With all the ensuing heated debate, and the subsequent vociferous condemnation of David Starkey, its obvious many people have strong opinions on the issues raised, even if they didn’t actually watch the program.
Historian David Starkey said the “”whites have become black” in a discussion on the England riots. He also hit out at what he called the “destructive, nihilistic gangster culture” which he says is now become the fashion…(bbc.co.uk)
After watching the debate between Starkey, Dreda Say Mitchell and the self-proclaimed ‘Lefty’ author Owen Jones (he of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class), it was immediately obvious there was going to be some seriously heavy fall-out from the show. Hardly surprising given the predominant social angst connected to recent events. That and the fact, anything which (apparently) sets white against black (or vice versa), is destined for explosive melt-down.
One of the first to condemn Starkey was the Labour leader Ed Miliband who described his comments on race as “disgusting and outrageous” (see here). I suspect that as ever, Milliband was simply using the issue to jump on the popularity band-wagon of modern-day sound-bite politics. Starkey, almost like a cornered rat, was quickly forced into self-defence of his opinion. An opinion that he is rightly entitled to in our apparently free and democratic society (see here).
UK riots: It’s not about criminality and cuts, it’s about culture… and this is only the beginning – David Starkey…(telegraph.co.uk)
In the Guardian, Dreda Say Mitchell called Mr Starkey’s views “random and confused” but says “most people will realise this”. While Owen Jones suggested in the New Statesman that Mr Starkey’s comments could “provoke dangerous repercussions.” However another author, Toby Young, has come to Mr Starkey’s defence, blogging on the Daily Telegraph website that the historian was not being racist.
Being a person with an often opinionated nature (as blogging should suggest), I can hear the call; so where does The Babble stand on this matter? I sit in the camp that honestly doesn’t believe Starkey is a ‘racist’, racism (generally) comes from individuals far less educationally and socially intelligent than he undoubtedly is. Was he right to express the opinions he did? Too right, even under the control of the PC Thought Police in our almost Dystopian society we like to refer to as a Democracy. He is entitled to his opinion, as much as you or I are entittled to ours. Just so long as there is no intended incitement to racial hatred and with my ‘legal head’ on, I would suggest he didn’t even come near to that.
As Starkey rightly said (arguably) on the issues “it’s about culture” and that was simply a socio-historical observation. Our ‘culture’ is a reflection of another inherent and mostly subconscious and uncontrollable social trait, tribalism. That human drive that means we need to belong to (or be accepted by) a particular social, peer or ethnic grouping. But more importantly Starkey also said; “I think what this week has shown is that profound changes have happened…” He is right; our society along with a great deal of its cultural and moral framework has in fact changed, much of it for the worse.
Another issue that has stemmed from this debate is the predominance of the so-called ‘Gangsta Rap’ genre of music, popular with so many of the young people refered to in Starkey’s observations. To say that music was, in some way, part of the riot causation is mostly wrong, to many people. It may at face-value appear unrelated and something of a simplistic discriminatory tool in the arguments however; music (and particular genres of music) are also integral to many aspects of our culture and society. The genre may indeed be symptomatic of many of the real issues in this matter however; how much (or little) that musical influence impacts upon how someone lives their life is actually down to the ethics, morals and psyche of the individual.
My parents grew up in the era of the Jazz music; a genre synonymous with the Speakeasy, Prohibition and (arguably) the birth of major cultural and social change within the twentieth century. I was born into a world influenced by Rock Music, Flower Power, Psychedelia and Free Love. My school years were impacted upon by Reggae, Ska, Two-Tone and the angry Punk.
Did my parents get involved in bootlegging or organised crime? Did I become some spaced out raging pacifist calling for all nations to Ban The Bomb or, a spotty hippy shagging every woman within 50 miles who happened to wear a tie dye tee-shirt and sport a flower in her hair? Did I grow dreadlocks and smoke ganja or, promote Anarchy in The Uk and quickly lace up my bovver boots and go kick a nigger? To all of the above I can answer, an emphatic NO!
In June 2011 another well-known academic and popular historian (born in West London), commented on being awarded a fellowship of the Historical Association. She highlighted the value of understanding our history…
It reminds all of us that history is the story of humanity and not only do we forget that at our peril but time spent researching history is time full of pleasure and surprise and genuine enlightenment…(Bettany Hughes)
It is also interesting and enlightening to read Bettany’s thoughts and historical observations on this ideology we value so much and call Democracy. She highlights the fact that; our modern world, across a gap of 2,500 years, shares a common and firm belief with the ancient Greeks – the power of words in a democratic society.
The one good thing that came from the riots (and Starkey’s subsequent comments) is; looking back is not always such a bad thing and just perhaps, our nation has finally and belatedly woken to the issues impacting upon our society… At least for this week!
Finally, one of the most simplistic and esoteric phrases or sayings that was offered to me as a child by my parents, and one that helped me shape my life was… “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”… Perhaps more people could do with understanding and adopting that guidance? I have to say it came in very handy for me during the thirty years of my life in my chosen career as a Copper!
Calm down, ignore the media emotive sensationalism, study the issues and talk about them, perhaps then we can all try to find a way forward for the future however;
Remember too the men of Athens, fired up by their solidarity, voting to go to war, to slaughter ‘barbarians’ and fellow-Greeks alike. When we talk of bringing ‘democracy’ to the world, we must be careful what we wish for… (Bettany Hughes)
- VIDEO: Riots: ‘The whites have become black’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Miliband condemns Starkey on race (bbc.co.uk)
- Starkey defends riot race remarks (bbc.co.uk)
- David Starkey defends Newsnight comment (guardian.co.uk)
- Howard Jacobson: Foolish vanity of a public intellectual (independent.co.uk)
- UK riots: BBC under pressure to apologise for David Starkey’s Newsnight comments (telegraph.co.uk)