David Starkey – “The whites have become black.”

The words above are those of well known historian David Starkey who, in an appearance on Newsnight, made the claim that white ‘chavs’ had become ‘black’, stating ‘a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic culture has become the fashion’ and suggesting this cultural ‘blackening up’ was a contributing factor for the past week’s riots.

An obvious response to this would be, what does it mean to become black? Starkey outlines a highly selective, dangerously stereotypical, wholly negative and deeply offensive depiction of Black Britons and ‘black culture’ in a wider sense. In the process, choosing to overlook the heterogeneous nature of black communities within Britain and also displaying an ignorance of truly mammoth proportions.

In simplistically labelling ‘white culture’ as good and ‘black culture’ as bad, Starkey goes some way to deepen this conception of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which has for far too long polluted the British political mindset. In fact, perhaps this notion has never entirely disappeared from British politics, burrowing under the surface with these sentiments of dissociation rearing their ugly head whenever an event is deemed ‘unBritish’.

At the centre of the storm- David Starkey

Worryingly, for a man of supposed great intelligence, a complete derision of not only an entire culture, but language too (Starkey referred to Jamaican patois as a wholly false language) has highlighted a move into irrational territory in the aftermath of the riots. Such ideas, coming from a man of seemingly respectable standing, are only likely to fuel tension between communities at a time when this country should be looking forward together, united and in hope of averting similar incidences in the future.

While, for many of us Starkey’s comments do not warrant further debate, perhaps the left should face up to the fact that we have not done nearly enough to encourage British society as a whole to stop these archaic classifications of identity and this unfortunate propensity for placing an alienating dissociation between the ‘positive us’ and ‘negative them’.

In my opinion, the problem with the left is that we too often scoff at any opinion we deem unenlightened or ignorant, and while in our minds this may be the case, the left has proven unable to convince the general public, the right and perhaps even itself, of the merits of a truly multicultural society. In frequently displaying this high and mighty tendency, those on the left arguably rub people up the wrong way and in the process make the left synonymous with aloofness and self righteousness.

For this reason, the left has to do better. There is a very real duty to ensure that the debate in the aftermath of these riots does not descend into mindless nationalism and cultural isolationism from those who feel Britain has been ‘taken’ from them. To do this, the left needs an articulate and coherent message, to truly state and believe the benefits of a multicultural and multinational society and to highlight the fact that race/nationality has no place in this debate. If the left fails in this task, views like Starkey’s may continue to crop up across the political mainstream and unjustly steal the focus from addressing the deep social problems within Britain.

Kenneth Way.

The full clip of David Starkey’s Newsnight comments –


1 Comment

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One response to “David Starkey – “The whites have become black.”

  1. Charlie Streets

    Ok so this guy is a respected historian but as far as I am concerned from watching his outrageous comments, he is quite clearly a prejudice man. The fact he blames the way people speak for the riots is mad if you ask me. And he keeps on saying that white people have adopted this language and it has turned them into criminals! Turned them into criminals? Like white people havent commited crimes to?! Absolute nonsense! Below is my view on a few things, mainly our multicultural Britain which I love dearly.

    My personal view of our multi cultural society is that it is amazing. I can guarantee most music I listen to is produced written and performed by black artists! The most amazing thing throughout my life though is meeting and making friends with people from all walks of life and all regions of the world. Especially as I have grown up in Streatham, South London which has a strong black and asian community which I am truly grateful for. Their culture, the way they speak, their families and the most inspiring thing I found whilst working in a restaurant for 2 years with friends of mine from eastern europe, the carribean, african and scandanavian backgrounds is their will to work hard and prosper in whatever they do. From their music to working ridiculously long hours in tough jobs to either support their family or to enjoy there weekend occasionally! I challenge this man (David Starkey) to find a middle class white youth or adult to work in a petrol station providing 24 hour service or laying brickwork for 12 hours a day. I guarantee they’ll try to find a way out of it! If it was not for our multi culturism many of us would not be able to do things like going to a petrol station at 3am to buy some ciggarettes or fill up some fuel and that is just a tiny proportion of what multiculturism brings to this society. The fact that these people are not accepted into ‘British Culture’ is outrageous because each and every one of them is as much part of it as ‘us white british’ are. Our skin colour, beliefs and backgrounds is who we are and it not for anybody else to criticise.

    As for the rioting that took place, I think it was always inevitable. Though it was wrong for our people to destroy our communities and areas it was clear to me that it was a message that the people put forward through anger of the unexplained killing of Mark Duggan, unemployment, recession, poor living standards and many other things. It also showed us that no one is afraid to cause havoc to get a message across. Our media constantly shows celebrities and rich people and about what new ‘Yacht’ they have bought! What kind of positiveness does this show to any of our people who are striving each day just to get by! I watched a clip on youtube of a man named ‘Neville’ in Clapham Junction who as far as im concerned is a role model for anybody and at first he was barely allowed the time of day to speak out without being interrupted when all the man was trying to do was make some sense of what happened and try to help his community! So I think that there are so many issues that have created a boiling point in which we saw the full wrath of as a nation last week.

    Charlie Streets

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