Mayvin Director James Traeger explores culture, diversity development and community through the story of Stephen Lawrence.
I have participated in the story of Stephen Lawrence in three ways. Firstly I was involved in Diversity Development at the Metropolitan Police between 2001 and 2006. This work came about as direct response to the Met’s soul searching following the inquiry into their mishandled investigation. Secondly, I was part of a small group of people who made a special trip to the inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington DC, in January 2009. It was there that I met Doreen Lawrence. The third way in which I participated was, however, more important than either of the first two. This was as part of a wider community that has engaged in an active change in attitudes and perceptions towards race over the past two decades, in London (and perhaps across the UK).
The main change I have tried to be a part of here is a kind of normalisation. As someone from a Jewish background, I am aware of the way in which there are many levels of discrimination. There is of course the active hatred of the overt racist. This is abhorrent to most of us, I believe, and thankfully so. I have indeed experienced this myself, but very rarely and a long time ago. But in the more subtle, deeper layers of our psyche, there can pervade a kind of discrimination that essentially boils down to seeing someone else, of a different race, class, religion or gender, as simple ‘the other’. This is often unconscious and usually acts despite, and at times in opposition to, one’s stated and heartfelt values. This usually means we may refuse to see it in ourselves and it is this denial that is most pernicious.
At this level, we participate in a culturally endemic discrimination, and it is our responsibility to see it in ourselves and deal with it. Like the pointing hand, three fingers and thumb point back towards ourselves. So I too have been guilty of this. This is what the Macpherson report into the circumstances surrounding the investigation into the death of Stephen Lawrence meant by ‘institutional racism’, and it would be a huge injustice to point the finger only at the Metropolitan Police on that score. Albeit still troubled by its role in this drama, the Met is, in my own experience, one of the most progressive organisations I have encountered in facing its own entrenched attitudes.
So, as a very minor fringe player in this series of events, in which we have all participated, what I noticed yesterday when those thugs were banged up was not their sullen faces. What I noticed was how Doreen and Neville seemed to me to be just a Mum and Dad, whose son had died in tragic and extraordinary circumstances, some time ago, who had finally got a small part of the closure they deserved. They became, like me, ordinary. And their poor son Stephen became another young boy like my own. Not ‘the black teenager’, but the ordinary teenager he should have been allowed to continue to be. The Lawrences became less like ‘the others’ yesterday, and more like all of us. And we, becoming more ‘just like them’, could share more fully in their grief for their beautiful, normal boy. Thank God.