David Starkey's not being racist, but...oh, wait a minute.

It always goes the same way.  Someone high profile says something racist, they get called out on it, and then people swarm to defend them because whatever they said wasn't racist after all.  Or at least, that's what they claim.

The defences usually go the same way too.  "What's so racist about..." followed by the most sanitised version of whatever was said.  We mustn't look at the actual words that came out of the accused's mouth, but the most charitable interpretation of what they might have meant.  It's kind of a reverse strawman.  In it's purest form, I suppose, is the old, "you can't even talk about immigration without being called racist," deal.  You can easily talk about immigration without being called racist.  You just have to not say anything that might be considered racist.  It's not difficult.

We're seeing this again with David Starkey's appearance on Newsnight last night, in which he said Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech was right, that 'the whites have become black' and that if you heard David Lammy MP, a successful black man, without seeing him you'd think he was white.  Even the Daily Mail isn't on his side on this one.

In the early hours of this morning, after watching Starkey's performance, I tweeted my surprise that he got such an easy ride after saying the most racist thing I'd seen on TV in ages.*  I then got a reply from @mickeyfree53 telling me to watch the show again, assuring me nothing racist was said.  This was odd since you know, quite a lot was.  A bit later, he informed me that Starkey hadn't said much of any significance except that 'some whites try to imitate blacks in terms of accent'.  Seems it wasn't me who needed to watch again.

Professional Gumby Toby Young has popped up in his Telegraph blog to make the same sort of argument. I'm going to go through it so I don't end up just shouting 'racist' without explanation.  It's a bit crazy to have to do this in the 21st century, but I guess those are the rules.

After mentioning something that wasn't racist, Young quotes Starkey saying Enoch Powell was right and opens his defence with this wonderful gambit:
Now, that statement is vintage Starkey. He almost says something inflammatory – “Enoch Powell was absolutely right” – but, after pausing for a nano-second, pulls back from the brink - "in one sense". [...]  So it’s difficult to say which parts of the Rivers of Blood speech he was agreeing with.
Yes, very difficult.  I wonder exactly what part of a speech about how allowing the immigration of black people will lead to civil unrest Starkey meant in a discussion about the causes of civil unrest.  What could he have been talking about when he said Powell wrong in that the violence wasn't inter-communal because the whites have become black?  If only there was some clue in the entire point of the speech, the entire point of the discussion he was involved in and the words he actually said with his mouth.

Having successfully dispatched with one of the most contentious things Starkey said by pretending what he was referring to is a mystery and declaring it not 'the particularly controversial bit' anyway, Young goes on to quote this bit of what Starkey said:
What’s happened is that a substantial section of the Chavs that you 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.
Here's why that's not racist:
But I’m not sure Starkey was guilty of racism which, according to the OED, is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race , especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”.
Ah.  So if i call a black guy a 'dirty n*gger' to his face, or turn down a black job applicant on the grounds that 'black people can be lazy', I'm not racist because I haven't stated a belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities or qualities specific to that race.  Something tells me something's up with this particular definition.

Luckily though, there's a second definition in Young's link that he mysteriously decides not to quote, which goes, "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior".  Does what Starkey said fit this definition?

Let's see.  He's defined a particular culture as 'black' even though he's talking about white people being part of it.  He even goes so far as to say that white people who are part of the culture 'become black'.  He's pre-judging people who behave a certain negative way as being black, even if they're white.  I think this fits pretty well actually.

Young deals with this by saying, "Starkey wasn’t talking about black culture in general, but, as he was anxious to point out, a “particular form” of black culture," and follows with my favourite bit of this defence:
In addition, Starkey wasn’t linking this sub-culture to people of just one skin colour, but condemning working class white people – “Chavs,” as he put it – who embraced it as well.
Mysteriously, he leaves out exactly how Starkey condemns the working class white people who embrace this sub culture. As you probably know already because I've said it a few times by now, he condemned them by saying they had 'become black'.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I think that condemning someone by saying they've become black isn't the best evidence to use to show a person isn't saying anything racist.

Here's how Young deals with what I think was possibly the worst bit of what Starkey said.  This one's a doozy:
He then went on to make an almost equally controversial observation about the Labour MP for Tottenham. “Listen to David Lammy, an archetypical successful black man,” he said. “If you turned the screen off so you were listening to him on radio you’d think he was white.”
But this is apparently okay.  It's fine to say white people who are part of a negative culture have 'become black' and that if you never saw him, you'd assume a successful black man was white.  That's because:
...he was simply reiterating the point that he wasn’t condemning African-Caribbean men per se. On the contrary, he was condemning a particular sub-culture, one that may have originated in parts of the African-Caribbean community, but which has now been taken up by some white people as well.
So, he was simply reiterating that he wasn't condemning African-Caribbean men, per se.  By saying that he assumes someone who doesn't take up a 'particular sub-culture' is white.

