As a History graduate, I used to respect David Starkey. Although Tudor history was not always my favourite subject I loved his style of writing and his Channel 4 programme on the monarchy excited the geek inside me.
As I heard more of his political and moral views, however, I began to like him less and less. It started with his appearances on Question Time and the lazy, stereotypical Daily Mail-esque attacks on New Labour.
It then got worse when he made an appearance on Jamie Oliver’s ‘Dream School’ and bullied a kid about his weight in order to get kudos from the other schoolchildren. He ultimately failed to understand the troubled kids on the programme and appeared out of touch and erratic.
So maybe I should not have been surprised by his comments on Newsnight last night. Maybe I should have expected it. For those that missed it, here is a selection:
David Starkey – “I have just been re-reading Enoch Powell, The Rivers of Blood Speech, his prophesy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber did not foam with blood but flames lambent, they wrapped around Tottenham and wrapped around Clapham. But it wasn’t inter-communal violence. This is where he was completely wrong. What’s happened is that a substantial section of chavs…have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together. This language, which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has been intruded in England. And this is why so many of us have this sense of literally, a foreign country”.
Emily Maitlis (Presenter) – “In that speech Enoch Powell talked about, 15 or 20 years time the black man having the whip hand over the white man”.
David Starkey – “That’s not true. What has happened is black culture – this is the enormously important thing. It is not skin colour, it is cultural. Listen to David Lammy. An archetypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off, so you were listening to him on radio [sic] you’d think he was white”.
Now before analyzing these statements, I should make it clear that Starkey attempted to add a caveat to his theory by later explaining that he was referring to a ‘section of black culture’ – by which I hope he meant that he does not believe that all of black culture is ‘violent’ and ‘nihilistic’ but just the section that is commonly associated with American gang culture and rap music.
If that is indeed the case, then he may have a point. A lot of the music that I listen to does glorify violence, is materialistic and can be nihilistic. But so do other musical genres, as well as films and computer games. I am currently working on a piece on the link between the UK grime scene and this ‘culture’ that Starkey refers to and I would imagine that he would agree with some of my analysis in that piece. Again, if he was referring to what many people describe as ‘black gang culture’ and not black culture per se, then I do not think that Starkey was guilty of being racist. He could have benefited from being a bit clearer by what he meant, but he was not being racist.
The bit that really astounded me, however, and convinced me that Starkey was indeed guilty of racism was the final bit of the section I quoted above:
“…Listen to David Lammy. An archetypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off, so you were listening to him on the radio [sic] you’d think he was white”
What the hell does that mean? Is Starkey really saying that because David Lammy is respectable, well spoken and well mannered that he is acting ‘white’? Is it so surprising to hear an articulate black man that the first thought that comes into your head is that he must be white? When combined with his earlier statement it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Starkey was implying that if you are white and are acting in a nihilistic, violent, gangster fashion you are 'acting black'. And if you are a black person who is well spoken, successful and respectable you are 'acting white'.
This is absolutely ridiculous and, in my opinion, frankly racist. It is something that I have had to put up with so many times in my life, being told on so many occasions that I was not “really black” because I did not walk around with my jeans below my butt cheek and say ‘dis’ instead of ‘this’. It is symptomatic of the low expectations some people in society have of black people. It also makes it very difficult for some young black men to try and further themselves in life. I have seen so many young, intelligent black schoolchildren abandon their education and join gangs instead because it is ‘what black people do’.
If we can agree that the actions of some rappers and gang members can be construed as a section of ‘black culture’ then why can we also not say that the mannerisms and oratory of people like David Lammy, Barack Obama or Dr Martin Luther King are an example of another section of ‘black culture’?
To be honest, I object entirely to the notion of there being a ‘black culture’ and a ‘white culture’ anyway. Just because I am black I am just as likely to enjoy classical music and long walks in the countryside than a white person. In the same way, just because someone is white and likes to listen to hip hop music and dress in a certain fashion it does not mean that they are abandoning their race and trying to act black.
And I think this is where David Starkey ultimately failed in his performance on Newsnight last night. He implied that the colour of your skin dictates the way in which you act. Now I do not know if David Starkey is a racist, I guess only he will be able to answer that, but I do know that his views on how different races are ‘supposed’ to act are divisive, out dated and will hopefully put an end to his career.
Watch the full piece below and make up your own mind.