This time last week David Starkey was just another stuffy, aging, middle class BBC presenter. Now, after a badly judged outburst on Newsnight, he is a national figure of derision and his TV career is almost certainly over.

 

Starkey blamed last week’s riots on white young people picking up negative aspects of black culture. Or in his less complicated words “the whites have become black.”

 

 

But how does someone become black? To Starkey, it’s not skin colour that does it, but adopting a “particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture.”  He says that kids on the street these days speak “Jamaican patois” making him feel like he lives in “literally a foreign country.”

 

Quite how much time Starkey spends on the street listening to kids speaking patois is debatable. More likely he gets his views from the image presented to him by TV and the media, that have a tendency to present urban gang culture as the only image of ‘black’ culture.

 

Maybe he remembers an earlier episode of Newsnight, when the BBC decided the best black academic to bring onto the show to discuss the election of President Barack Obama was Dizzee Rascal.

 

He then tried to balance those comments by saying that MP David Lammy, a well spoken, well educated man, “sounds white.”

 

MP for Tottenham, David Lammy

Essentially,  Starkey feels that street slang is black talk and educated talk is white talk. In simple terms, he makes the age old mistake of confusing race with class. Street slang is the language of poor urban youth, not one individual race. It carries influences from America, Bangladesh, and yes, Jamaica, as well as old fashioned cockney.

 

His argument also rests on an idea that this new “black” culture is somehow worse than the old, white culture, which had it’s fair share of criminality. I’m no expert on the Kray twins, but I’m pretty sure “violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture” goes some way to summing them up too.

 

It might be said that all that was really achieved by his outburst was the death of a career very few people cared about anyway. He can go off and play golf with Ron Atkinson, and the BBC can make sure it’s next celebrated historian knows about the civil rights movement.

 

But what Starkey’s comments may have actually done is deeper than that. To me, he has revealed, for the first time, the face of middle class white racism that has spent many years hiding in gentleman’s clubs, golfing resorts and dinner parties up and down the country.

 

We all know about white, working class racists, they make themselves quite hard to ignore. But middle class racists usually have a bit more tact. They wouldn’t be seen dead on an EDL march, but they carry many of the same outdated, colonial ideas about ethnic minorities.

 

As James Delingpole wrote in the Daily Telegraph, in support of Starkey, black culture is about hip-hop, grime and jean wasitbands sagging below buttocks. “Or,” he writes “does anyone, perhaps, want to persuade me that this is but one tiny and much-exaggerated facet of a broader black culture dominated by opera and madrigal singing and crochet and sonnet-construction and lawn bowls and Shakespeare and new translations of Ovid?”

 

No. That’s middle England. But you could try, jazz, blues, motown, a litany of classic modern authors, anti-colonial struggle, African philosophy, architecture, poetry and politics.

 

“If Starkey is racist,” finishes Delingpole, “so are we all.” Not all of us James. Just you perhaps, along a large chunk of your readership.

 

They are less visible than the traditional skinhead racists, but in many ways, they may be more dangerous.

 

The businessman who overlooks the black staff member for promotion, or bins the CV with an Asian name. The University who take on white public school leavers instead of the black girl from a comprehensive. The judge who hands down harsher, more punitive sentences to ethnic minority suspects. The high ranking policemen who presides over a force which randomly searches six times as many black people as white. Working class racists give us the National Front, but middle class racists give us glass ceilings and inequality.

 

Perhaps in some ways it is the perception of black culture Starkey was propounding, rather than black culture itself, that was the bigger cause of the riots.

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