Dr David Starkey in (another) racism row

Tessa Evans - Deputy News Editor 17 November 2011

Cambridge dons hit out at Starkey

Dr David Starkey has ignited conflict with his fellow academics by calling a Trinity history Fellow an “immigrant who was trying to push a multicultural agenda in education”, and arguing that most of Britain was a “white mono-culture.”

Starkey, who is an honorary fellow at Fitzwilliam College, became involved in the dispute with Dr Joya Chatterji and Professor Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College, at a recent historians’ conference debating the future of history teaching in schools.

Dr Starkey made the argument that the national curriculum should consist of “a serious focus on your own culture” echoing Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove’s recent announcement that he aimed to put “our island story” at the heart of Britain’s national curriculum.

Dr Chatterji questioned the idea of Britain’s “own culture” and argued that Britain was “rather diverse”. Starkey then interrupted her saying: “No it’s not. Most of Britain is a mono-culture. You think London is Britain. It isn’t. Where I’ve come from in Yorkshire, where I’ve come from in Westmorland, where I largely live in Kent, where I holiday much in the south west, it is absolutely and un-mitigatingly white.”

Dr Chatterji told The Cambridge Student: “there is a debate to be had about how history should be taught, but what happened at the event was not a debate. What happened was that he accused me of being an immigrant trying to push a multicultural agenda in education. I am neither of those things. He personalised the issue and it was not possible to engage in sensible debate.”

“I also don’t think he knew who I was, I don’t teach British history and it is not my area of expertise, but he was saying such absurd things that someone had to challenge. I would say that his behaviour was an abject lesson in how not forward historical arguments.”

Starkey has previously been denounced for his opinions on the summer riots, which he blamed on “black culture”, arguing that “what has happened is that the whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion.”

These comments triggered demands by students that Dr Starkey be stripped of his honorary fellowship. Students have repeated these demands in the light of these recent remarks. James Rhodes, third year historian at Fitzwilliam College, suggested that Starkey was a “Comedy character and his comments reflect badly on the History Faculty as they demonstrate his simple view of the world.” Eva Sharma added “I do know that there was a lot of anger about his comments and I hope that Fitzwilliam is never associated with the opinions he expressed.”

Rebecca Usden, CUSU anti-racism officer, echoed these sentiments, arguing; “Dr. Chatterji’s personal background is irrelevant to what should be an academic debate and it was completely inappropriate for David Starkey to make such a comment. The way in which he used simplistic labelling to diminish Dr. Chatterji’s argument is appalling and panders to very narrow-minded thinking.”

However, the University distanced itself from the debate. A spokesman for the University of Cambridge said that “the personal opinions of the members of the history faculty are not something that the University is concerned with.”

Tessa Evans – Deputy News Editor