Starkey was wrong, and so was the NAACP
Last week more than 100 historians signed an open letter expressing outrage at the sentiments of David Starkey, when during his appearance on Newsnight he opined: “What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs… have become black. The whites have become black.”
What Starkey was trying to say is that Enoch Powell had it at least partly right when he talked about the rivers of blood, and the destruction of the indigenous culture, in Britain.
In a way, through the use of patois, what Starkey believes to be black culture has transformed the identities of many white people, and so the UK has undergone some sort of black cultural hegemony.
He’s wrong, of course. For what can be defined as black culture in the form of music, language and fashion is subcultural – the message that Starkey began to read, on Newsnight, describing the words of a looter, using patois, was a single example, exploited by Starkey, to give the impression there was some racial notion at play during the riots and looting in London, Birmingham and elsewhere.
Fortunately, no one let Starkey get away with it. Waves of articles, blog posts, news items and letters filled the air as outrage turned to analysis.
Starkey got it wrong, everyone else got it right: race is not defined by a single set of ideas, therefore it is absurd to say whites have become black, just as it is say the black race is defined by patois.
So it seems only appropriate that an organisation like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) be given the cold shoulder for supposing that a black tea party member is “a paid “mouthpiece” traitor to [his] race” (see also).
Does this not suppose that the kind of dullard conservatism to which the tea party movement in the US embraces is limited only to whites?
It reminds me of Cornel West’s examination of black conservatism. According to him, in his 1994 book Race Matters – there were large swathes of black conservatives, particularly in universities, who were scornful of affirmative action measures, and were suspicious of black liberalism as inadequate and concerned, mostly, with in-fighting.
But to fellow black academics, there was an element of traitorousness to their conservatism – they weren’t wrong because of their ideas, but their ideas were wrong for them, supposedly because of the colour of their skin.
Conservatism was once the preserve of the racist, white, middle-class male (certainly in the West), but time has shown the two to be only tediously linked. Though I’m not a conservative, it doesn’t bother me to note that there are black conservatives and black members of the tea party because I know that my criticisms of conservatism do not rest on it being inherently racially exclusive.
Conservatism is not necessarily stupid, but it can attract stupid people.
Starkey was wrong on Newsnight because he thought race meant something beyond skin. But we must, here, be consistent. Anyone who suggests that blacks are traitors to their race for supporting the tea party are wrong because they, also, believe race means something beyond skin, and that conservatism as a black person is, necessarily, an expression of black skin, white mask.
Whereas, if we read Cornel West properly, we can see that through conservatism, the black subject isn’t necessarily appropriating and imitating the coloniser, but it could have more to do with a crisis in liberal or progressive politics – where we on the Left should draw our attention.