…is No Cause for Celebration

by Lee Pinkerton

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 answerRather 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. So, why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us? (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?

duwyane-brookes-wit-hthe-lib-demsDuwayne 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 learned 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 was in David Cameron's inner circleShaun Bailey with David Cameron - valued advisor or token Black?
Shaun Bailey was in David Cameron’s inner circleShaun Bailey with David Cameron – valued advisor or token Black?

Shaun Bailey, the Prime Minister’s only black aide, was ‘frozen out by David Cameron’s cliqueIt 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 (Streatham) 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 and alienated in 2011, and simply condemned the violence, and bashed the Tories.
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.

If you’d like to read more of my work, check out my new book ‘The Problem With Black Men’ available now on Amazon.

Lee Pinkerton was born in London, the child of Jamaican and Guyanese immigrants. After studying Sociology and Psychology at University he spent the 90s as a music journalist, first as a freelancer for magazines such as Mix Mag, Echoes, and Hip-Hop Connection and then as the Arts Editor for ‘Britain’s Best Black newspaper’- The Voice.
In addition to this he also wrote a book the Many Faces of Michael Jackson published in 1997.
His latest book The Problem With Black Men examines the causes of the social problems facing Black men in Britain and America today.
He can currently be heard as a regular on-air contributor to the ‘ACE show’ on BBC Radio Derby and his political polemics and cultural criticism can be read on the blog-site The Black Watch and his daily musings on Twitter @_Runawayslave.

3 thoughts on “Token Black Faces in High Places…

  1. Ros Howells, special advisor to Doreen Lawrence, said of a case Mary McGill Decd “What Suffolk Police did in that case was far, far, far worse than anything Met did in the Lawrence case”. If Doreen Lawrence had tried to “Fight for justice” in that case she would have got precisely nowhere.

    The Stephen Lawrence roadshow got off the ground because it suited someone with power to promote it.

    Do remember all the white slaves too. Then you will avoid purveying a propaganda version of history.

    I am old enough to remember the early 60s. A senior cop in Ipswich was pondering why Barbadians seemed like good folks but Jamaicans in the town were a pain in the backside. That was before Lord Stonham and his ilk modified society (Repeal of Misprision of Felony etc). The senior cop mentioned that in the Coromante regions of Africa there were a few dozen tribal ethnicities. Wouldn’t the black folk rightly object to the white British sociology theorists assigning them one mythical black ethnicity and heritage. he also commented that West Indians had a bit of a point about slum landlords in Ipswich and the Asian landlords ought to be sorted out by the council.

    When I read your approved sociology analysis I admire the old cop for trying to put facts on the table. How does it feel to sign up to an ethnicity and heritage invented for you by a white sociologist a few decades ago ?


    Anyway let us forlornly hope for a full and proper judge led inquiry this time.


  2. In case my tweets on @_Runawayslave’s eloquent and challenging blog: “Token Black Faces in High Places…is No Cause for Celebration” were ambiguous, here they are in slightly more detail.

    I agree with part of the fundamental premise of the blog. The part I agree with is articulated best by Martin Luther King III, speaking at the 50th anniversary of his father Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. He said, “This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration; nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.” Therefore a few Black faces in a few high places, is indeed no cause for unbridled celebration, particularly when you consider the range of social and economic challenges that remain to be overcome. So you are right to warn against complacency.

    It must also be said though that the blog is shock-jock ‘journalism’; deliberately provocative and entirely amateur in its analysis. It’s informed by a wholesale naivety. Further the citation of certain individuals as examples of ‘tokenism’ is something that I must politely, but firmly take issue with. I know some of them well enough to state that the strength of their character is such that they would never allow themselves to be or to be used as “Token Black Faces in High Places…” For clarity, they are not personal friends, but it takes only a few minutes in their presence to tell you that they are nobody’s token anything. My take on them is their approach is focused: change the changeable, accept the unchangeable (for today), and remove yourself from / don’t be part of the unacceptable.

    Doreen Lawrence has never allowed her family’s campaign for justice to be silenced or hijacked and her passion for justice remains undiminished. Therefore it is wrong to contend that in the Upper House she will be anything other than a fiercely independent voice for those fighting injustice. True she did not set out as a highly political trained campaigner; but neither is Doreen a novice. Has any campaign so shaken the Metropolitan Police as Lawrence family’s crusade to right wrongs that were just so palpable and so devastating, not just to the Lawrence family but also to the wider community of Black Londoners? Whilst the search for justice isn’t done, Doreen Lawrence stands as one of the most effective campaigners of the past 20 years.

    The USA is a fundamentally different place to the UK because of its history and also it’s politics. It’s nonsense to say the President of the USA doesn’t have power. Question Obama’s judgment and policies if you wish; but do not question that he has power. Also a Black family in the White House can not eradicate Black inequality. It is naive to have expected they could. What they have achieved it is to provide an alternative narrative to what a Black man can become in America.

    So, if you follow your simplistic logic, you would also dismiss Madiba Mandela’s achievements and contribution to South Africa and the wider international community. The truth is change takes generations, particularly when the challenges are so widespread and deep-rooted. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey knew that. Therefore recognising significant steps on journey is important .


  3. “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” (Pinkerton, 2013)
    I am not sure if you are aware, but some say Obama was supposedly a grassroots community organizer on the south side of Chicago before he “moved on up to the White House.” Apparently, he did not think those skills and talents would be applicable on a macro level. Although he did not speak out for Troy Davis, he did open his mouth for Trayvon-I guess I should be grateful?
    The reality for me is that when MLK died, the “Dream” seemed to have “died” as well. Rev Jackson, Sharpton, and others seemed to lose “Jah’s way” and picked up their “own way” which took from the path of “Social Justice Leadership”. Our “leaders” are self-motivated and have been for quite a while. The last 2-3 decades have shown our community’s allegiance to the “crab-in-a-barrel syndrome” Here we are are, still trying to figure out what strong Black leadership looks like, sounds like, feels like 50 years later.
    In my humble opinion, racism is worse than it was over 50 years ago. Back then, active bigots showed you who they were by their gear (i.e. wearing white hoods), burning crosses, releasing attack dogs, spraying you down with hoses, etc.) Now, they are disguised in three piece suits, carry briefcases, wear robes and “interpret the law of the land” (from their meritocratic perspective, of course); make laws; are owners and presidents of Fortune 500 companies; wear badges and legally authorized to carry and fire weapons….I believe the latter scenario to be the higher threat because of the systemic camouflage of discrimination..
    It is up to people like myself to continue the battle day in and day out to eradicate inequality, injustice, and racism through love, tolerance, education, awareness, and advocacy. We will remain “UNbossed & UNbought”


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