Tuesday 16 August 2011

'UK Riots: 'whites have become black'....er I don't think so David

Whenever David Starkey turns up on your tv screen, you know things won't be dull.

I've become used to his overly controversial appearances on Question Time, but been entertained by his history programmes on Channel Four.

On Saturday I got the chance to see what he said about the UK riots in Friday's edition of Newsnight.

I'm not going to deny that the riots have raised some uncomfortable questions about our country, particularly around the issues of poverty, class and race.

He may have wanted to sound controversial, but to argue that white people rioting was because they've started to act black would be ridiculous, if it wasn't quite so offensive.

As soon as anyone starts quoting Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech you begin to worry where the debate will end up.

Starkey is arguing that black culture has somehow corrupted white british youth. There are elements of Black American street culture that have become popular amongst kids in the UK, but that's not an explanation for the causes of last week's riots.

The problem I have with much of what David Starkey had to say, is that he's fallen into the same tired old cliche of assuming that there is only one form of black culture and only one way of being a black person.

This is what he had to say when talking about the Tottenham Labour MP David Lammy:

'listen to David Lammy an archtypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off so you were listening on radio, you'd think he was white'

What a stupid comment! David Lammy talks like David Lammy. Firstly he's a trained lawyer and MP, a middle class professional, why would he speak like he's from the street. But for some people that's not what being black is about.

If you're white it makes no difference whether you're a so called chav off a council estate or an upper class toff, nobody questions your authenticity as a white person.

If you're black however, as soon as you fail to fit neatly into the black urban/street stereotype, you're seen as not being a 'real' black person - you're somehow acting white.

There are lots of different black cultures and experiences that both black and white people need to recognise. The black urban experience isn't any more authentic then other black experiences, and it can't be held responsible for the riots.

If there was one point I agreed with David Starkey (and there wasn't many) it was his reference to the London street accent 'Jafaican'. It's certainly become more prominent in London in recent years.

But you know what? That's language for you.

Language is constantly evolving and changing. New words and phrases enter the language, others become obsolete. We can't control language whether we'd like to or not.

Despite the controversy, Starkey has refused to apologise. I don't have a problem with plain speaking which is what he claims he was doing. But I do have a problem when people decide to resort to boring, outdated, and misinformed cliches and stereotypes, that don't offer any real explanations on the issues that have contributed to the riots.

Stop blaming Hip Hop

If in doubt about the moral decay of today's youth, you can always use rap as an excuse.

David Starkey talked about rap's negative cultural influence on Newsnight, and although it's clear he knows nothing about the music, you know there's plenty of other people out there that probably agree with him.

I've listened to Rap/Hip Hop since I was a kid. I've listened to all the different styles and sub genres including 'Gangster rap'. I think I've turned out ok - I'm a law abiding citizen that's never gone out looting!

Gangster rap is a term that gets thrown about to describe an entire genre of music, so for those who don't know, he's a very brief history.

Gangster rap emerged in the late 1980's and early 1990's and involved a few key artists from Los Angeles. The likes of NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Snoop Dog, and Ice T.

The original gangster rap template was always an odd mix of lyrics about hustling, police harassment, militant Black Power politics, smoking weed and partying, and yes run ins with bi*ches and ho’s! These artists were telling their story about their own West Coast lifestyle which hadn't been heard before.

By 1995 Gangster rap was dead. Anything after that simply became a parody of the genre, with record labels realising they could make lots of money selling a fantasy gangster lifestyle to both white and black kids.

What started out as quite a militant anti establishment form of music, was incorporated into the mainstream, repackaged and then sold back to suburban kids.

When people argue that gangster rap is a corrupting influence they fail to understand that a lot of rap/hip hop is simply entertainment, no different from watching gangster films like Goodfellers, Scarface or the Godfather.

Blaming rap is just a weak attempt to deflect attention from the role that successive governments and our overall society have played in creating the conditions that resulted in the riots.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a well rounded response to David Starkey's EXPLOSIVE outburst on Newsnight.
    You should consider writing for the likes of The Independant and The Guardian. WELL DONE!!

    I think it's fair to say that the majority of what he expressed was unfounded. He's a Tudor Historian, but a Historian fullstop. Therefore, he of all people should get their facts straigt.

    You commented saying "Language is constantly evolving and changing" therefore he needs to note that and take into account that Britain being a multi-cultural centre, this is bound to happen. By no means is he right to say Ebonics alone and Black people are to blame for the London Riots. The culture he needs to be refering to is the British Youth Culture which comprises all ethnicities and races and classes.