank Ogburo and Sean Rigg from dying whilst in Police restraint. As we discover each new case of Police racism, we have to ask ourselves, despite all of their racial sensitivity training and the efforts of Logan and the BPA, how much has really changed at the MET?

All those who want to be MPs say they do it because they want to help – they want to effect change.  But how much do they really help?  Three well established Black Labour MPs David Lammy (Tottenham) Diane Abbott (Hackney) and Chuka Umunna (Brixton) all preside over boroughs with high levels of deprivation.  Knowing all three areas of London well, I don’t know how much the presence of a Black MP has helped Black residents.  What I do know is that all three areas have undergone a process of gentrification whereby poor people can no longer afford to live there.   And remember that both Lammy and Abbott preside over boroughs where the nationwide riots of 2011 first took hold.

MP David Lammy woefully failed to articulate why so many of his Tottenham constituents were angry in 2011, and simply condemned the violence.

MP David Lammy woefully failed to articulate why so many of his Tottenham constituents were angry and alienated in 2011, and simply condemned the violence, and bashed the Tories.

Lammy has been very quiet about the Mark Duggan shooting which sparked off the riots in the first place, and all he felt able to do at the time, was condemn the violence and respectfully escort deputy PM Nick Clegg  around to inspect the damage.  Abbott showed her hand in 2012 when she withdrew perfectly legitimate comments she made on twitter, about white people playing divide and conquer, after receiving instruction from her massa, (sorry leader) Ed Milliband. Are they really there fighting for our interests or simply trying to further their own careers and feather their own nests?

Real activists are down in the trenches, fighting for civil rights, embarrassing the law-makers and law-enforcers into action: not quaffing champagne with our oppressors in Westminster, and occasionally sharing their privilege with those of us still out in the field, by hosting the odd reception at the big house.

Remember that Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey were not members of any political party.  They were leaders of grass-roots movements, and they arguably have had more impact than any Black politician.  The Reverend Al Sharpton did more to draw attention to the Trayvon Martin case than Obama, who seemed afraid to speak about it too strongly for fear of offending. If we really want to change things for the better, the grassroots is where we should be working, not these exclusive private members clubs in Westminster.

I will leave the final word to the always excellent Gary Younge who wrote this regarding Obama.

“The presence of underrepresented people in leadership positions only has any significantly positive meaning if it challenges whatever obstacles created the conditions for that underrepresentation. To believe otherwise is to trade equal opportunities for photo opportunities, whereby a system looks different but acts the same. “

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Comments
  1. I agree. Lawrence should have turned down the gong. Doreen also should not have met the Home Secretary when the surveillance story broke. If Doreen was going to meet the Home Sec she should have brought along all the families (death in custody) that police had tried to smear as well. The photo opportunities with the Home Sec just play into the establishment hands.

    Politics of UK and US is so so different. More space in the USA for black (or any race) representatives to speak their minds than those in the UK without fear. Where the UK ones are so micromanaged by the central offices. So the UK black MPs seem to lose their mojo once they have been selected/appointed.

    The classic example was what happened to Baroness Scotland – who was a pretty effective Home Office Minister (speaking from personal experience).

    Once Scotland was “promoted” by Brown to the Attorney General post she should have turned it down given that she would be allowed in Cabinet meetings but without Cabinet powers. Unlike her predecessor, Lord Goldsmith. That was baffling at the time. Just like what the Tories did with Baroness Warsi.

    Sharpton played some role in raising the Trayvon Martin case. But it was the relentless coverage by MSNBC -in particular – via all their daytime programmes that kept that tragedy in the public eye. So the likes Melissa Harris Perry, Michael Dyson, Karen Finney, Chris Hayes, Joy Reid and others were equally on message there.

    The UK just doesn’t have that kind of daytime news media platform and communicators (like Sharpton et al) to keep black issues in the public eye. Hopefully one day that will change.

