A Life on Purpose

This morning I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 interview with that young woman who had acid thrown in her face by a friend. It was quite difficult to hear her distress and to also feel her isolation. That was such a barbaric thing to do to another human being, but barbaric things happen, like the hacking to death of that soldier on a South East London street.

Yesterday I sat observing Neville Lawrence, father of Stephen who was also murdered on a South East London street over 20 years ago[1]. Neville was offering words of comfort to a mother who had recently also lost a son; my friend Dean who died in January.

I was a little startled to note that the grief and sadness is still visibly etched on Neville’s face; it is like a cloak that surrounds him, and apparently impossible to put down. I am not surprised in a way because of the controversy that followed Stephen’s death and which resonates and reverberates up to this very day.[2]

In the late 1990s I was briefly involved in the establishment of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust –  Although Neville no longer lives in the UK he returns regularly, in part to deal with the reverberations.

Neville is extraordinarily effective in his ability to relate to parents who have lost their child, and are struggling with the tsunami of emotions and turmoil it must unleash, and in a way it might be his way of responding to a community anguished by the  overt racism that surrounded Stephen’s death.

A very senior person in the Blair Government once told me that part of my job, in the role I occupied then, was to impress on Black and Asian people that they should be  more like African Americans, and ‘own’ and ‘act’ their ‘British- ness’. This was the New Labour version of Tebbit's cricket loyalty test 

That individual would wait a lifetime for a response of any kind from me because as far as I was concerned, if in fact this was a problem then it was hers, not mine. But Stephen’s death had a major impact.

I hold two perspectives on Stephen’s death: first, it can never be acceptable in the manner it happened, but significantly second, it seems to me that in a number of different ways his life served a purpose. It made an enormous contribution to how the British legal system now deals with institutionalised discrimination whether that is towards women, the gay/lesbian, and differently abled communities, or people whose skin colour is other than white; it played a role in enabling the society, especially the police, to come to terms with its multicultural inheritance.