Starkey’s race theories “would disgrace a first-year undergraduate” say academics

Leading academics have savaged right-wing historian David Starkey's post-riot comments about race in which he said the problem was "whites have become black".

Leading academics have savaged right-wing historian David Starkey’s post-riot comments about race in which he championed Enoch Powell and said the problem was “whites have become black”. In a letter to the Times Higher Education magazine, more than 100 historians have asked the BBC to cease describing Dr Starkey as a “historian”, saying he is “ill-fitted” to pontificate under that title.

The signatories, who include Paul Gilroy, professor of social theory at the LSE; Steven Fielding, professor of political history at Nottingham; Richard Grayson, professor of 20th-century history at Goldsmiths; Tim Whitmarsh, professor of ancient literatures at Oxford; and scholars from Harvard, Winnipeg in Canada and Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, write:

“His crass generalisations about black culture and white culture as oppositional, monolithic entities demonstrate a failure to grasp the subtleties of race and class that would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate.

“In fact, it appears to us that the BBC was more interested in employing him for his on-screen persona and tendency to make comments that viewers find offensive than for his skills as a historian. In addition to noting that a historian should argue from evidence rather than assumption, we are also disappointed by Starkey’s lack of professionalism on Newsnight.

“Instead of thoughtfully responding to criticism, he simply shouted it down; instead of debating his fellow panellists from a position of knowledge, he belittled and derided them. On Newsnight, as on other appearances for the BBC, Starkey displayed some of the worst practices of an academic, practices that most of us have been working hard to change.”


“In our opinion, it was a singularly poor choice… The poverty of his reductionist argument… reflected his lack of understanding of the history of ordinary life in modern Britain. It was evidentially insupportable and factually wrong.

“The problem lies in the BBC’s representation of Starkey’s views as those of a ‘historian’, which implies that they have some basis in research and evidence: but as even the most basic grasp of cultural history would show, Starkey’s views as presented on Newsnight have no basis in either.”

Owen Jones, the leading left wing author left dumbfounded by Starkey’s remarks on Newsnight, had described him as “like Enoch Powell meets Alan Partridge”; as Left Foot Forward’s Daniel Elton wrote of Starkey:

Such an outlook is historically and cultural ignorant. It may be not too far to suggest that it is wicked and has the capacity to be incredibly destructive. And anyone who espouses it should be ashamed of themselves. Starkey would do well to listen to the petitioners and apologise.”

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.