    But now that Doreen has the gong, lets hope she will make an active, independent and very loud difference.

    Keep blogging….

  2. Jacqueline Simpson says:

    It is truly naive for anyone to think that once a black person becomes democratically elected by both white and non white people, that the lives of black people will be transformed overnight or within a few years. It is equally naive to believe that Doreen Lawrence’s enoblement should be the trigger for finally bringing the killers of her son to justice. Any argument based on these erroneous and misguided premises are bound to draw the conclusion that forms the title of this blog. I sincerely doubt that any prospective parliamentary candidate founded their campaign on the basis that they would transform the lives of black people. When Doreen Lawrence accepted her peerage she said that she wanted to make a difference to the lives of black people AND the underprivileged. On what basis can we doubt the veracity of that statement? Thanks to Doreen Lawrence, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust has done fanatic work to enable young people to face down discrimination and overcome disadvantage to achieve their ambition to become architects with the assistance of our acclaimed international bursary programme http://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/. I am sure even more support will be given to black children with assistance of Doreen Lawrence’s new title.
    As for MPs allegedly not making a difference to the lives of black people – in 2002 Diane Abbott set up an initative called London School and the Black Child http://www.blackeducation.info/ to encourage black children to succeed given the unjustified discrepancy in educational outcomes for black children against all other races. Every year Diane, and others, which includes David Lammy, praise young black academic achievers who defy the odds to achieve great things academically.

    The work of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and London School and the Black Child will not result in overnight change or change within a few years – it will take years and it won’t affect every child but it will transform the lives of some who would never have had the opportunity to succeed due to the cards they were dealt.

    As for David Lammy,he demanded reforms of the Police and the IPCC following the death of Mark Duggan. He met commissioners from the IPCC on several occasions to discuss the Duggan investigation as well as their general performance as the Police watchdog. He spoke in Parliament on the need for a public inquiry into the death of Mark Duggan, and received assurances that that would happen. He attended regular meetings of the HMIC review into the police use of stop and search. He continued to be in contact with Duggan family and their lawyer to provide any assistance throughout the case as well as attending a series of pre-inquest hearings. He also successfully called for a change to the Police in Crime Bill which would compel police officers to respond to questioning from the IPCC. How can it possibly be said that David Lammy has been sitting on his hands, which this article implies, on the Mark Duggan shooting?

    I venture to wager that neither Diane, David, Chukka or Doreen ever pledged to represent the views of only black people: if that was their intended plan then as the author of this article rightly says, they should be working within the grassroots groups whose sole purpose is to advance the cause of black people. However, it cannot credibly be said that having a black person as part of the law making process, be it in the House of Commons or House of Lords, will make not one jot of difference to the lives of black people. There is bound to be a time when impending legislation has a disproportionate effect on black people which, when presented to the likes of David, Diane, Chukka, Doreen and other black MPs will give rise to serious debate as to whether it should go through Parliament and if so, in what form. A final, and to me more important, point, is that there can never be enough be black people in the public eye by reason of their exhaulted profession. Their mere presence alone will serve as useful role models to black children who, like me as a child, suffered from a severe absence of such people in our lives.

    • leepinkerton says:

      Thank you Jacqueline for your thorough and most detailed response. You are obviously more aware of the work that Abbott and Lammy do behind the scenes than i. I only wish that Lammy would be as vocal on twitter of the work he is doing (particularly about the Duggan case) as he is in his support of Tottenham Hotspur! Thanks again

  3. Jacqueline Simpson says:

    You’re welcome Lee

  4. Hopperuk says:

    Some times I think its important not to judge progress in UK of Black people with the USA who have had over 400 years to get Obama to where he is in UK we need to find away of celebrating the progress that is being made and the people under pinning it Bernie Grant did his bit but do we celebrate him across the UK no after 50 years not of Martin,s speak but living in and across UK who are we celebrating we need to push up Black people trying not pull down as we seem to do all the time ,I we where in the position of some others would want to criticise us think about it ,how do we build on what we have