Here's the definition of 'racist' from the dictionary Young used earlier:
having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another
Do you think saying that being part of a particular negative, criminal subculture makes you black even if you're white fits that bill?  What about when that's followed up by saying  if you're not obviously part of that subculture, if you're successful, he'll assume you're white, even if you're black?  Does this fit?  I think so.

Young finishes with:
No doubt there’ll be people who take issue with this analysis. They’ll point out that Starkey’s “body language” and his “tone” were somehow racist. Perhaps they’ll even dig up other things Starkey has said. But if we confine ourselves to just those things he said on Newsnight last night, he wasn’t guilty of racism.
I'm afraid this is absolutely wrong.  You only need the words he actually said.  You have to leave some of those out and stick like a limpet to one particular definition of racism to make that conclusion work.

To recap, here's what Starkey did:
  • Opened a discussion on the causes of riots by saying a speech that said allowing black immigration to continue would lead to violence was right.
  • Qualified this by saying that the speech was only wrong because the violence wasn't inter-racial.  Instead, white people had become black.
  • Followed this up with claiming that listening to a successful man who is not part of this subculture would make him (and by 'you', he does mean himself here) think he was white.
What Starkey was doing here was to try to deal with the fact that some of the people rioting last week were white by saying that actually, they were black anyway.  It's exactly the thing Nick Griffin was doing earlier in the week when he blamed it on 'blacks and wiggers'. No wonder Griffin responded this morning with this.

Credit to Toby Young where it's due.  You have to really work very hard to try to dismiss this as not racist.

The thing that puzzles me is, why would you bother?

See also RuinPunk and Nathaniel Tapley.

*Don't really think he got such an easy ride after watching again.  As @mikemantin said last night, when someone says something like Starkey, "it's the kind of comment that leaves you gobsmacked for 10mins before you can formulate a reply.

**UPDATE** After several people pointed Toby Young toward this post on Twitter, he eventually replied by saying it was too weak to reply to.  I'm sure it was.*  I don't know if that defence will fool many people, but it'll be tragic if it does.  What would be more tragic is if it fooled Young himself.

*Sorry, that sentence isn't true.

(Also - I tidied some spelling and grammar in the post as I added that update).


MU said...

Stupid cow can't even pronounce "Theory."

Culture comes from genetics.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

But that's not racist, right?

(Presuming you're the real Nightwatchstate and not someone buggering about of course).

Oliver James said...

Gee, I hope they're trolling.

Culture does not come from genetics (as evidenced by studies on feral children and such), and a person's manner of speech does not make them "stupid". I would go further, but I'm wary that you may just be someone dicking about.

KW said...

I'm not terribly 'successful' (in that I'm not well spoken and don't have a well-paid job), by this guy's definition I'm not white (which I am). And I've certainly never looted a JD Sports shop.

Everyone is their own individual regardless of where they come from. And this particular individual is a moronic racist.

theotherside said...

Very lengthy and thorough deconstruction of Mr. Starkey's words.

Of course your entire argument depends upon the word black not being placed within inverted commas.

If Starkey means 'black' in inverted commas then he is talking about a sub-culture that is percieved or labelled as black.

Similarly, when he says that someone sounds 'white' he is making the point that the gentleman in question has achieved success through embracing the culture of the ruling and intellectual classes, a culture that has qualities that are generally percieved as white.

Nels said...

Absolutely fantastic assesment. Spot on. Well done.

As I said elsewhere:

"...when you're up all night looking for technicalities to defend the obviously racists words of a racist then you have to wonder what you are. And then explore if you're happy with it. If you are - be brave enough to admit it, if not then repent."

Anonymous said...

Brilliantly well observed old chap.

Nathaniel Tapley said...

Hello, theotherside, given that Starkey was speaking out loud and didn't say "black in inverted commas" or "white in inverted commas" how would you know that was what he meant. Unless he said that. Which he didn't. He said "black" and "white".

His use of clumsy shorthand and imprecise language is unforgivable because he's an academic. He's meant to weigh each word.

