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David Lammy

Black History Month 2020: In conversation with David Lammy MP

Published on 30 October 2020

As part of Black History Month this year, Christian Aid staff have taken part in a series of big conversations on racial equality, which have featured novelist Chibundu Onuzo, the shadow justice minister and MP for Tottenham, David Lammy as well as board members Valerie Traore and Nan Powell-Davies.

David Lammy is well known for campaigning on social and racial justice. He inspired and challenged us at Christian Aid this week with a series of powerful and thought-provoking messages during our final ‘In Conversation’ session.

David Lammy and Chine McDonald

Racism will not be solved in my lifetime

- David Lammy

The Labour MP, who in February 2019 spoke out against ‘white saviours’ following social media posts from Uganda by the broadcaster Stacey Dooley, further challenged the international development sector’s approach towards Africa. He said he is ‘not interested in propping up Victorian notions of what it means to be African – I’m far more interested in equity, balance, the future of the continent of Africa’.

Instead, Mr Lammy suggested that Christian Aid should ‘lead’ in a different approach to fundraising, because familiar models ‘are playing on things that have a long track record, and one of those track records is white supremacy’. He went on: ‘So where is the equity – can we be generous to those Black Africans? Can they be part of the story?’

Mr Lammy encouraged Christian Aid to strive for the equity in our global work that will enable us to get into ‘genuine partnership’ with the communities we work with.

However, he praised some in the sector for their work in striving for equity and thanked Christian Aid for the invitation to speak during Black History Month.

Speaking about the development sector, he said: ‘Now it’s also the case that in my work with a lot of aid agencies over the years…a lot of what is going on on the ground is fantastic stuff, done in partnership with small …organisations on the ground.’ He added: ‘Aid has moved on a lot from the era where white European young people flew out to countries, stayed in countries, ran around in jeeps, it has moved on quite a lot since those days.’ Mr Lammy added, however, that fundraising should reflect this.

Mr Lammy said that following the violent murder of George Floyd in May, he initially felt ‘quite cynical’.

Black pain is not new – it is usual and frequent

- David Lammy, MP for Tottenham.

He continued: ‘And of course you can examine any moment in modern history and see lots of examples of Black pain, and the biggest understanding of that is to engage in the experience of enslaved people. And my ancestors are enslaved people. I am a descendant of enslaved people.’

However, he said ‘it may well be that this moment has cut through, because there is now an appetite to do something, and that’s driven largely by young people and their frustration with the system. So that’s the opportunity.’

But Mr Lammy chided the Church for being ‘too quiet’. He said: ‘I find Christian communities too quiet on the whole, not noisy enough about what they are seeing… I’m where Jesus was turning over the tables and being pretty clear. We seem to have got into a sort of quiet solemn faith that is enjoyed on a Sunday morning and that is just not my experience of faith, and a sort of slightly conservative, small ‘c’, don’t rock the boat kind of faith – and that’s not my tradition either. So that’s my frustration I think on the whole with church groups. It’s too quiet, too easy, too comfortable.’

As Black History Month comes to end, we continue to celebrate the richness of Black history as well as grieve the pain endured by our Black sisters and brothers around the world. Christian Aid has a long history of standing for racial justice and our fight continues.

As Mr Lammy prophetically claimed, the Church cannot remain silent.

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