  5. SLJ says:

    I believe my aunt is in the right place to give hope to other black people out there. At least she is a role model… My concern is people like you who like to put down our people when they are put in a position like that instead of celebrating and promoting her struggle. Do you actually know what she has gone through? Do you know what it is like to have your child killed? Do you know what its like to walk through what was once a closed door (Parliament) that is now opened thanks to God . Well i do and so does My aunt Doreen. I am an actor, who mostly does extra work now since my accident, and i find that im the token in many films, adverts, commercials and so on. Do you think i care that im a token? No i dont! Why not? Because someone has got to represent us black folk in a good light. So you bringing down our people for trying to make a difference is nothing good. You sound like your still hurting from slavery days. We aint stupid out here in the world. We all have eyes to see and a mind to know that yes we are put in the background on most shoots, or stereo typed. But at least we have a job or role that reaches the public in a positive light. God is the only judge! Take the chains from around your ankles and step out into the real world. The problem with our people is they are too busy pulling down each other instead of building each other and teaching each other. Shame on you! You’ll know you’ve succeeded as a parent when your children are able to leave you and go out and build a successful life on their own. You will never cut them off, but there comes a time when you must ‘cut the apron strings’ and let them stand on their own two feet. Remember, the children you are raising right now belonged to God before they belonged to you. ‘The earth is the Lord’s…and all who live in it’ (Psalms 24:1 NIV). You are a teacher, not an owner, and your opportunity to teach them is amazingly brief. Your children were born to ‘leave,’ not stay. You can’t control their ticking biological clock. Your job is to prepare them for leaving. For the next few days, let’s talk about giving your child roots and wings. ‘Roots.’ Before fruit develops, roots must thrive. And healthy roots require healthy soil with the right elements for feeding and protecting plants. Roots also depend on attachment to the soil. There are two kinds of families. The first offers ‘insecure attachment.’ Their parent-child connection is ambiguous, ambivalent, indifferent or even neglectful, making kids feel emotionally unprotected, uncertain they’re wanted and loved, though they desperately need both these things. Their children lack confidence, self-worth, emotional strength, and the courage to take risks. The second offers ‘secure attachment.’ The parent-child connection is expressed and consistently reinforced. Even during necessary absences their children feel safe and securely attached. Such children become spiritually, socially and emotionally capable, with the self-worth and courage required to face the challenges life puts in their path. God bless you and may He enlighten you to reality. Its wake up time. build our people with hope and faith… Dont bring them down with your own selfish disgrace. You need to pray for Black people and have faith in God…

    • leepinkerton says:

      thank you SLJ for your most lengthy reply. But I wonder if you actually read the post, or simply read the headline and saw the picture of your aunt, and took offence. Did you read the bit where I said “I am not trying to detract from the tireless efforts of the Lawrence family over the last 20 years”. This blog post IS NOT a criticism of Doreen Lawrence. It is a criticism of the corrupt system that denied her and her family justice for so many years. A system that is now elevating her and using her as a fig leaf to cover their shame, and perpetuate the illusion that we have made progress in race relations. The fact that two killers were belatedly brought to justice was due to the efforts of the Lawrence family and other justice campaigners, rather than the Police or the Labour Party who are now rewarding her efforts with a peerage. No I don’t know what it is like to have a child murdered, but if I was to ever suffer such a horror, I would hope that the Police would spend their time investigating the suspects, rather than my family and friends. SLJ I am not trying to ‘bring down black people with my own selfish disgrace’ but rather trying to wake Black people up to how the system is playing us. No matter how much you love your Aunt, how much of an impact do you think she is really going to have in that big, venal, corrupt House of Lords? Finally SLJ did you read that final quote from Gary Younge at the end?
      “The presence of underrepresented people in leadership positions only has any significantly positive meaning if it challenges whatever obstacles created the conditions for that underrepresentation. To believe otherwise is to trade equal opportunities for photo opportunities, whereby a system looks different but acts the same.“
      Do you want REAL change SLJ, or are you happy with just a cosmetic change populated with token gestures?

