British Historian David Starkey, who sparked controversy by claiming that white rioters were influenced by ‘gangster culture’, said his comments wouldn’t have provoked public outrage if he was black.
In an exclusive interview with a British Newspaper, the Cambridge-educated academic hit back at his critics who dubbed the historian a ‘racist’ over his remarks on the BBC’s Newsnight show. His involvement in a discussion about what prompted the recent riots resulted in 700 viewer complaints to the BBC.
However the 66-year-old who describes himself as an advocate of plain speaking said “I’m a white man not black , therefore I’m not allowed.” (to speak about race issues).
On the programme, Starkey blamed ‘black gangster culture’ for turning white youngsters into looters and made reference to the late MP Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech.
“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” Starkey said.
Prompting further outrage, the historian went on to say: “Listen to David Lammy, an archetypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off so you were listening to him on radio you’d think he was white.”
But the historian refuted accusations that he was a racist.
“I’m absolutely not, in anyway possible, racist. I think racists are demented. I was born crippled, with two left feet and had to wear surgical boats until I was in my early teens. I turned out to be gay and I had to wear spectacles from the age of nine.
“I’ve been on the receiving end as well. I know about prejudice and what hurt feels like. I have been abused by a policeman. It’s not about skin colour, it’s about how people are brought up. That’s what conditions people.”
He added “It’s not ‘coz I is black’, coz I is white. In that sense I am the most anti-racist.”
Starkey claimed that people were only outraged because he made reference to black culture.
He said: “I used the Lammy example to emphasise that I was speaking about culture and not skin colour. What I was saying is that Lammy had an Oxford education and talked as though he had. I regard myself as a civilized man. But it’s not about skin colour, it’s about culture. It’s basically how people are brought up, reared, educated and socialised, the life opportunities they make for themselves, and the life opportunities that are available to them.”
And further emphasising his non racist credentials he said “Am I happy in dealing with black people? Yes I am. Have I ever used a racially insulting term? No I have not.”
The historian said he chose to speak exclusively to a Black newspaper, despite having other lucrative interview offers, because he wanted to set the record straight even though he didn’t think an apology was necessary.
But he accepted that his reference to Enoch Powell was inappropriate. He said “I wasn’t talking about black culture, I was talking about a specific type of inner-city culture. I think we have to have a common language to talk to one another. Of course I don’t want everyone to be the same. I’m gay for example.
But we’ve got to have a common set of boundaries. We saw an awful lot of girls, white and black rioting and they had no boundaries. It was nihilistic. People are destroying themselves and they are locked in this. The only way these negative stereotypes are going to be overcome is through someone like Martin Luther King and through the efforts of blacks themselves.”
Referring again to gangster culture he said: “All of this silly respect buisness, playing with guns…there’s a sort of childishness that has become a terrible reality.”
Starkey acknowledged that his comments were controversial but said he has only recently had the opportunity to experience the anger that his views created in the black community. He described being approached by a Jamaican man at an airport. “As I was going into the lounge a nice young man stopped me and said ‘do you realise how many people you have hurt? You said Jamaican patois, not all people in Jamaica speak patios, not all people in Jamaica are gangsters. The vast number of Jamaicans are decent God-fearing, church going, nice little old ladies who wear straw hats and are Anglican.’” But Starkey re affirmed his belief that the rioters were aimlessly looting without any political desire and were just “shopping with violence.”
“No public buildings were attacked, no banks or police stations were attacked, it was just looting. Now if you look at the student riots, students who were protesting about fees, they were attacking targets of where there was some form of relationship.”