He may have been trying to make a non-racist point about the pernicious effect of 'gangster culture', but he shortened 'gangster culture' to 'rap culture', 'rap culture' to 'black culture', and 'black culture' to 'black'. When you simplify it that far in an attempt to shock it stops being a nuanced argument, and is just a racist rant.

Eric S. Smith said...

theotherside: “Of course your entire argument depends upon the word black not being placed within inverted commas.”

I’m not sure that that’s true, and in any event your “inverted commas” don’t seem to be there. Starkey does not say of David Lammy that “he sounds ‘white,’” he says, “you’d think he was White,” clearly implying that he’s still really Black. Starkey later says that “eighty percent of gun crime is Black,” and that stat, assuming that it’s not just made up, would not be based on the perpetrator’s cultural proclivity.

So you’re going to have to argue that when he says White or Black, he’s sometimes referring to an immutable race, and sometimes to a kind of goodness or badness. It’s hard to imagine this being done in good faith: the obvious implication is that Whites are better than Blacks, and when Whites aren’t better, it’s because they’re actually Black.

Seriously, can we even imagine him clarifying his terms in a way that makes them acceptable? “Oh, no, when I say ‘black,’ I just mean ‘violent, uneducated thief who talks like one of those awful Jamaicans.’”

Whatever punctuation marks he has in his head, what Starkey’s done is to mash up the classic “Kids Today!” and “Those Darn Coloureds!” rants and run with them, right down to complaining about rap and text messages.

PRO TIP: you can make the ritual incantation, “it’s not about skin colour,” and still be spouting inflammatory racist nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Right at the start of your article you say: ... in which he said Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech was right ...

Well, no. David Starkey didn't say that at all. If you take the time to listen to the interview that's not what he said. But since you can't even get the quote right how can you possibly be qualified to comment on the discussion?

You should go back and actually watch the Newsnight discussion and they when you've done that, write a balanced and sensible piece. I'm sure it would be a lot different from the misquotes and misunderstanding you've got here.

Xobbo said...


By the same logic, anyone who said something offensive (or simply wrong) could simply claim that the meant the word "in inverted commas", and they were simply referring to a general perception of A being B, rather than stating that A was B, as their words would imply.
In reality, it's not possible to distinguish between speaking in inverted commas and speaking literally, so if you want to claim that you didn't mean what you said literally, you have to make this explicit, as Starkey did not do.

Alec Macph said...

Appealing to the "OED definition" of a word is first resort of a pillock.

Anonymous said...

Starkey is just touching on areas some class as politically incorrect, However if you don't examine these areas you'll never solve the problem.

Is starkey a racist ? well from what I seen on the video certainly not and I am not a racist either.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Anonymous, in comment no.10:

Right at the start of your article you say: ... in which he said Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech was right ...

Well, no. David Starkey didn't say that at all.

Yes he did. Sorry. Here's the quote:

"I've just been rereading Enoch Powell, the 'Rivers of blood' speech. 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. But it wasn't inter-communal violence..." (my emphasis).

Of course, he qualified the statement, and of course, I go on to deal with those qualifications later on.

But of course you know that because you read the rest of the post and totally didn't use your 'he didn't say that' as an excuse to read no further, right?

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Anonymous, in comment no.13:

Starkey is just touching on areas some class as politically incorrect, However if you don't examine these areas you'll never solve the problem.

No, that's not it. That's another reduction of what Starkey did - make several racist comments - to a more or less sanitised version of what he might have meant.

Unless of course you agree that Enoch Powell's speech was right, except the violence wasn't inter-communal because the whites have become black and if you listen to a successful black man without seeing him you assume he's white.

Is starkey a racist ? well from what I seen on the video certainly not and I am not a racist either.

I should probably have said this in the original post. Whether or not Starkey is 'a racist' isn't really the issue. The issue is whether what he said was racist.

David Gerard said...

It's not at all racist to say and do things that look and sound staggeringly fucking racist. You must be politically correct.

MU said...

The real argument here is whether the left is going to hold on to its stupid racial egalitarianism religion to the bitter end. I thought that racism was hatred of another race, not observing obvious behaviour trends. FCC, you're a moron for not seeing that this is the BBC baiting you by setting up someone with a different opinion to get shouted down.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Hi Nightwatchstate. I'm going to assume you're the real Nightwatchstate for now.

Care to defend your racist opening comment?

I thought that racism was hatred of another race

As has been demonstrated, you are wrong.

not observing obvious behaviour trends.

Again with the reducing what was said to the most generous interpretation of what might have been meant.

