Home > Random > David Starkey: Historian, Linguist, Idiot…

David Starkey: Historian, Linguist, Idiot…


It’s 730am. I’m up. I’m waiting to go to BMF. It looks like it’s going to rain. I didn’t sleep very well at all last night. This does not bode well for the rest of the day….

Anyway, I thought that I could use the little bit of time before I’m a willing accomplice in running myself ragged to write up  Saturday’s blog post, especially since I won’t have time later on today to do it.

As the riots which have dominated the news over the last week start to die down, attention has naturally moved to ‘why did this happen?’ Overlooking the uselessness of trying to pin down the cause of the riots to just one thing, I was quite taken aback by David Starkey’s commentary on the situation (if you haven’t listened to it, go and do it now. I’ll wait.)

Back now? Ok.

My first reaction to this was ‘what is this I don’t even‘. My second reaction was more substantial: ‘David Starkey is an idiot’. Now, David Starkey doesn’t like adolescents (anyone who saw his disastrous turn in Jamie Oliver’s Dream School will attest to this…). He also, quite clearly, doesn’t like black culture. His blatantly racist views on why the riots happened (cf. ‘white kids adopting black culture. Black culture is violent. If white kids kept to their own culture, the riots wouldn’t have happened’) demonstrate a shocking lack of sensitivity, analytical nous, and cultural understanding. Owen Jones hits the nail right on the head when he says that Starkey’s world view is ‘white = respectable, black = violent’, and that this is not only downright offensive, but misguided and idiotic. Moreover, Starkey’s attempts at legitimating his views by drawing on age-old prescriptive dogma about the text by a girl involved in the looting shows that he believes non-standard English to be indicative of some sort of moral turpitude (no surprises there, that kind of attitude has been around since the 18th century…). If she had been able to write in Standard English, well then, she wouldn’t have rioted or looted (not forgetting that one of the looters was a school teacher teaching assistant who, presumably, would have been able to write properly). Quite why he doesn’t level the same accusation of immorality to white, middle-class, educated bankers who brought the country to its knees in 2007/8 is beyond me… But it is the quickness with which Starkey makes these huge, sweeping generalisations which terrifies me the most, not only because he’s supposed to be educated, but because he bases his theories on nothing but assumptions, stereotypes and ignorance.

I was relieved that the other two panelists, Owen Jones and Dreda Say Mitchell, stood up against his idiocy and forced him to back his words up with something approaching ‘data’, even though he interrupted them at every opportunity, talked over them, and generally acted like an ungracious panelist.

What a great way to start my Saturday. Oh well, the sun is out now at least. Maybe it won’t rain.

The Social Linguist

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  1. August 13, 2011 at 7:21 am

    A good analysis of some disgraceful arguments from Starkey and hopefully they will be his last on any kind of mass media.

    There is a correction to make here: no teachers have been arrested as a result of the rioting and looting. This has been misreported, a teaching assistant was arrested, but teaching assistants are not teachers, they do not have the same training or status within a school. Your general point about the rioters being from a variety of background is of still valid.

    • August 13, 2011 at 9:38 am

      If only it were the last time we see Starkey on the television, but I fear that people will latch on to his comments.

      And thanks for the correction. I had remembered it when it was first reported but the story has obviously evolved. Click here for the full story.

  2. August 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I’m tempted to use rather stronger words than ‘idiot’ to describe Starkey… but I don’t want to deface your blog with streams of invective.

  3. a.d.p.h.
    August 13, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    It’s hardly worth even bothering. His knowledge of black culture and, especially, the songs of those “rappers” is staggering. (Having said that, his arguments are obviously extremely dangerous: the potential for these events to be seized upon by the far-right is something we all have to be wary of).

    Check out this list of commentaries Pete Ashton has put together instead:

    http://fypa.net/riot-reads/

    I would’ve responded to your previous post but, with so much being written, it’s difficult to know where to start. One point I would pick up on is the brilliant “grassroots” coverage by Birmingham Riots tumblr and Sangat TV (more on this: http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2011/08/10/how-a-musician-and-a-sikh-tv-channel-dominated-coverage-of-the-birmingham-riots/). Following #birminghamriots and that tumblr blog, however, had its pitfalls: this sort of crowd-sourced journalism seemed almost more sensationalist than the BBC and Sky. (Incidentally, these events have given me some ideas for my MA).

    By the way, my gig was actually on the Tuesday just gone, not the previous Friday. It was cancelled due to King’s Heath being closed down . Disappointing but, suprisingly, not one article has even mentioned this! It will, I am assured, be rescheduled soon.

    • August 15, 2011 at 8:38 am

      Thanks for the links, some stuff I hadn’t seen before.

      Re: the tumblr blog and twitter, what worried me most was the level of rumour that was going around on these (e.g. the attack on the children’s hospital was a particularly virulent one), but at least the tumblr blog was more or less clear on what was confirmed and unconfirmed. Twitter, on the other hand, seemed to be a mass orgy of panic at some points, veering close to out of control…

      Incidentally, have you heard anything about your MA application?

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