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What’s All the Fuss About David Starkey?

David Starkey, noted historian, and one who is fast moving up the liberal left’s league table of People It’s Obligatory To Hate (And Assault On Camera If You Get The Chance), is in trouble again over remarks made on BBC’s Newsnight regarding the causes of last week’s riots.

Image of Ali G, as performed by Sacha Baron Co...

Ali G being black, err I mean white ... no, black errm....

These, it seems, were the juicy bits (h/t to Toby Young who saved me having to patronise the BBC website):

“I’ve just been re-reading Enoch Powell. His prophecy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber didn’t foam with blood, but flames lambent wrapped round Tottenham and wrapped round Clapham.” (I bet you could just hear the sharp intakes of breath, couldn’t you?)

“What’s happened is that a substantial section of the Chavs that [Owen Jones] 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 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.”

“Listen to David Lammy, an archetypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off so you were listening to him on radio you’d think he was white.”

I have come across the development of this story in reverse, in that I have read some of the left-liberal reaction hysteria before watching the actual comments, which has only made me more perplexed as to what the fuss was about.

I suspect that it arises from Dr. Starkey making the following two cardinal sins:

Firstly, he mentioned Enoch Powell in less than condemnatory terms. As all good liberals know, Enoch Powell was the devil’s own disciple. That he was warning of the dangers of immigration leading to violence, and that those warning in some ways appear to have been vindicated over the years are irrelevant. The liberal reaction is to ignore the message and focus on how it was said and be offended.

Secondly he used simplistic headline-esque language which will naturally attract unfair accusations of stereotyping. By talking of whites becoming black, we was using ‘black’ in the sense specifically of a street patois and culture. This is not ‘black’ culture but a culture of black origin. After all, we talk of ‘music of black origin’ – or ‘black music’ for short. He made a minor error in referring to Jamacan patois when it probably owes more to African-American street culture, but you’d have to very uptight to get upset over that, surely?

Similarly, saying that David Lammy was now “white” was in the context of Lammy (whose stock seems to have deservedly risen somewhat across the political spectrum in the last week) now appearing to fit in more comfortably into the traditional middle class “white” professional mould. Again, we are supposed to ignore the message, focus instead on how it was said and be offended. At the risk of being ironic here, I think that commentators are not accounting for Dr. Starkey, and his language, being a product of an older white academic background.

No doubt many of those getting worked up about Dr. Starkey were the same who accused Sacha Baron Cohen of racism over his Ali G character. Ali, over a decade ago, was a razor sharp satirical caricature of the “wigga” – the white chav who spoke and behaved like a faux west-side gangsta. Just as the Left ignored the message and focused on the method of delivery then, so they now ignore the very similar point being made in a more erudite way by Dr. Starkey.

Some people who have made a good living out of being offended and getting uptight about the language used by critics instead of trying to understand the arguments, and perhaps learning from them. It’s been said before time and time again: the liberal left need to start listening instead of trying to close down any unpalatable message with accusations of racism. If you don’t agree with Starkey, he still deserves to be met with intelligent argument.

The true causes of the riots are many, there are plenty of Lessons To Be Learnt from the last week, but perhaps this is another to be added to that syllabus.

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