By Iram Ramzan, Social Affairs Correspondent
Whenever someone talks about different racial groups in this country you can bet that it will start a controversy.
This is exactly what happened when David Starkey, renowned British historian, came out on Newsnight and made some rather unsavoury comments about the riots that destroyed some of our cities just a few weeks ago.
The minute someone starts quoting Enoch Powell you may as well have ‘racist’ tattooed on your forehead.
“What has happened is that the substantial section of the chavs that you [Owen Jones] wrote about have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion,” he said.
“Black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together… which is this Jamaican patois that has intruded in England. This is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.”
The whole of Twitter-sphere exploded and immediately condemned Starkey, particularly Piers Morgan (a shining beacon of morality) who tweeted: ‘RIP David Starkey’s TV career. And good riddance. Racist idiot.’ Even Ed Miliband, not one to miss an opportunity in the limelight, said Starkey’s views were “disgusting and outrageous”. Of course, it didn’t help that Nick Griffin came out and tweeted whether he should make Starkey an ‘honoury gold member’ of his party.
The reaction was not confined to our sunny island. An open letter from the National Association of Black Journalists to the BBC deemed Starkey’s comments as ‘racially insensitive’ and criticised the BBC for not remaining impartial.
But was he actually being racist? Tony Sewell and Katharine Birbalsingh have both come out and defended Starkey to an extent. Birbalsingh said white people on both sides should ‘take a chill pill’. Aside from the fact that nobody says ‘take a chill pill’ anymore (it’s soo ten years ago) they believe Starkey hit the nail on the head with some of his points, though he was incorrect in describing the rioters as ‘wannabe blacks’.
Starkey has recently come out and defended his position by saying he was misconstrued as condemning all black culture. He said: “I must be as free to comment on problems in the black community as blacks are to point the finger at whites, which they do frequently, often with justice.”
It is not black culture that is the problem but rather a certain form of black culture, i.e. the ‘nihilistic’ (according to Starkey) hip hop and gangster rap culture that is so ‘destructive’. Watch any music videos that appeal to the youth and you will see what he means. Even Asian artists are shedding the traditional garbs and rhythms and conforming to the American rap style which is now so popular.
This is not just limited to music videos it is even prevalent on our streets. Just walk out onto the streets of Manchester (or anywhere else for that matter) and you will see guys of a certain age wearing their trousers low to reveal their boxers (someone should tell them this is not attractive), wearing heavy gold chains and caps worn at a slight tilt in the style of big rap artists.
I don’t believe Starkey is a racist. In fact, I completely disagree with him blaming the riots on gang culture. I doubt for a moment that the 21-year-old student in Manchester stole alcohol because he was copying 50 cent or because it was part of a gang culture mentality. The reasons for these riots are far more complex than Starkey concluded.
Rather than silencing him, which is what many people called for in the heat of the moment, we should instead sit down and have a rational debate and talk about these issues openly and honestly. If you believe someone is wrong, question them, challenge them. But we should not rush into hasty decisions and silence people we disagree with. After all we live in a country where free speech is treasured.
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