Spare us a phoney row about racism, we’ve got enough on

A silly media row about racism just had to figure in the riots’ post mortem.  Was the Tudor history expert David Starkey racist on Newsnight when he said:

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 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”

The Guardian reports the exchanges with video extract, while from the moderate right, Toby Young  judges that “it was  just Starkey being Starkey – sailing close to the wind, but never quite crossing the line.”

Racism itself is a basic stereotype as it reduces everybody to a low and false common denominator with added prejudice.  But the fact that it exploits real characteristics can’t be avoided.  The phenomenon of white kids talking black patois is real enough. It’s becoming a standard, like estuary.  Why the denial?   You could call it a form of integration instead. This kind of censorship reflex aggravates not averts racial tension by pretending to ignore the bleedin’ obvious.

Many groups  have their own peer languages, accent and tone.  Starkey ‘s camp posh  might seem alien to his Lancashire working class forebears if they could hear him now. Aside from the Tudors and the constitution, Starkey is a professional controversialist. You might ask why Newsnight bothered to cast him when there’s more than enough unforced controversy around just at the moment.

But comment is free. This is no “career ending moment” for Starkey, as someone said on the panel . Often Art offers more insight than Current Affairs.  I recommend the novel  “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith for a brilliant witty working out of interracial themes including language, set in Ivy League academe in the States and fashionable north London. Leftish white Brit academic Howard rears a family with his beautiful black Jamaican wife Kiki. They find themselves uncomfortably intertwined with a more successful but very right wing academic Sir Montague who happens to be black. Things get very complicated, as Howard finds it difficult to keep his trousers up when Sir M’s daughter Victoria is around…Like Starkey, Howard, a dried up academic snob, hugely objects to his mixed race kids speaking the “patois” – and he is much closer to it than Starkey (or would be if he were real).

So chill, Newsnight critics; Starkey passes the Zadie Smith test.

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  • Cynic2

    I dont see how what he said can be remotely considered racist. What he bemoaned was the emergence of a shared culture of gangsta chic among young white and black boys. A style and langauge that was seen as cool and associated with various problems including street crime. As with all fashions its followers had adopted their own uniform and language, just like the Mods, Rockers, Punks and whatever else in previous generations.

    As for ” this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country” – so what? Its a fair expression of feeling. Just as people of earlier generations said the same of youth culture in their eras.

    As for the general moral panic about the mob, that too is nothing new. The London mob was a feature of British life and politics from the 1600’s on. It has always been there and always will.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Wake me up when thon bore Starkey stops talking mince. Awful bully in debate too.

  • Every older generation bemoans the lack of respect etc of the younger generation. It’s strange how the youngsters turn out all right once they have matured a bit.

  • Banjaxed

    Like Starkey, for instance, Joe? 😉

  • I was quite taken aback when I watched this on Newsnight but even in this short extract, Starkey does not come out well.
    As I understood him to say (at the time) the “whites” are becoming “black” in the sense of adopting “black” gangland culture.
    The implication is that “whites” are not naturally disposed towards gangs. They are.
    And towards the end he speaks of so many of “us” thinking that its a foreign country.
    I have to agree with Mr Walker that it was an odd piece of casting by the Newsnight team and if you invite a controversial figure on to discuss a sensitive issue then you will get controversy. And surely Starkey would have assumed he was expected to say something “controversial” and duly obliged.

    A “career ending” appearance on Newsnight? I hope so. It appears to me that “Race” has been the elephant in the room all along. The smug consensus that England…and especially London is multi cultured folks all pulling together is frankly not true. And Race is… London…….not merely a black and white issue (literally).

    The Irish (certainly the friends of my family in Rotherhithe/Charlton) seem integrated enough although its hardly Kilburn of blessed memory.
    But the social divisions in London are not just about Race. Maybe on my first visit (1976) I could not have visualised a black man reading the daily Telegraph on the London tube (2010) but the divisions seem more about “haves” (white/black/brown) and “have nots” (white/black/brown).
    And maybe all this says as much about me stereotyping people albeit from the perspective of a Guardian rreading “lefty” rather than Starkeys perspective.

