Friday, July 3, 2020

Starkey raving racist or cantankerous old goat?

David Starkey’s a racist! That’s right, a racist, a knuckle-dragging ignoramous better suited to what passes for debate at The Den than that practised in the cloistered, cerebral majesty of his alma mater. 

In a recent interview with the brilliant yet spooked Darren Grimes, he argued that the Atlantic Slave Trade was not a genocide. If it had been, he said, rather injudiciously in the current climate, I must concede, there wouldn’t be so many ‘damned blacks’ in Africa. 

But was this statement a clumsy faux pas or an expression of Starkey’s barely concealed racism? 

I’d be inclined to go with the former. Yes, as I said, his words were clumsy and ill-considered, but he wasn’t damning black people per se, and anyone who listens to the interview objectively can see that. He was expressing his exasperation with those who claim that the Atlantic Slave Trade was an act of genocide. If it was, he implied, albeit slightly exaggeratedly, then after 300 years of unrelenting genocide, there wouldn’t be any black people left in Africa. 

But he’s done this before, his detractors scream. He said that British whites were emulating blacks. Again, this blunt, provocative, shoot-from-the-hip style does not betray the heart of a fascist. It betrays a thoughtful historian exploring socio-cultural trends without the burden of political correctness.

It enables him to speak freely and explore ideas, ideas that will no doubt be honed and modified, sharpened into a more accurate and nuanced diagnosis, in the distiller of free and open debate. 

His claim that whites are emulating blacks, for example, hits on an important sociocultural phenomenon in which US and Jamaican ‘cool’ gangster culture has been imported and adopted by black, Asian and white, often but not always, inner-city youths with not only dialectal and sartorial consequences, but violent ones too. It’s a very important discussion to be had. 

Okay, he’s too general for my taste, and could be misinterpreted - as he has been - and open to accusations of promoting and perpetuating stereotypes. Indeed, it’s easy for me to say, but he should have modified his remarks and said that, yes, a destructive subculture has been imported from mainly black communities in Jamaica and America, but that’s not to say that all Afro-Caribbeans inhabit it, or even that those who manifest some aspects of it are dangerous and afflicted. But he didn’t.

He shot from the hip. That doesn’t make him racist, though. It makes him clumsy. 

What worries me more is the reaction to Starkey’s tactlessness, especially among those claiming to be against race-baiting and for free speech. They immediately accused him of racism - knowing that the accusation alone will cancel him - and, more worryingly, anyone who defended him, me included, has been branded with the same rotten, damaging label, my accuser weirdly saying that she still liked me. It was like being carted off to the Gulag after being denounced, only for my denouncer to say, as I’m being pushed onto the cattle wagon, ‘I still like you.’ Incredibly worrying.

Where’s the forgiveness for misspeaking? Why think the worst of people? We need to be more charitable and stop shouting racist; otherwise, people will stop speaking, ideas won’t be explored and remedies will remain lost.