Starkly Starkey

The howls of “racist” directed at David Starkey after his Newsnight appearance have been deafening.  Strangely enough I think he’ll survive the accusation of racism.  He may not survive accusations of rank stupidity.

I’ve rarely had much sympathy for Starkey’s views, however I at least thought that he could put together an argument.  Not last night.

“I’ve just been re-reading Enoch Powell,” Starkey said. “His prophesy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber didn’t foam with blood, but flames lambent wrapped round Tottenham and wrapped round Clapham.”

Well I need to thank David Starkey for prompting me to reread Powell’s speech.  It offers an astonishing insight into just how far we have come as a nation.  It captures, like a lizard preserved in aspic, the way millions thought at the end of the 1960s.

However Starkey referenced it utterly incorrectly.  Powell hints at race conflict and, with the exception of the EDL and BNP who are trying to paint last week’s riots in race terms, almost no one even on the Conservative right seems to accept that.

There is no reference in Powell’s speech to cities going up in flames.  He doesn’t talk about urban conflict.  He simply talks about race.

“Eight years ago in a respectable street in Wolverhampton a house was sold to a Negro,” Powell said. “Now only one white (a woman old-age pensioner) lives there.”  I don’t even expect to hear that sort of thing from any but the Neo-Nazi fringe these days.  Even people who object to the levels of immigration that we’ve seen in the last fifteen years will speak positively of black and asian neighbours who have moved into their communities and who have become valued.

Far from saying ‘there goes the neighbourhood’ when an Asian buys the house next door they’re more likely to moan that rich non-doms have forced up the price of houses, not caused them to collapse.

Another line from Powell quoting a constituent: “In this country in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

Having lived through the fifteenth and twentieth anniversaries of Powell’s speech in April 1983 and 1988 I can say with a degree of certainty that that was no more true then than it is now.  It is not a speech that any sensible person could describe as prophetic.

With regards to Sikh demands to be allowed to wear a turban at work Powell said: “The Sikh communities’ campaign to maintain customs inappropriate in Britain is much to be regretted.”

Last week we saw the Sikh community standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community in Birmingham.  They kept the riots out of their neighbourhoods and did so largely peacefully.  A lot of white residents in Clapham and Croydon will no doubt have wished that their communities had functioned as coherently.  Instead ‘white community action’ was left to the EDL and their attempts at protecting neighbourhoods like Eltham quickly descended into violent attacks on the police.

Moreover from Birmingham came the most dignified voice to have been heard this last week, that of Tariq Jahan, a man who had just lost his son and who kept his composure and called for calm.  He stepped forward hours after his son Haroon had been killed with two others is a hit and run during the riots and spoke thus:

“I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.”

Even in 1968 Enoch Powell was a powerfully divisive figure.  “The legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum [immigrant communities] need to flourish,” Powell spat. “Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organize to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding.”

In 2011 the most compelling voice of unity has been that of a British Muslim.  He spoke for me.  He spoke for many others.  He embodied the values that British people of every background believe encapsulate our nation identity; stoicism, reason, moderation, decency, dignity under the greatest duress.  His words stand as the ultimate refutation of Powell and everything he stood for just as they make a nonsense of Starkey’s argument.

Meanwhile back to Starkey, a man whose chosen Mastermind subject would almost certainly not be Rap Music.  Starkey argues that rap culture has turned white people black and helped foment the riots.  Quite so, just as Elmore James and Robert Johnson turned Eric Clapton black and had him standing at the crossroads at midnight waiting for the devil with a bottle of Bourbon in his hand.   Clapton ironically backed Powell.

Blues, jazz, soul and RnB captivated white working class Britain in the 60s (and disaffected white middle class Britain too) because its ability to articulate oppression, struggle, suffering and anger gave it an authenticity that saccharine mainstream 50s American pop lacked, and that authenticity cuts through time, place and class.

Rap does the same.  I can’t stand it but then I can’t relate to what it’s like to live in South Central LA or the less salubrious parts of New York only miles from movie stars and bankers in a society where the rich and famous define themselves through conspicuous consumption and where ostentatious wealth equals respect.  Rap captures that perfectly and its heroes turn the tables on the rich and powerful by taking their crass materialism to its logical conclusion.   Money is about power and power is about sex – rap lays it all out in all its brash, violent, misogynistic glory.  It’s like Hollywood and Wall Street with a bit of honesty.  It fits perfectly into a modern, materialistic and deeply unequal London.  It’s not about race; it’s about an underclass giving two fingers back.  Starkey doesn’t just not get it.  he never stopped to think.

So I’d say to David Starkey while there’s no reason why one cannot be both a public intellectual and a racist, being a stupid, unthinking, unenquiring public intellectual is a contradiction in terms.  I hope that if he’d drummed out of town it’s not to censor him for holding well thought out but repellent views but simply out of contempt for his being such a fraud.

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2 Responses to “Starkly Starkey”

  1. I’d like someone to tell me what’s positive about this black ‘gangsta’ culture. As far as I can work out it’s racist, sexist, homophobic, nihilistic and glamorises violence.

    And, of course there’s also the negative effect on the language of the people who subscribe to this culture; they’re unable to pronounce the letter ‘t’, always replacing it with a glottal stop…and they have difficulty with the ‘th’ phoneme too; usually pronouncing it as a ‘d’. In effect, this makes them unemployable.

    • headstrongclub Says:

      Not much though it’s not purely a black cultural phenomenon. I think I should add that the term rap covers a wide range of music from the savvy and perceptive like Gil Scott Heron to the bigoted and violent. It’s the latter that people will doubtless take issue with though it’s a big step from arguing that music refelcts culture to arguing that it provokes a riot.
      As for being unemployable – my guess is that people get a whole lot more employable if they’re after a job they really really want. I’ve managed to talk my way out of plenty I didn’t.

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