There are times when you hear an educated person from an older generation try to defend the casual racism/sexism/whateverism of their time, and while you cringe a bit — case in point, anything Clint Eastwood has said recently — there’s a degree to which many people forgive their ignorance due to their age and era.
Unfortunately, such a case cannot be made for Historian David Starkey. On the BBC News programme Newsnight, Starkey put his toe so far past the line it’s shocking. The panel included author Owen Jones, who wrote a book called “Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class,” a book that Starkey cited at one point to explain his argument:
What’s happened is that a substantial section of the Chavs that you wrote about have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this …
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… language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that’s been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.
Now before you say, “But wait! There are tons of white people rioting!” Ah, that’s where Starkey has you covered. You see, it’s because white kids talk and act “black” now. They’ve become enamored and assimilated by black culture. What does that mean, exactly? For tragic old out-of-touch-white-dude Starkey, it means talkin’ black and usin’ that slang the kids is sayin’ now. I’m not joking.
At one point, Starkey pulls a note out of his pocket and reads a text written by a formerly good, white Olympic ambassador youth which says: “pigs shuldnt ov killed dat guy last nyt init. Den dey wuldnt gt blown up. yh galz r goin to steal weavee. Bt is it stealin doeee. Cozzz da shop keeper aint fukin derr. Mugs.”
He uses this statement as proof that white kids are all black and naughty now. Maybe it’s more of an indictment against the British school system.
He also tried to seem even-handed, by saying that there are certain educated black figures (David Lammy, in this case) who, if you closed your eyes while they were talking, you would swear they were white. He seemed to think this was a compliment or a generous statement, as he offered it to Dreda Say Mitchell, a successful crime novelist, who shared the panel with him.
You may recognize Starkey — or his voice — if you’ve ever had a class on the Elizabethan era. He has a particularly dramatic documentary about Queen Elizabeth that has become a staple in many classrooms. And perhaps that’s part of what makes Starkey’s comments so disgusting — this is a man who studies the era when explorers journeyed to the New World and Africa and dragged back slaves, or brought the slavery straight to India in the form of colonization. Surely if anyone recognizes the hypocrisy of blaming English societal woes on black folk, it would be an Elizabethan Historian. But even if that were not his particular area of expertise, there is a general expectation that a Historian knows enough about the relative lack of change in societal behaviors and attitudes that he wouldn’t dare try to suggest — as he did on Newsnight — that the riots are, at their heart, about “black culture.” I mean, as someone who lives in Vancouver — a city with a relatively low black population — I can tell you that it is extremely unlikely that our riot was caused by “black culture,” so why is that the case in England?
What’s your take? Is Starkey racist? Is he right? Can you blame mass-violence on any one culture when many cultures are participating?