Yale students should consider their worldly responsibilities, rather than focusing solely on their own rights, according to British politician David Lammy.
Lammy — a member of Parliament who serves Tottenham, one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in Europe — spoke at an Ezra Stiles Master’s Tea on Saturday afternoon. Before an audience of roughly 30 students, Lammy said that members of Western society often take for granted the social and economic revolutions that have made their lives easier. He said the biggest question facing society today is, “how do we come back together in an age when it’s all about me?”
Lammy, who is a member of the Labour Party, highlighted issues of immigration and discrimination with references to his own life. A second-generation immigrant, Lammy described his parents’ experience with arriving in England from Guyana in 1956.
“What they found in London was not streets paved in gold, or the England they had read about in Dickens, or in Austen,” Lammy said, adding that they faced many challenges in England, including widespread racism.
After his father left, Lammy’s mother raised him and his four siblings on her own, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Lammy said he felt his mother’s struggle to advance in the workplace was a product of discrimination toward immigrants.
Lammy also discussed the possibility of running for Mayor of London in 2016, a post currently held by Boris Johnson, a Conservative politician. The position of mayor, according to Lammy, is a “growing role in British life” and gained increased influence during the 2012 Olympic Games.
Lammy said he plays an active role in his constituency. He recalled the “rampant rioting” across Britain in 2011, which had begun in Tottenham, saying “it looked liked Britain had lost control for four days.” In the days following the riots, Lammy said he had to comfort parents and friends of those who lost their lives.
With reference to the history of British urbanization, Lammy answered questions from students about unions — especially those within the fast food industry, in which Lammy previously worked — and gender discrimination in the workplace.
Lammy, who was the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law, also spoke about the benefits of an international education and discussed the relationship between faith and politics. He said people were surprised when he, a Christian politician, pushed to legalize same-sex marriage and described his faith as more open and inclusive than one might expect.
Students interviewed said they appreciated Lammy’s message about taking responsibility.
“Yale has set us up for a life much better than most, and it is easy to forget that,” said Gianna Kirsman ’16.
Jasmine Horsey ’16, co-president of the Yale British Undergraduates, said Lammy has unique insight into the social and ethnic tensions in London, she said, especially because of the central role of his constituency in the 2011 riots.
Horsey added that she appreciated having such a prominent British politician on campus, adding that Lammy has the potential to greatly shape British politics in future.
Several students in the audience had worked with Lammy as interns through Yale’s Bulldogs in London program and praised the politician for actively involving interns in his work.
“We dealt with issues hands-on — people who intern with him are truly thrown in to the deep end,” Carlene Miller ’14 said.
Lammy visited Yale on a tour through the U.S. during which he met with several mayors.