“The Whites Have Become Black” — One Theory on the London Riots

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?

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12 thoughts on ““The Whites Have Become Black” — One Theory on the London Riots

  1. I think this man’s comment marks him as not only racist but also completely out of touch with the present day. Perhaps it isn’t so much an issue of “white culture” being permeated by “black culture”, but rather an issue of decent people feeling powerless (read: broke, jobless, threatened) reacting with hostility (read: batcrapcrazy).

    • Tara hits the nail on the head here. Race and condition may be (very) related, but they are not equal. When pressed enough, anyone can flip out.

  2. Bullshit. Bullshit BULLSHIT!
    These are NOT decent people who have become “pressed. 
    I have been broke and unemployed – I had 5 kids to raise. Did I steal? Break windows? Start fires?
    Hell NO!
    Decent people don’t do this crap. Thugs do.

  3. Well chav actually means someone who is violent, lives in public housing, is poor, etc. It is somewhat the equivalent of someone who is “ghetto” in America… except, chav is generally reserved for white people. It is also an adopted form of behavior by those who are not necessarily poor. I understand where the man is going with his statement, he certainly worded it badly, it definitely makes him look racist. However it does remind me of the gangster culture which was built up in the 80s, surrounding black “authenticity”, especially between the east and west coast. What it “is” to be “black” is to be violent, poor, a man. There was constant struggle in rap wars to show who had the harder upbringing, who is the most masculine, who has fucked up more people or could fuck the opposing side up. Of course, this was a terrible image to put out there in many senses. (Rap, tagging, and street dancing culture do have, and did have, very positive things too, but the white mainstream media hooked on to the antisocial part). When it becomes “cool” to pretend to be all of these things for these kids- some who do come from hard backgrounds and some who don’t- it can evolve into things like these riots, which are politically unmotivated. I get what he is trying to say, but the way he said it makes me question if his intentions were pure and if he is indeed racist.

  4. Where to begin? Speechless. An English white thug would not have existed if not for blacks? I guess some would argue that would a black thug have existed if not for whites? Where does the blame game end and a person just becomes responsible for their own actions?

    The riots were awful and even if they had some sort of basis in social injustice, they quickly became irrelevant. Black, white, yellow, red or whatever other color we label each other the result is the same, if you put together masses of able bodied capable people with nothing to do and no ambitions or dreams, that is the result you get.

    “Idle minds are the devil’s workshop and idle hands are his tools.” That is what is wrong with these “thugs”.

    So yes this man was being racist and even worst, making some perpetrators out to be victims. You have to love it when we try and justify what cannot be justified. The rioters were criminals and this David Starkey was racist.

  5. I also think that people of his generation aren’t afraid to tell you exactly what the pie is made of,they’re not as politically correct. The party is over world wide,and its going to take a long time to clean the house.

  6. He’s just confusing the intersections of race and class – and you are too. He’s not using “black” as a race in the first part of his statement, but as a description for the underclass, which now has a substantial proportion of whites, who historically have been more likely to be upper/middle class. But Britain is experiencing the same class divide as we are. The middle class is disappearing, meaning that lots of whites are now working class/poor whereas they may have represented the higher level blue collar or management careers previously.
    The only part where it gets racist is when he calls Jamaican patois a “not real” language. It’s real, he’s just being a snob about it.

    • Race and class overlap. If black people are more likely to be in the poor/working class in a particular area, then their culture is most likely to expand to become associated with the poor/working class. It then stands to reason that “black” no longer just describes skin color or the black community, but the cultural indicators of the poor/working class. It can then become adopted by whites (or anyone of another race) who are also members of the poor/working class because they identify with people who share their class culture more easily than people who are the same race. A young poor white man might feel that he has more in common with a young poor black man than a middle class white man. He may feel more comfortable identifying with “black” culture because his experiences align most closely with those of his predominantly black peers. I believe this is what Mr. Starkey was trying to get at, albeit in an ignorant way. He certainly is a prejudiced person, that is clear enough. But in this particular instance, I think there’s more to the identity of “black” than merely race, so writing his words off as racist without examining the larger class theme misses that.

  7. Interesting thoughts here. I appreciate you taking the time to share them with us all. It’s people like you that make my day

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