  6. SLJ says:

    Ok its like this. I deal with the reality of life and what it has to offer. I see the struggles of my people, and yes i see what the governments and the police and the judges all get up to. But the truth is the truth. We all have some kind of sense. Now sense tells me that us as a nation that came and built this country and has watched other countries come here and do better than us, is all because of our people being too ignorant, too disrespectful, holding on to values that lead to dead ends, Quick to bring down each other, Dont support each others businesses, Bad mind others instead of celebrating them. Materialistic folk, who would rather have a nice car than a roof over their head, Party till we are too old to make that difference or salvage what we have left behind as desolation, Selfish, conniving, greedy, No togetherness, Me me me me attitude, playing the victim all the time, Using slavery as some kind of excuse when in fact they are putting themselves into mental slavery through drugs and hate and post code wars, through killing each other, Rap music sending out Messages of hate and war, with messages of disrespecting of our sisters, Do you know who we act like from the Bible? We act like we are the Ammonites or Pharisees… Do you know who they were? The Bible explains the origins of the Ammonite people from the incestuous event between Lot and his daughters following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Both daughters had children and the Moabites and Ammonites were decendents of the unions. Their admitted kinship through the centuries and close ties in language development attest to kinship. Genesis 19: 36-38 states So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by by their father. The firstborn gave birth to a son and named him Moab. He is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger also gave birth to a son, and she named him Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites of today. We need to break these customs and take up some of what white people actually do. Which is, stick together, help one and other, work and look after and lookout for their families, Fathers need be fathers and lead by example. White folks have the template to life, and our people are fighting against it.. Why? We cant change our problems through war, riots, killing, robbing, extortion…. When my parents came to this country, they found work and set up their own business. I got caught up in badness because i followed friends, not the government. I went to prison because of my behavior not the governments. Years ago there was a memo that was sent around to many white folks which said (Black people will never do well in life, because they dont read, and when they do, they read things that do not enhance their life.) Now take from that what you will, but i dont see where you are helping people with what you have written as we all ready know what the government are like as they are all being brought to the light of the stage and are being exposed, we all can see through the press, that we live in a corrupt country. If a house of parliament official has to leave his post because of police telling lies, and it be proven that he did not call the police plebs, We should not be asking for the IPCC to be brought to the ground, as they are for the police. Smiley Culture was a good friend of mine and i know he would never kill himself. Yet they said he did, and thats final… Right! They killed him and got away with it. Police have set me up on a few occasions and been let off by the IPCC. But my thing is this. As a man of faith i read in between the lines of life. I walk with the fruits of the spirit and i have a relationship with Yahweh/God. So i leave my battles with Him, as His promise is that He will look after His own.. We need to take a leaf out of the White mans book on how to live your live. Simple. That does not mean losing our values or identity, but actually checking your values and see if they measure up to how you want to live or be. Many people i know need to leave their attitude, stop smoking weed, and educate their minds. They have free education and yet still dont want to utilize this blessing. Im a minister for the Lord now, but it took a lot of growing up before i could start this journey. So when i speak i speak with authority, as i was the streets. Sometimes people take the scenic route through life, when in fact the short cut is stearing them in the face… God bless you my friend, and im not having a go at you lol even though it may seem that way….Im sorry if i have come across that way… We are to blame for our actions. I used to get stopped all the time by the police for driving a nice car, and i used to give them attitude. Then one day i was nice to them, and i saw an expression that stayed with me until today, as they expect me to rise up, so when i did not they were confused and had to show me respect.. Do well out there in the world regarding your studies and you will have as much right as anyone else anywhere in the world. We have to teach our sons and daughters how to value life.. God bless

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