At the beginning of the month, popular historian David Starkey was criticised by many for his comments on slavery while being interviewed. The interviewer, right wing commentator Darren Grimes, did nothing to protest or correct Starkey’s expressions of racism.
Only after the enormous backlash did Grimes come out and claim that he wasn’t “engaged enough” when conducting the interview, and distanced himself from Starkey and his comments.
An important issue at stake here is that Grimes allowed his interviewee’s racist remark of so many “damn blacks” being alive after slavery to continue unchallenged – to the point of nodding along with it.
His mention in his statement of finding “unfiltered opinions” on his platform – Reasoned UK – is a deeply flawed and problematic one.
In his interview with Darren Grimes, Starkey pushed ideas around slavery and the British empire that exhibit a narrow and inaccurate view of history
Everybody has the right to hold whatever opinion they wish, but not every opinion should be amplified without question, and harmful ones such as Starkey’s should be contested every step of the way.
It has been said many times that Starkey’s comments on “damn blacks” are appalling – “truly disgusting” in the words of historian David Olusoga – and reactions by the institutions he was connected with, such as publisher HarperCollins, have been swift and should be welcomed.
This is truly disgusting.
And by the same ridiculous, twisted logic the Holocaust would not be counted as a genocide. https://t.co/duHAYi6L7P
— David Olusoga (@DavidOlusoga) July 2, 2020
That said, it is surprising that action has not been taken sooner, considering the contentious comments he has made in the past. These include saying “the whites have become black” in reference to the 2011 riots that started in response to Mark Duggan’s killing.
In his interview with Darren Grimes, Starkey pushed ideas around slavery and the British empire that exhibit a narrow and inaccurate view of history.
The first is a twisting of the term ‘genocide’ that seeks to disqualify the horrors of centuries of European exploitation and oppression of Africa. Kingdoms and cultures destroyed, resources stolen, communities torn apart, borders redrawn.
That he feels comfortable and complacent around his country’s past is deeply troubling
The legacy of Empire and the triangular Atlantic slave trade is also repackaged as a positive step towards globalisation by Starkey – supposedly the most important event in history, no less.
That he feels comfortable and complacent around his country’s past is deeply troubling.
The western spread across the African and American continents overwhelmingly benefited Europeans and was only ‘fruitful’ for those that, for example, were extracting gold, ivory, and later human beings, from the coasts of West Africa and, later, beyond.
Starkey’s inability or refusal to consider the implications of Empire beyond the small number of wealthy white people that made fortunes from it is a clear example of the type of revisionism (or, coming from a historian, wilful ignorance?) that stunts any potential progress towards dismantling a society built upon racial hierarchy.
Grimes’ decision not to challenge any of Starkey’s points on this is also ironic, when considering his proudly northern roots.
It doesn’t feel comfortable to write that an established historian is providing a false view of history, especially as a young person who like everyone has much, much more to learn
The immense profit made from industries such as the cotton business were built on the exploitation of those working in northern factories, as well as those working on plantations in the West Indies.
It doesn’t feel comfortable to write that an established historian is providing a false view of history, especially as a young person who like everyone has much, much more to learn.
That said, it is important we see the importance of questioning those in positions of power and authority that say or do harmful things.
This incident is yet another symptom of a system unfit for purpose
This is why Starkey’s interviewer needed to challenge what he heard and push for evidence-based claims, rather than settling for crude, reactionary ones.
This incident is yet another symptom of a system unfit for purpose; a historian allowed to make unsubstantiated, racist claims when his duty is to help the public learn from the mistakes of the past, not smooth over them.
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