David Lammy was forced to explain to a radio phone-in caller that black people can be English during a radio phone-in.
The Shadow Justice Secretary was taking calls from listeners to LBC Radio in response to Boris Johnson’s racial disparity commission reportedly calling for the term ‘BAME’ to be scrapped.
But caller Jean insinuated that he should not call himself English because he is not white.
And she suggested the movement of people of different ethnicities around the world was “pollution”, and claimed: “you are your inheritance.”
“You will never be English because you’re African-Caribbean,” she said. “I can’t say I’m African-Caribbean.”
Mr Lammy replied: “Britain, 400 years ago started going out into the world, colonised and conquered a lot of the world, a lot of the world has ended up coming back to the mother country.”
He added that he had taken a DNA test which revealed he had some Scottish ancestry.
He went on: “Here I am, having grown up in this country, born of this country, and actually the truth is there’s a myth there’s one English ethnicity. There’s not.
“England has always been a country where Huguenots, Danes, all sorts have passed through.”
He added: “For me, the fact that I was born here and the fact that my sensibilities are English mean I want to claim that heritage as well.”
Jane, though, was unconvinced – suggesting Mr Lammy could call himself British but not English and adding that if she was born in the Caribbean she would not label herself as such.
But Mr Lammy explained Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, have large white populations, which have been there for hundreds of years.
“They are significantly more Caribbean than I am,” he added.
Responding to Jean branding the movement of people around the world “pollution”, Mr Lammy said: “People meet one another, they fall in love, they have kids, they move borders – sometimes through war, sometimes through economic reasons – and they become what they become when they are of that country.
“Just as you can be in America and be African-American, or you can be Italian-American, or you can be Irish-American, how is it that here in England, you can only claim that Englishness if you are white?”
Mr Lammy later tweeted a video of the conversation, commenting: “Don’t ever tell me I’m “not English”.”