Is David Starkey racist or just plain stupid?

Sohail Karmani scrutinises Starkey's recent comments on Newsnight

It was not very long after he claimed that ‘whites have become black’ that the accusations of racism started coming in fast and furiously. For almost two days, David Starkey was the top trending topic on Twitter with no signs of abating. But now that the dust has settled somewhat, it is perhaps opportune to ask, ‘is this guy really a racist?’ If we confine ourselves strictly to his recent comments, there is frankly little in them — crass though they are — to suppose that he is. If anything Starkey is guilty of rank stupidity, extraordinary insensitivity and the height of irresponsibility. But none of this makes him a racist. Let’s take a closer look at why:

David Starkey Newsnight

Essentially, there are three points in Starkey’s recent Newsnight’s appearance that I think merit scrutiny:

POINT 1: For Starkey, a pernicious form of black youth culture has emerged in the last 20 years or so. It’s based around a gangster lifestyle that glorifies guns, revels in violence, and debases women. Is this true? Well, of course it is! But to what extent is this a widespread cultural phenomenon among Britain’s black youths? That’s certainly debatable, though in fairness it should be noted that many in the black community constantly find themselves railing against it. Diane Abbott (MP for Hackney), for instance, once explained quite openly that the main reason she had decided to enrol her son at a public school was to avoid the risk of her son falling prey to a local gang.

POINT 2: This pernicious form of black youth culture, he goes on to argue, has spread to the white underclasses (and other disaffected people). Ali G of course is a well-known parody of this trend. But again is this a widespread phenomenon? This again is certainly very debatable. Personally, I don’t see much much evidence of this. Notably, however, it is not uncommon to hear social commentators describing aspects of London youth culture as being a fusion of white English, Jamaican, Punjabi, and Somali cultures. But this is not of course the same thing as saying that black gangster culture is a dominant cultural feature of young disaffected Londoners.

POINT 3: The key point: the riots are a product of a widening influence of black gangster culture on disaffected young Brits. The causes of the riots he is eager to point out are not racial — they’re cultural and very specifically rooted in aspects of Jamaican gangster culture. Here Starkey is making a huge quantum leap. And strikingly, what’s more, he offers absolutely no evidence for this claim. It’s an extraordinary assertion and frustratingly an almost impossible one to rebut because of its inherent undeniability. It’s like trying to prove to a child that the moon is not made of cheese. Or perhaps somewhat more pertinently, it’s like trying to dissuade an adult who’s convinced that Britain went to war with Iraq because it comes out of an Anglo-Saxon cultural trait to pillage distant lands. How do you argue against that in rational terms? I fear you can’t.

OK, so what’s the verdict? Well, there’s very little (if any) evidence to suggest that the riots were any different from any other in the past. Looting of course has a long history in the UK and elsewhere. And it certainly doesn’t come out of any particular cultural, racial or ethnic configuration. It really ought to be a straightforward truism (even for stuffy, white historians) that all people and cultures have at some point in their histories looted, plundered and killed. So yes, of course, I rest my case: David Starkey is a total fruitcake!