David Starkey says sorry for 'deplorably inflammatory' remarks

Haroon Siddique
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

The historian and broadcaster David Starkey has apologised for claiming that slavery was not genocide because of the survival of “so many damn blacks”.

Starkey who made the comment on the rightwing broadcaster Darren Grimes’s online show on Thursday, said that he was “very sorry” for being “deplorably inflammatory”.

The former chancellor Sajid Javid and the historian David Olusoga were among those who criticised Starkey after he told Grimes while discussing the Black Lives Matter movement: “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there? You know, an awful lot of them survived.”

The next day, HarperCollins UK said it would not be publishing any further books by Starkey and he resigned from his honorary fellowship at Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge amid pressure on the college to cut ties with him. Canterbury Christ Church University also terminated Starkey’s role as visiting professor.

On Monday, talking about his use of the phrase “so many damn blacks”, Starkey said: “It was intended to emphasise, in hindsight with awful clumsiness, the numbers who survived the horrors of the slave trade. Instead, it came across as a term of racial abuse.

“This, in the present atmosphere, where passions are high and feelings raw, was deplorably inflammatory. It was a bad mistake.

“I am very sorry for it and I apologise unreservedly for the offence it caused.

“I have also paid a heavy price for one offensive word, with the loss of every distinction and honour acquired in a long career.”

As well as lamenting the impact on his career, Starkey also claimed that if free speech “is suppressed on questions of race, resentments will fester rather than disappear. My principal regret is that my blundering use of language and the penalty it has incurred will further restrict the opportunities for proper debate.”

The historian said the “misunderstanding of my words in no way reflects my views or practice on race”. However, it is not the first time he has been accused of racism.

Appearing on BBC Newsnight after the summer riots of 2011, Starkey said: “A substantial amount of the chavs have become black. The whites have become black; a particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion.”

He also gave an interview to the Telegraph in which he said statistics “appeared” to show a black propensity to violence.