David Starkey's Comments Should Be A History Lesson For Us All

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt
David Starkey (Photo: Screenshot)

Yet again, historian David Starkey is embroiled in another racism controversy. As if his comments about the London riots were not bad enough, it seems Starkey is back for round two.

After being invited on Darren Grimes’ “Reasoned” podcast – ironic, given what Starkey went on to say – Starkey descended into a shocking diatribe on slavery, claiming it wasn’t really “genocide” otherwise there wouldn’t be so many “damn Blacks” in Africa and Britain and “an awful lot of them survived”.

His comments are a shameless attempt at dehumanising Black people – and he speaks about Black people as if they are undesirable or vermin. Indeed, little discussion is necessary of these comments, because they speak for themselves. 

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And then, of course, is the outrageous general claim that if there are survivors of a genocide, it did not happen. Not only is that false, ahistorical nonsense – made all the more shocking when it comes from the mouth of a “historian” – it is deeply offensive to communities who have experienced genocides.

Not only that, but it quite literally echoes arguments neo-Nazis use to delegitimise those calling the Holocaust a genocide because there are survivors. It’s no exaggeration to say that Starkey’s comments are a brazen manipulation of history. 

Next, is the false claim that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was not a genocide. Not only does it reduce the countless different African cultures and ethnic groups into a monolith – which is racist – but it also, quite literally, erases history. The trans-Atlantic slave trade destroyed communities, wiped out cultures, and erased peoples’ histories.

Entire ethnic groups were ended, and others decimated. Many slaves were thrown overboard on the voyages from the African continent to the Americas. And, because of all of this, many people in the Africa diaspora do not know their own histories – myself included; my last name, “Batchelor”, is a slave name – and I’ll never know what my true name is, or who my people were, because of slavery. And this links into Starkey’s false parallels he makes about Roman Catholics and the slave trade. 

Starkey makes a disingenuous and childish comparison between the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the treatment of Roman Catholics, despite the circumstances – and contemporary consequences – being wildly different.

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Roman Catholics were not seen as animals, stripped of their names, stripped of their culture, taken on ships halfway across the world, and enslaved on plantations for centuries. And Roman Catholics in contemporary Britain do not experience anywhere near the chronic levels of socio-economic inequality and racism that Black people face.

Overwhelmingly, the consequences of slavery are still living and breathing – with “compensation” to slave owners for emancipation only paid off in 2015. Starkey, obviously, knows this – and the reason he makes these false comparisons in this context is clear: his ludicrous comparisons attempt to make Black people look unreasonable in their demands for equality, attempt to delegitimise contemporary pain about slavery and its consequences, and attempt to play down the magnitude and the scale of the atrocities committed by the British to protect its reputation. And, of course, all this plays into the deeply racist “Black people have a chip on their shoulder” trope.

Starkey has shown himself to be, yet again, a living embodiment of the pseudo-history racists rely on to justify their bigotry. As he throws out many of the basic principles of what it means to be a curator of history, Starkey now moves towards becoming a living relic of the racist delusions of grandeur associated with the British Empire.

Furthermore, he has perfectly presented the case for properly educating the nation on the crimes against humanity perpetrated by British colonialism.

Indeed, in many ways this has been a history lesson for us all – that the archaic views of men like Starkey show us there is clearly so much to learn about Britain’s sinister past. 

Nadine Batchelor-Hunt is a freelance journalist.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.