Having watched David Starkey’s appearance on Newsnight, I’m not at all surprised that people have reacted with outrage… as they seemingly do in response to everything these days. Rather than carefully considering his comments and ensuring that they’ve accurately interpreted the point he was making, they’ve heard the words “black” and “white” and cried “racism”.
While I concede that Starkey didn’t articulate his argument well – mostly his own fault, but partly the fault of the others for interrupting him – I feel that it was perfectly discernible (though still not necessarily correct) given a little thought. His argument was that there is a particular black subculture which some white people have now adopted, and that the values of this subculture might have played a role in the recent riots. Perhaps I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, but I really did not perceive that he was arguing that there is a unitary “black culture” to which all black people belong and that this culture is violent.
His argument (at least as I have perceived it) is not a racist one. A racist argument would be that black people inherently have a greater propensity to commit violent crime. He did not make such an argument, or anything like it. The view that most black people are decent, non-violent, and law-abiding is perfectly compatible with his view that there is a particular subculture (which is traditionally black, but to which most black people do not belong) that has destructive values.
Aside from twisting some of his words to portray them as racist, some people have ignored his other comments on the programme which showed that he wasn’t making an argument from race at all. For example, he said “it’s not skin colour, it’s cultural”. He also said that Enoch Powell was “completely wrong” about inter-communal violence, which is the opposite view to the BNP who have been portraying the recent riots as “race riots”.
It is quite sad to see people calling for the end to someone’s career and livelihood on the basis of a misinterpretation. People like Owen Jones (who was on the show too) seem concerned that Starkey has “opened a floodgate of racism”, but if others misperceive his argument to be about race, then they are merely making the same mistake as Jones himself.
The real question people should be asking is whether Starkey was right to implicate the particular subculture he was referring to as having an important role in the recent riots.