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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dr. David Starkey on Riots

Andrew Brons MEP discusses a historian’s take on current events

Dr. David Starkey is not a man to be frightened into silence. He made controversial statements one year ago when the riots had taken place and dared to repeat them when vilified for his contribution.

Now, one year later, when the Political Class has, by enormous effort of  will, convinced itself that they did not really take place, Dr. Starkey, in an article in The Daily Telegraph (7th August), has reminded us that they did indeed take place.

He referred to the fact that ‘many’ of the rioters were black and quoted a white shopkeeper who had followed the rioters in disguise and who claimed in an interview with Sky News that he had been the only white person present.

Dr. Starkey understands the political landscape of modern Britain and must realise that he will pay a heavy price. He will no longer be free to make his own television programmes – even on safe topics like the Tudors. The Establishment cannot afford to tolerate uncontrolled historians. Whatever will he come up with next?

As if it were not enough for Dr. Starkey to show that his understanding of the riots was high, he demonstrated that his understanding of the psychology of the Political Class was much higher.

Starkey began his article by quoting, with approbation, T.S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”. This might explain the fact that recollection of the riots have been consigned not so much to history as to Orwell’s memory hole – ‘memory’, in Orwellian, meaning ‘to be forgotten’.  Starkey recalls that the last time the riots were mentioned in official circles was in March when the official inquiry into them published its report.

Dr. Starkey refers to the denial of white members of the Political Class, from David Cameron to the left-wing think-tank, Demos, that race had anything to do with the riots. He contrasts this denial with the admission from our old friend Darcus Howe who was reported as saying, “It’s an insurrection of a generation of poor, primarily black people from the Caribbean and from Africa”.

His major error was to refer to the proportions from each ethnicity among those who appeared before the courts. These still showed a predominance of  black people and those of mixed race (50% of those prosecuted were in one or other of these categories, compared with 41% who were whites). However, he seemed not to be aware that few rioters were prosecuted, because, in his own words, “the police were overwhelmed and fleeing from the rioters”. The people who appeared in court were looters who were ordinary members of the criminal classes, who saw the riots as an opportunity to be exploited rather than a cause to be supported. Economic criminals are to be found among all ethnic groups. The preponderance of blacks among them simply reflected the nature of the areas in which the riots had taken place.

The riots were described accurately by Darcus Howe as an insurrection, a political act, and were initially sparked by the shooting by the police of a black drug dealer.
I do not want to suggest that only black people riot. Historically riots have taken place in all populations. They are essentially acts of desperation from people who feel that they have no other means of expressing their resentment and frustration. This might be because those means have artificially been withheld from them or it might mean that they find themselves in a society in which they cannot compete, however equal the opportunities might be. The causes might be very different but the response is the same.

Dr. Starkey, quite understandably, wants to distance himself from any kind of ‘racial’ conclusion. Indeed, he trots out the cliché that he regards race, “in the proper sense of a group with fixed hereditary characteristics, as eugenicist nonsense”. This seems to be a variant of , “race does not exist but is merely a social construct”.

Nobody, of course, has ever suggested that races comprise  people with uniform fixed hereditary characteristics. All races comprise people with wide physical as well as mental disparities. They were referred to as ‘contours’ by the anthropologist Isherwood. They could just as easily have been described as occupying different positions on a human continuum – like height or weight. However, nobody would suggest that  variation in either of these characteristics is simply illusory.

Dr. Starkey is even careful to avoid identifying a single ‘black culture’ or (for that matter) a ‘white culture’. Instead he identified a very particular black culture that he referred to as: “The violent, destructive, nihilistic, ‘gangsta’ culture of the street”. This very particular black culture regards academic achievement and even the speaking of standard English as somehow effeminate. He is, of course, quite right to make this distinction but with whom is he disagreeing?

Of course, what Dr. Starkey is really saying is: “I am a thoroughly civilised person and must not be confused with those people out there, whom I shall not mention, because they might not exist but if they don’t, they will have to be invented anyway!

Dr. Starkey’s solution is to find a black leader of the right calibre – he suggests Doreen Lawrence, mother of Steven Lawrence – who would tackle black street culture head on and replace it with………….. something else.

There are, of course, other black cultures that are more appreciative of improvement and less negative and violent. Undoubtedly, it is possible to teach such culture. The question is whether all of the intended audience are capable of learning it and changing their behaviour.

There is a view of culture that is pervasive among the liberal chattering classes. This is of a culture that is a transient outer garment that can be discarded and replaced by an alternative outer garment. Some superficial cultural exteriors, such as language, religion and philosophy, can indeed be discarded and alternatives chosen by some people. However, the alternative garment must fit the wearer or be adapted to his needs.

The gangsta  street culture has become prevalent among a section of the black population because its fits the needs of that section, present as it is among a wider society and economy, in which it cannot compete but in which, its members have been taught, they are entitled to respect. Those incapable of competing with the values of the elite or even the average population create their own benchmarks for evaluating human status and achievement.

In a society with ascribed social status in which the least able are not given falsely high expectations, the humble accept their humility and are content with it. In a society containing people with widely differing abilities, equality of opportunity might appear to be a life line available to all. In fact it is only a lifeline for the able. We must not confuse equality of opportunity with equality.

The introduction of a meritocratic system would have had losers as well as winners, even if Britain had not been treated to the wonderful opportunity to experience a multi-racial society, possibly for ever. However, the range would not have been so great and the perceived chasm between the most able and the least able not as unbridgeable.

The creation of the multi-racial society is sometimes seen as an act of human kindness. It was nothing of the kind. It was an act of cruelty inflicted through the deceit of false expectation. Holding out an opportunity of success to those incapable of realising it, is to impose ritual humiliation on those doomed to fail. Can we really blame the condemned failures for rejecting the competition in which they could only be losers.

Rioting, gangsta culture and gun and knife crime are emphatically not the answer but what is?