    Its comparatively easy to be non racist and even anti-racist in a homogenous society. And an event in late 1980s made me question my own attitudes.
    On a summer Sunday evening I had occasion to change trains at Bank/Monument which has a staircase between them.
    Busy on a Monday morning at 8am it was deserted at Sunday 8pm. And as I stood alone on the platform was disconcerted by the appearance of three yoofs…….and I suppose thats something that can happen in Belfast, Dublin, Stockholm or New York. Somehow in London it felt different. My (wrong) assumption was that they had evil intent.
    And quite possibly for a London resident that uncomfortable feeling occurs too often.

    There have been undercurrents here and race is the biggest one. Not the least is the appearance on Sky News or Newsnight of ex-gang members and community workers from the inner city which tends to underline taht Race is an issue while attempting to say the opposite. To that extent Starkey dropping the mask is a more useful contribution than denial.

    The Ealing/Southall Asian, Italian and other business people are “conservative” probably more prone to reading the Daily Telegraph than white middle class neighbours who read the Guardian.
    The respectable tabloids laud the Mums Army with brushes who appeared at morning time. But a question mark hangs over the Dads Army of quasi vigilantes defending their neighbourhoods. Whether “white van men” gathered outside the pub or Asians gathered outside a mosque or temple, it cannot sit well that people are looking for people who dont belong here.

    In the aftermath of the riots, Hypocrisy has taken centre-stage. Four yoofs interviewd across the river from Canary Wharf (Surrey Quays perhaps) talk about EMA being removed and it seems less plausible than a reason than the manchester yoof who told Mike McCarthy on Sky News that he was just out to rob.
    Has everything changed……utterly?
    The Establishment seems to be rallying round. Politicians, Press and Police (at war with each other a few weeks ago) are working out the narrative. Boris and Knacker of the Yard followed by Mums Army (with Dads Army out of sight) and with enough Asian high achievers to make it look genuine….will all step forward together.
    The parade of social workers, class room assistants and trainee ballerinas in the courts will give the impression that its not about Unemployment.
    And its not.
    Its about Unemployability.
    The tragedy is not merely that so many people are unemployed. The bigger tragedy is that thru lack of education, social skills, motivation and dare I say morality…….a considerable number of people are simply as unemployable as the 16 year old who looted tracksuits…….for his son.

  • One of the text I have cited here a few times is Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White.

    The opening few words of the Acknowledgements (we are nowhere near the text yet) are: Theodore Allen many years ago introduced me to the notion of the white race
    as a socially constructed category…

    Anyone up to continue the debate?

  • nightrider

    Our greatest living essayist and commentator give his view:

    Malcolm, the debate continues..

  • Harry Flashman

    In all the comments about these rioters every commenter has missed the key element. The new “third rail”, the new taboo which may not be discussed.

    It’s not race.

    In analysis in the US the key indicator of criminality, family dysfunction, drug abuse, school drop out rates and teenage pregnancy was unmarried parenthood (note, not “single mothers” before I have the bleeding hearts jumping on me).

    When unmarried parenthood is factored out of crime rates and other indicators of societal dysfunction there is virtually no difference between blacks and whites in the US. In other words black kids whose parents were married at their birth are just as likely to have a successful crime free life as their white counterparts and vice versa white kids whose parents were not married at their birth are just as likely to get into trouble.

    Just to make it clear these figures relate to parents who were never married, sociologists have successfully clouded the issue by lumping children of divorced and widowed parents into the group called “single parents”. This is a fallacy.

    I will bet you a penny to a pound that when the social profiles of the rioters are analysed the overwhelmingly common denominator will not be race but whether their mothers and fathers were married at the time of their birth.

    Address this issue and you’re half way there to resolving many of society’s ills but no one wants to talk about this do they?

  • Rory Carr

    Theodore Allen’s notion “of the white race as a socially constructed category” is dealt with much more fulsomely in Ignatiev’s book, Race Traitor (co-authored with John Garvey – Routledge 1996) in which they argue:

    “When a critical mass of people come together who, though they look white, have ceased to act white, the white race will undergo fission and former whites will be able to take part in building a new human community.”

