Saturday, 13 August 2011

David Starkey, Black Culture & the Riots.

Wiggers with Attitude?

In the aftermath of the riots David Starkey decided it was wise to bring up Enoch Powell and argue that a specific point made in the 'Rivers of Blood' speech was "absolutely right". He was keen to reassure the audience that Powell was wrong in that it was not "inter-communal violence" and that it is cultural rather than racial. It would be generous to David Starkey to designate him as a cultural chauvinist, which is perfectly consistent with the monarchism and nationalism to which he subscribes. David Starkey is a provocateur in the tradition of an insolent dinner guest crowing just to offend and shock. In this instance the bespectacled historian was at dinner with an Oxbridge liberal, a leftist and a crime novelist. The outrage was over comments such as "The Tiber did not foam with blood but flames lambent, they wrapped around Tottenham and wrapped around Clapham." As if that were not bad enough Starkey went on to claim the problem is that "the whites have become black" and that the black politician David Lammy sounds "white" when you close your eyes.

At first he pinned the riots as an "extension of commercialism" and the exuberant consumerism of British society, though he is intelligent enough to understand that the consumer boom was born out of the implosion of social democracy and the emergence of Thatcherism in it's wake. Therefore to manage the contradiction between rapacious individualism and the moral opposition to senseless violence Starkey wheels in racially charged rhetoric which will scandalise the liberal intelligentsia and split the commentariat down the middle. At which point the working-classes can make a cameo appearance in the guise of the angry crowd yelling "Enoch was right!" It is now highly unlikely that there will be any debate over the issues behind the riots as the media discusses whether or not David Starkey is a racist. Notice David Starkey asks of Owen Jones "You glorify Rap?" and then backs off as Dreda Say Mitchell points out that the rappers only reflect the materialism of the world. Brian Cox was right to call Starkey "utterly corrupt" last year.

It could have been a conscious effort to further derail the political discourse away from any meaningful discussion of inequality and police brutality. It could just be a simple case of racism masquerading as cultural conservatism. Time will tell if David Starkey distances himself in the future from such remarks. The insinuation of a respectable historian that this is somehow related to an imported "black culture" of crime is just false. In the halcyon days of vanilla Britain, at the finest hour of our country, back in 1940 juvenile crime accounted for 48% of all arrests and there were over 4,500 cases of looting from then until 1941. There were even cases of firemen looting burned-out shops, teenagers stripped the clothes off of corpses to sell and some even cut-off the fingers of the dead to get at their rings. These could not have just been the "wiggers" who had watched too much MTV and absorbed an awful lot of 50 Cent's anger before going out to spit it out into society. As a result of this level of bullshiting we're unlikely to see any real solutions in Britain, just a right-ward shift that will lead us down the road to more riots in the future.

Cultural Blackness?

Originally the issue of race was raised on Newsnight before Starkey crawled out from his hole, it was Gavin Esler who wondered if the riots had anything to do with "black culture" or even MTV. We should bare in mind the relations of base and superstructure when we're talking about culture in this way, that the superstructure is generated by the base in order to justify and defend itself. Simultaneously the superstructure has the potential to undermine the base in spite of the interdependent relations between them. Take Rap music, usually it defends the status quo in it's portrayal of a anti-political and anti-intellectual form of underground capitalism in which collective organisations (e.g. gangs) can still function meaningfully. It at once embodies society's institutional corruption and it's opposite with an emphasis on a warped set of codes and rituals. The misogyny and homophobia found rampant in the music videos and lyrics is born out of a thoroughly impotent masculinity.

It is not coincidental that Rap music becomes incredibly popular and influential in the late 1980s onwards at the peak of Reaganism. Look at the socio-economic situation for young black men in particular, especially in the US where there was a brief opening for black people in the 70s as civil rights were gained through harsh struggle. But with the financialisation of the economy millions of African-Americans became part of a superfluous population. The black economy of drugs provides an alternative to the business system which has excluded black people for decades. Not only is it an alternative to financial capitalism, where the wasps of Harvard still thrive, it provides a welfare system that has been completely destroyed in the US. It is also an expression of rage against the police for the murder and persecution of black people, NWA captured the anger bubbling beneath the surface just before the battering of Rodney King sparked the LA riots in 1992. Ultimately, mainstream rappers are only looking to establish a black aristocracy which stands as a reflection of the white elites.

Rap music is not the source of riots and crime, rather it is linked to it through economic circumstances. The riots were not a coherent and organised expression of political dissent. It was mass-rage against the police along with elements of the same consumerism we have all indulged in. Where does this anger come from? In 1997 and 1998 there were around 8,000 stop-and-searches, by 2008 to 2009 that had risen to 150,000. The use of Section 60 between 2005 and 2010 has increased by 300%, originally Section 60 was introduced to combat football hooliganism; over the same time period the stop-and-searches of black people increased by 650%. From 1998 to 2010 over 330 people have died mysteriously in police custody, surprisingly 75% of the people who died were white and not so surprisingly 90% were male aged between 25 and 44. Let alone the level of unemployment and economic stagnation in this country which has plagued the poor for years. The decisions undertaken by the rioters were not justified, but the grievances are legitimate and real.

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