It would be nice if you could actually address what Starkey said, rather than use the technique the original post was ridiculing.

FCC, you're a moron for not seeing that this is the BBC baiting you by setting up someone with a different opinion to get shouted down.

Yes. Sorry. I forgot the BBC are teh eeevils.

Because, of course, it was the BBC that forced Starkey to say racist stuff. It's totally not his fault for saying it.

I think it's pretty reasonable for the BBC to have booked Starkey expecting him to represent the more right wing angle on the riots. I doubt they anticipated getting what they did.

KW said...


"The real argument here is whether the left is going to hold on to its stupid racial egalitarianism religion to the bitter end."

OMG, you are seriously suggesting that believing that all races are equal is "stupid"?!

Go to hell troll! The guy was making a huge generalisation that white culture is "well-spoken" and that black culture is "hoodies with a funny accent" regardless of what race the person in those cultures are, and you don't see that as racism?! Yes different nationalities have their differences, but guess what? Not all black people have funny accents and not all white people are well-spoken.

David Waldock said...

Yeah, as someone picked up, it's worth pointing out that 'racist' is an adjective not a noun.

So a person is racist because their behaviour is racist. You don't describe them as *a* racist.

Anonymous said...

"Professional Gumby Toby Young"

I cried with laughter reading this. I mention Toby on my blog, I would really like to use this one.

skidmarx said...

I generally find the post excellent, though one thing: Oxford Dictionaries Online and The OED are not the same thing.

David Waldock - it's both, and if you can't understand that you are idiotic and an idiot.

MU said...

"Racism" is a broken word and has now been redefined as correctly observing reality.

MU said...

"the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race , especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races."

Inferior or Superior are subjective preferences so your definition is crap.

If we remove that and shorten it to "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race", then it effectively becomes racist to state that black people are black, because that's a quality specific to black people. Since race is a continuum with broad categorisations based on difference, according to your definition, it is racist to claim that race existence.

QED, we have to use the second definition, that of "Prejudice." Since it might be entirely reasonable to have a prejudice towards a collective of people who racially differ (The North Vs South Koreans, for example), your definition effectively says it is Racist to have feelings in response to reality.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Hooray! The guy who leaves my favourite racist comments is back! Hey, Nightwatchstate!

Inferior or Superior are subjective preferences so your definition is crap.

You're really not paying attention, are you? That's not my definition, it's Toby Young's, which he got from a dictionary. If you'd been paying attention, you'd see that I criticised it too.

If we remove that and shorten it to... then it effectively becomes racist to state that black people are black

Yeah, and if we add 'and that pizza is nice' to the end of it, then it effectively becomes racist to like pizza. It's fun, adding words and taking them away from dictionary definitions. Not really very useful, though.

...according to your definition, it is racist to claim that race existence.

Dude, it's not my definition.

QED, we have to use the second definition, that of "Prejudice."... your definition effectively says it is Racist to have feelings in response to reality.

Really, it's not my definition. It's a dictionary's. The dictionary Toby Young used.

You can bugger about with dictionary definitions of racism all you like. Maybe one day you'll change the definition until the word is defined in such a way that the things you say stop being racist.

Until then, cheers, you massive racist.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

@Julaybib - feel free! If Young is forever connected in people's brains with the Gumbys, the world will be a better place.

vjohn82 said...

Fantastic analysis and comment. I really enjoyed the article. Thanks for posting it.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

@vjohn82 - Thanks for liking it.

Anonymous said...

It was racist because the position it comes from is that cultural cross pollination is a bad thing. It's not. A lot of people are defending David Starkey but they're not all racist. Unfortunately if they followed Starkey's logic they'd have to stop listening to all popular music from the jazz age on.


Dig 14 up, 5 down
To comprehend or like something. Possibly coming from the Irish- An Dtuigeann tu? meaning, Do you understand.

If a black person says "Can you dig it?" does that mean THE BLACKS HAVE BECOME IRISH?

Anonymous said...

I rarely read blogs but I was directed to this via facebook; what a fantastic read! I'll be popping in more regular now. Keep up the good work!

David said...

I've only recently discovered this blog but I love this post. Even if making Toby Young look like a complete halfwit is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

If Starkey had offered a critique on gangster culture he may well have had a point. However he didn't, he chose to offer a critique on the basis that "black culture" (whatever that is) is bad and "white culture" (again, whatever that is) is good. Rioters are bad and therefore black (or like black people); politicians are good and therefore white (or like white people). As you say the wonder is not that people are trying to say it's not racist, the wonder is why they're bothering. Unless they agree with the racist argument in which case they should be honest about embracing their racism.

