By treating race and culture as synonymous, is David Starkey committing the same error as the Left? Sean McHale asks.
Similar to many forays into the tropes of politics and race, David Starkey’s incursion proved to be less successful – possibly for his career and certainly in terms of astute analysis.
His intentionally provocative elucidation that “whites have become black” was undoubtedly wide of the mark. He wasn’t off the mark as Owen Jones (Author of “Chavs”) accused him. (Jones accused Starkey of seeing “Black culture” and “Gang culture” as interrelated). Rather, Starkey was was wrong because he treated culture and race as synonymous.
It is the human condition which proves such racialism as fictitious. The myriad nuances and differences in the lives of individuals render such racialist theories obsolete.
The changes in modern life which have led to the opening up of societies allow us to witness that cultures are not fixed. This is true more so now than in any other period in history. Shared conventions, customs and practices permeate all cultures. This is not to say there is no difference between cultures, but that the differences are small rather than wholesale.
To maintain there is a connection between race and culture can be damaging, and should be abandoned.
Notwithstanding these problems, it is the Left which largely propagates the false link between culture and race. The majority of the negative critique of Starkey’s words have not been that they were incorrect, but that he put forward the wrong definition of “Black Culture”.
In the same Newsnight debate, rap music was accepted as being a part of “Black Culture” despite it being founded on a white fan base, with many white artists involved in the industry. It is correct that the origins of rap music stemmed from black artists, but to then claim that this makes it “Black Culture” is the same as saying the enlightenment values (because they came from a country with a White European population) are irretrievably a part of “White culture”.
It is on the Left that groups such as Black Activists Against Cuts flourish (not to mention the endless list of student groups which unite along racial lines). Groups such as these and historically ones such as the Black Panthers rose, rightly, as a bulwark against racial oppression. The defence of white privilege was maintained by preserving racial distinction. It seems perverse then that even today it is still seen as logical to conserve such racialist logic.
David Starkey should be criticised for his analysis, but not without also criticising many of the liberal orthodoxies which preserve racial distinctions.