Tribes by David Lammy

I don’t often read non-fiction. Not due to a lack of enjoyment or a lack of non-fiction titles to choose from but mainly due to the fact that since I started blogging about books the majority of interest seems to lie in fiction and I have a tendency to become preoccupied with trivial matters such as views and likes. After my break from blogging, my opinion on this has changed slightly. I’m going to just write about what interests me and if people show an interest then that is amazing but if not, then at least I have found the subject interesting. Tribes by David Lammy perfectly encapsulates this new ethos as while I don’t see much value in writing a review of the book (I will discuss the quality of it in this post but just not in a lot of detail) it has given me a lot of thoughts that I wish to share.

David Lammy is a Labour politician who has represented Tottenham as an MP since 2000. As a black politician, he is very much in the minority. Still to this day, the country is overwhelmingly ran by wealthy, white, straight men. I wasn’t aware of just how much of a divisive figure David Lammy was viewed as by some until I tweeted about my enjoyment of the first chapter of this book and my observation that the world is becoming more divided. I don’t believe either of these statements to be particularly controversial. However, once David Lammy retweeted and replied to my tweet, the whole context around it shifted. The first thing to note is that it got more likes and retweets than any previous tweet I’ve done. This is evidence that there are many who agreed with my sentiments and by association, in some way, support at least some of what David Lammy represents. However, I also received at least 30 replies either aimed directly or me, or far more commonly at David Lammy, which I would consider to be hateful. One was overtly racist, which I reported and deleted almost immediately because I refuse to give any sort of platform to those views. Some were more subtle in their racism, but race was clearly the motivation behind their strong reaction to my enjoyment of one chapter of a book. Again, I deleted these replies as it is my social media account, and I don’t feel that those views deserve a platform of any kind. More interestingly though, were those that attacked David Lammy because they believed he was in fact fuelling the division in our society through the book. At this point, I had only read one chapter of the book and I can’t pretend to have known a lot about David Lammy or what he supported. But still it seemed to me a strange leap to make from what was a very reasonable and nuanced perspective put across in the first chapter. I read on, intrigued to see whether my viewpoint would change.

It didn’t.

I don’t believe David Lammy is proposing anything remotely controversial in this book. The number one message I received from the book is that in order to heal the divides that have undoubtedly occurred in our society, we need to focus on rebuilding communities, supporting those most in need and begin investing in worthwhile, meaningful causes. The best way to improve as a nation is to support those most in need and to strive for a fair and equal society. I didn’t agree with everything proposed in this book. My opinion differs slightly regarding how we should go about creating a fairer and more equal society but that is only natural. There are no two people in the world who agree on everything. The fundamental principal of what this book is proposing is one which I find it hard to believe anybody, other than those who currently benefit from the cracks in our society, would ever have an issue with.

The book covers various aspects of David Lammy’s personal life such as a journey to Niger to investigate his roots more thoroughly and his own experiences of society growing up as the son of Guyanese parents. It also covers the wider impact of tribalism in instances such as the Brexit referendum, identity politics and loneliness in modern society. It is far from a comprehensive look at most of these issues (it would have to be ten times the size to achieve that) but it is a good starting point in creating conversations and signposting people towards further information on such crucial issues. The book itself is well written, the structure is broken down nicely into manageable chunks so that it never feels overwhelming and it flows wonderfully between good humour, tragedy and hope. It is also incredibly researched with almost every point supported with some piece of evidence. I found myself repeating statistics from the book to those around me on a regular basis.

That begs the question then; why did my tweet cause so much anger for some people? There are several possibilities. First, I don’t believe that anybody who messaged me had read the book in its entirety. If they did then they severely missed the points that are being made.

Secondly, there is a mistrust of all politicians in this country and that causes a strong reaction in people immediately. This viewpoint I have more sympathy with, as over the last five years it feels like truth has become malleable and increasingly people are getting treated like children who can’t be trusted with reality. This creates a frustration which we are all feeling and leads to the expression of such views as “Politics is a waste of time!” While this may feel true the implications of what that would mean don’t bear thinking about. Still though, this book does not do that. It never speaks down to the reader and the points made are always well reasoned and there is an undercurrent of optimism running throughout.

The third factor is that David Lammy’s race has a significant impact on the way some people react to him. It is sad and scary but also true that some people inherently don’t like those who are different to them and to hear somebody different to them suggest a change to the way of life causes anger in these people. In the book, David Lammy discusses being sick of getting asked where he comes from as a young man. As if people can’t accept him as black and British. Several incidents of racism are described, some of which are carried out on social media. The anonymity of a screen and keyboard affords to people brings out their darkest nature. This has been a year which has seen the rise to prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and a refusal to accept the injustices which still exist in our society. However, there are still those who would seek to divide us and feel it is acceptable to hate and persecute anybody who they deem to be different. This, I believe, is the true reason behind the visceral reaction some people have to this book.

I found reading this book an inspiring experience. Up until recently I lived in Walton, Liverpool. It is an area which on many metrics is considered one of the poorest in the country. It was clear while living there that the way the country is currently run is not working.

I also work in a school which has many children who receive Pupil Premium Funding to try and afford them the same opportunities in life as their more affluent peers. I am fully aware of the impact that many years of austerity has had upon the community and the very real damage it has done. After reading this book, I felt invigorated to try and make a difference and do even more to help those around me. Regardless of what you believe, the political party you support or your own experience of life we should all be fighting to improve the lives of all those around us. That is the way true progress is made. We are all members of many different ‘tribes’ but it is only by uniting that we will be able to ever make any real difference. If you have any interest in what has been happening in the world around us, the divisions which have formed or the hatred that some display then this a book worth reading.

Thanks for reading this post. I am happy to engage in meaningful discussion but let’s ensure it is civil.

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