In defence of David Starkey
A round robin recently published in Times Higher Education demanded that the BBC and other broadcasters refrain from inviting David Starkey to comment on current affairs or at the very least stop introducing him as a historian (1).The signatories, mainly historians, included a significant proportion of post-graduate students, doubtless “encouraged” to participate by their tutors. The letter engendered a reassuringly robust response.
The plain fact is that Starkey is a historian so that the signatories, as Michael Bully contended –
“…are splitting hairs in making it their main point that Starkey was introduced as a ‘historian’”.
Nobody complains when historian Simon Schama pontificates about subjects outside his field. Once again, as in the Kanazawa Affair, it is the commentator’s (allegedly) reactionary views on race that the signatories really object to. Or as “Dropta Pollock” pithily put it,
“How dare the BBC allow a non-Frankfurt scholar to voice his views on Ministry of Truth t.v.”
“Anon” argued that the authors of the letter have “a very clear political agenda”, that they seek to “bully others into not addressing issues frankly and openly”, in particular the contentious issue of a possible racial component to the recent riots. Edward Christie also underlined the “deep political bias” of the aforementioned letter. He maintained that a left-wing economist making a “poorly-argued plea for social justice” would be unlikely to generate a similar missive signed by “a hundred right-wing academics from economics departments…”
What Starkey actually said was that elements of the white underclass, including those involved in the riots, have adopted some of the most negative aspects of black culture. Notwithstanding the attempts by his fellow panellists on Newsnight to distort his argument, he unequivocally rejected the idea that the riots were attributable to race per se. “Max”, for one, endorsed Starkey’s analysis here. He pointed out that
“This phenomena (sic.) of whites adopting black culture… appeared in the United States first”.
He challenged anyone to watch Jerry Springer and not admit that
“the low class trailer park types who are white [the equivalent of our “chavs”] have now adopted the speech and even body language of Americans of similar class”.
He endorsed Starkey’s supposedly inflammatory observations.
Many of the responses to the historian’s letter, as “Whiters” noted, were far more in touch with reality than the comments in the letter itself. Perhaps Professor Starkey’s persecutors need to visit the real world sometimes.
Leslie Jones, 6 September 2011
1. See “Starkey’s ignorance is hardly work of history”, THE, 4th September 2011 and readers’ comments