    The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race” (by which I take it they mean the <i<social construct known as the white race.)

    and happy to speed this abolition with the encouraging cry that:

    “…treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”

    I shouldn’t tell Dr Starkey or even the good Dr Dalrymple whose own description of “so many young men in Britain”:

    The vulpine lope or swagger, the face that regards eye contact with a stranger as a challenge to be met, the adoption of fashions that are known to signify aggression and dangerousness, the grotesquely inflated self-esteem combined with a total incapacity for doing anything constructive: all could and should have sounded an alarm in our politicians..”

    could so easily lead us to believe that he was describing the Bullingdon Club on a night on the town in trepidatious Oxford.

  • Harry Flashman,,

    that is a very interesting hypothesis. I would love to see some further discussion of it; informed discussion of course.

  • Harry Flashman @ 1:43 am has half the story there.

    There’s nothing new about the thesis: the US Heritage Foundation and its like have been bashing on about it for the better part of two decades. In the UK Michael Howard was on the case as early as 1993. The pseudo-statistical claim is that a 10% increase “of children living in single-parent homes” (the other HF eschews our very own HF’s delicacy of expression) produces a 17% increase in violent crime.

    The Howard dogma (for want of a better shorthand: much of it re-emerged as “Blairism” and it has an after-life as part of Cameron’s “Big Society”) is based on three texts:
    ¶ Eileen Crellin: Born Illegitimate;
    ¶ Israel Kolvin: The Newcastle 1000 Study; and
    ¶ IEA: Families without Fatherhood. The IEA was Margaret Thatcher’s pet thinktank, and took on board Charles Murray’s The Emerging Underclass [see The IEA case is largely a diatribe against “welfarism”. The multiple personae adopted by A.M.Daniels (of whom “Theodore Dalrymple” is but one:
    cf: The Skeptical Doctor) continue to peddle the same line.

    I’m unable to ascertain how good Heritage Foundation’s research might be (their “work” on other topics doesn’t bode well).

    Crellin, tracing 17,000 births in 1958, found illegitimate children were in poorer condition at birth, had a poorer rate of survival to the age of seven, and were nearer half more likely to underperform in school.

    Kolvin’s effort took 264 Newcastle births in May 1946. Updated to 1979, the focus was the discrepancies between those with criminal records and those without. What Kolvin concluded was “family deprivation as a key determining factor in developing a criminal profile”. Nothing in itself about single-parenthood — those many right-wingers adduced that on his behalf.

    All research suggests that six factors should be considered as a root causes of this kind of amorality: marital disruption, parental illness, poor domestic care of home and children, dependence on social security, overcrowding and poor mothering. Those are characteristics of poverty, not simply the lack of marriage lines.

    What doesn’t stand up as your all-singing, all-dancing explanation of the urban disturbances and looting (it was looting more than anything else) is race. And “race” is a self-defined term.

    At least half a dozen years back, student’s response to a Malcolmian reprimand: “I can’t be racist — I’m Black.”

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Of course Starkey’s performance was racist – not in the sense that he thought ‘now I’m going to derogate all black people’, but because that’s what he did. Social unrest = a ‘black people’ problem, even when it’s white people doing it. Stunning! It’s very odd to see so many people suggesting this could possibly not be racist. What would it take?!

  • Nunoftheabove

    Ní Dhuibhir

    Many have made reference to Starkey’s apparent belief that this behavioural degradation – which it really isn’t anyway (hasn’t Starkey been to any urban housing estates in the last 40 years ?) – within the working class ‘white’ population can only have come about with reference to them becoming ‘more ‘black’.

    It would be no less pub-bore-racist to make this point if in effect he reversed it and was referring to an enhancement in the behavior of the ‘white’ working class with reference to them behaving more like ‘blacks’.

    Leaving that aside, I’d also be inclined to find plenty objectionable at the use of the term ‘black culture’ to describe or refer to the gangster rap culture or anything approaching an implication of equivalence between them. Not much different from the basis upon which one could readily locate plenty to dislike and repudiate the (still) often unchallenged view that the terms Orangeism and Protestantism are – or can be made to appear – interchangeable in NI.