Token Coloured said...

Starkey raises an issue, rather clumsily, that does need to be discussed. The negative influence of a culture that is tied to music particular musici.e. Hip Hop. That coincidentally is also tied to a particular ethnicity i.e. Black.

See this Dateline London at 12mins 28secs:

As a Black person i believe that Starkey's clumsy point is an important issue that needs discussion. Statistically the Black community are victims of and perpetrators of the majority of gang related shootings. It's obvious that there are aspects of our culture that are messed up.

I would be interested to hear what sort of music the looters are into. 50 Cent or Morrissey?


Anonymous said...

Starkey ACTUALLY said that 'elements' of black culture, namely Jamaican Yardie, have been adopted and become the norm for disenfranchised urban youth, which is made up and attracted from all races. Inflammatory, yes. Racist, no. The perpetuation of successful blacks that sound white is rife in the media, particularly the BBC. Starkey, and Young echoed Revd Jackson's comments the last time in the UK, which was that UK Blacks are tax creditors, not tax burdens, but that self-belief and aspiration had been removed as a product of the neglect of the children of the diaspora.

Five Chinese Crackers said...


It would help if you read the OP. I talk about this there.

sianandcrookedrib said...

Great post FCC! as always. Amazed that people are trying to say he wasn't being racist. But you say it all much better than i do.

thank you!

Five Chinese Crackers said...

@Token Coloured

Nice name.

This is actually a bit of a rubbish issue to discuss and not that important. Grownups have worried about what kids listen to and what makes them oh-so-violent and rebellious for *years*. And by *years* I mean, *probably as long as humans have been on the planet*.

Still, I'm working on a separate post on it. That'll be up at some point today, probably later in the evening.

Robbert said...

"Is starkey a racist ? well from what I seen on the video certainly not and I am not a racist either."

I wish someone prone to using the phrase "I'm not racist but..." would explain to me exactly what, in their view, constitutes being racist. In my mind, saying something racist would qualify, but apparently this is not sufficient. Apparently you can perfectly well say "bloody ethnics steal all the jobs and commit all crime", yet still maintain - at least in your own mind - that you're not racist. So I'd really like to know what they think is racist.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

@Token Coloured

Sorry - was a bit unclear there. What I meant was a rubbish issue what whether the music causes the behaviour.

Of course, the music is produced by the same environment that produces the behaviour. It's that environment that needs looking at.

Mr Larrington said...

I'm surprised Starkey didn't go on to say that if you heard Tim Westwood on the radio, you'd think he was a twat^w^w black. Clearly it's all Westwood's fault, innit.

taskermx said...

Ha..Only Socialists could twist what was said by Starkey and Cry "Racism" It's as if they are trying to vindicate the Politically correct Society they have created under Blair and Brown but forgetting that allowing such a Society to flourish has consequences...I really feel for Starkey who just said things how he and countless others (including myself) see things..

Five Chinese Crackers said...


Care to actually address any of the things I actually say in the post and try to rebut them rather than blathering about socialists and Blair and Brown?

Seriously, what isn't racist is not defined as 'what taskermx and a lot of other people think'.

David said...

@ taskermx:

Since when has Tony Blair been a socialist? *confused*

Kate Griffin said...

Starkey's comments are both clear and racism-free.

Sadly, the parts which are clear are racist, and the parts which are racism-free are unclear.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

I'm not being racist, but Kate's comment wins.

MU said...

That's Wacist!

Cylux said...

I can't believe some people actually came into the comments to even bother.
*shakes head in disbelief*

My personal favourites are those who try to make the claim that no, Starkey raised valid points that need exploring about gang culture etc, and perhaps we might have been able to explore those issues in regards to this piece, had Starkey not instead decided to focus on white people becoming black people when they commit crimes straight from the fucking start. There's little point in drinking from the well of debate once the first guy up to take a sip pisses in it instead.

Also, there's always been opportunistic looting and arson when riots happen so his 'shopping with violence' bollocks doesn't even rise to the level of historical observation.

Token Coloured said...

@ Cylux

Should've made it clear that overall i do consider Starkey's comments dodgy.

However i do think you can still pluck an issue he has raised out of his comments to discuss. I've heard similar issues to Starkey's before. However they have come from members of the Black community.

One could conclude that if you want a wide debate about a controversial issue that effects a minority group, put the words in a White persons mouth?