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Starkey doesn’t think imitation is the finest form of flattery

August 13, 2011

Let us be honest, David Starkey only said what some white people  have been thinking for years. That the dress, accents and intelligence of young, innocent white people are vulnerable to the indoctrination of poor black urban youth. It is easy for these people  to see a white teenager wearing baggy jeans and a LA Lakers cap on a bus and think ‘he’s trying to be black’.

It is easy because the people who conclude this reject several things:

  • That the white  teenager is wearing that attire of his own accord. Instead he has been ‘hypnotized’ and ‘seduced’ by black people because he thinks black people are so cool. (These racist commentators are in fact projecting their own strange ‘positive stereotyping’ on the poor kid). Yes, poor white kids were so well dressed before blacks came along!
  • The idea that representations of violent, materialistic or highly sexualised white culture influence people the same way violent, materialistic or highly sexualised black culture does.
  • The notion that black people have had a positive influence on wider society and contributed more to the world than music, sport and fashion. When the behaviour of white teenager meets approval it is intrinsic, but when it meets disapproval, it is alien.
  • That black people can make decisions that are unreflective of their race e.g. the belief that black men wear baggy jeans because they are black, and not because it’s a social norm unrelated to culture. White people can wear whatever they please and escape these demeaning categorizations.
  • That black culture is diverse, complex and as similarly influenced by white culture, because of our shared colonial history and stakes in society (a shared language, shared religions and so on).

I am not denying that there are certain fashion trends that have roots in black cultures. I imagine Starkey is referring to garments associated with the LA/NY hip hop scene, perhaps LL cool J’s Kangol hat and so on.  These associations do not make their adoption inherently black in the slightest. Suits were invented by whites, am I trying to be white if I wear a suit or wear Christian Louboutin shoes?

I am black but I have no right to leave my house dressed like Dappy from N Dbuz. Because wearing those clothes would not make me black. They would make me young, counter cultural, working class or sympathetic to the working class, inner-city, liberal…any number of things. But the last thing it would make me is black.

Skateboarders, BMXers, snowboarders and skiers all wear mega-baggy clothes and cover themselves in tattoos and plaster themselves in huge high street logos  – why aren’t white teenagers accused to trying to be like them? And whey aren’t these individuals criticised for their influence?

People of all backgrounds, have always appropriated habits they consider to be ‘black’. That is fine because these things they steal are essentially meaningless. We’ve appropriated ‘white things’ too. This is fine as well because we know there is more to whiteness than skinny jeans. It’s a shame these people won’t show us the same courtesy.

As for violent, destructive, nihilistic behaviour being labeled as ‘black’  – where does one start in critiquing this commentary?

Was violent, destructive, nihilistic black culture to blame when Anders Breivik planted a bomb and murdered over 80 young people?

When a white person commits an act of violence it’s considered exceptional; when a black person commits an act of violence it’s considered customary.

Individuals like Starkey hear white children talk using slang they don’t understand. Having never been in a working class, multicultural environment they call their enunciations  ‘fake’, ‘made-up’ or ‘inauthentic’. Starkey as a historian should already know that the working classes have always spoken differently to the upper classes, and this speech is not static. It evolves as it is added to one word at a time, as people contribute to its tapestry. This speech absorbs what it likes (“nyam some chips”) and rejects what it tires of (“you chief”). It is not static for the finest of reasons, everyone is welcome in working class society. Posh people have spoken in the same way for centuries. Not every one is welcome in their world.

It is wrong to question white youths for indulging in cultures with people they share a space with. I would find it more extraordinary if they didn’t appropriate words and mannerisms from the many cultures that makes up their locale. And it’s even more wrong to see that appropriation in the negative things they do, and none of the positive. Not to mention the inherent racism that lies in the idea black people who reject these superficial connotations of blackness are rejecting blackness on the whole and ‘behaving properly, like a white person’.

The truth is, people who think like Starkey rob black people of the right to define themselves. In their heads, we are already dressed up in Sports Direct clothing and H Samuels chains, and they relish every opportunity to shake their heads and feel corroborated when presented with black persons who suit their moulds.

It must break their hearts when presented with white people who act in the way they only expect black people to behave! To see their own, imitating a people feckless to them and betraying their good, honest, hard working stock.

What rubbish. All the white kids throwing bricks at the police, nicking flat screen TVs and burning down businesses would have been doing it with or without the so called influence of black people. There was violence in music, films and video games far before they let black people into the world of music, films and video games. Young people were obsessed with labels way before black people were allowed to endorse them. And black people did not bring poverty to these areas, they had always been poor and neglected.

Starkey and his peers live in a segregated world. A collective culture with people bound by economic circumstance where race once used to divide, is confusing to him. Whether you call his views racist or dismiss them as merely  a ‘senior moment’, you have to call them plain ignorant and wrong.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Unbiased Blogger permalink
    August 13, 2011 22:04

    Poor Dave (another one), I almost feel sorry for him. David Lammy might want to reinvent himself as a black man given Mr Starkey’s comments by which, we can infer, Lammy isn’t authentically black enough to represent the community because he speaks well and, by implication, has transcended the restraints of his race. Whatever next?

  2. Unbiased Blogger permalink
    August 13, 2011 22:16

    And not only the restraints, but the evils no less… three Davids, three big problems!

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