  • lover not a fighter

    It would be very unfortunate if one of your children turned out to be a looter or a rioter.

    But it would be unimaginably worse if they turned out like David Starkey. What a waste of an education if he has had one ! ! !

  • sherdy

    Starkey is claimed to be expert in many fields. Pity he comes in the category: ‘All brains – no sense!’

  • Disagree. You name-check Enoch Powell and say the problem with whites is they’ve become black but this couldn’t possibly be construed as being racist? Bollocks. Have a different issue tho’. Starkey has been getting invited on TV for as long as I can remember for the sole purpose of saying outrageous things – and then when he follows his script, everyone shrieks, “Outrageous!” Bit like going to see Frankie Boyle and then complaining he’s offensive. Rather the issue has to do with the quality of programming. Any show inviting Starkey or Mad Mel on has by definition forfeited any serious claim on our attention.

  • Jimmy Sands

    If when listening to someone speak English correctly your reaction is to assume the speaker is white, then that is pretty much racist by definition. What other word would you suggest?

  • Jimmy,

    The question you pose is an interesting one. If you make such a mistake and it can be described as racist, does that mean the person is “bad”?

  • Mac

    I think Zadie Smith should be the one to decide if Mr Starkey passes her ‘test’, not someone who can’t see the problem with equating black culture with rioting and looting, before asking someone to justify ‘rap’ as if
    a) it needed to be justified to anyone
    b) a musical style that encompasses everything from Gil Scott Heron’s social/political comment, the deeply personal ‘angsty’ work of someone like Tricky and the surreal humour of Kool Keith/Dr Octagon.

    The real question is why he was present in the first place.

  • flawedelection

    The BBC allowed a racist historian to air his bigoted and narrow minded views within a public forum (this coming on the back of the Darcus Howe “you are a rioter” fiasco). I am a Black British woman who has studied Law at a top 5 UK institution, yet, Starkey referred to Black culture in totality as having a nefarious impact on white society. Well I cannot recall going out to loot my corner shop after finishing my final exams.
    Black culture is disparate. There is no such uniform entity. He is suggesting that Nigerian, Jamaican, Antigua, Trinidadian, Cuban, Barbadian, Trinidadian, Zimbabwean culture is the same as we are all black. For goodness sake we do not even eat the same food let along share the same cultural traditions. His suggestion is also that since we are all black, we are all prone to rioting, crime activites,speaking patois and subverting impressionable white youth. Ridiculous and offensive to the extreme. Black culture was not responsible for the riots, it was a subculture unique to dispossessed urban youths that was responsible for the riots.
    He has cast a shadow over the entire black community and contributed to the racism which is now being levelled against my community particularly online. He stoke the fires and his comments were like an incediary device and I personally know of many black people who are presently scared for their safety. I am black as I stated earlier and no one that I know speaks patois or listens to gangster rap. This is a fallacy and a dangerous one. He has sterotyped an entire community and contributed to the belief that black people are no good and good for nothing.
    Thank you David Starkey!

  • Jimmy Sands


    It’s a fair question. People of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation grew up with certain assumptions which I could only describe as racist. Most in my experience are vaguely aware that they don’t quite “get it” and make an effort. I don’t think of them as bad people. I’ll give people like Starkey a pass for that reason. For the same reason I found Delingpole’s commentary one of the most profoundly ignorant and depressing things I’ve read in a long time. Below a certain age there really is no excuse.

  • nightrider

    A fair assessment of Starkey’s embarrassing commentary here i think:

    Wasn’t he just being patronising rather than racist. I remember Terence O’Neill’s ‘crossroads’ speech where he talked about Catholics becoming more like Protestants in an aspirational manner that only his aristocratic background could have generated.

    That said, I wish Darcus Howe had been in the same studio when David Starkey started digging.

  • andnowwhat

    Maybe Starkey would prefer the kids spoke polari rather than patois?

  • lamhdearg

    Stick to henry the 8th. gangster rap is dangerous when put in the minds off people with minds unable to tell its not really the way you want to live and die. but to say its Black culture is just as silly as saying the football nastys of the 80s (or today in eastern Europe) where white culture.