Academic David Starkey's rant against Black people is wrong: plain and simple. On BBC TV's flagship Newsnight he made the most extraordinary attack on African Caribbeans and what he called "Black culture".According to Starkey, David Lammy (Tottenham's Black MP) "could be white" because of the way he sounds.
Presumably Starkey thinks this because Lammy can speak in grammatically correct English. My Black friends come from America, Nigeria, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Russia, Brazil, France, Guyana, just to name a few countries. This is not to mention the many Black Britons I know.
Without exception, my friends speak English well, even when it isn’t their first language. Do we all "sound white" too? What is it to ‘sound Black’ anyway?
According to David Starkey, "whites have become Black". This is to explain why whites rioted and looted. While I would be the first to point out that black American gangster culture has taken hold of some of our youth, both Black and white, and has so many of them seeking to replicate the lifestyles seen on MTV filled with beautiful women, expensive cars and bling, it simply isn’t the case that "to be Black" is to be an inarticulate looting gangster and to ‘to be white’ is to be successful.
The truth is that when I am faced with a Black child who is completely out of control and on the brink of exclusion from school, my advice to the parents is always "Send him back to Nigeria". When faced with a white child in a similar precarious position, I cannot point to a haven to run to, because all they have is Britain, and the state school system here, is broken.
If the child is sent in time to their family’s country of origin (before the age of 13/14), then more often than not, they are transformed. Suddenly, a terror of a child, when put into a strict environment, untainted by moral relativism, turns himself around, finds order and contentment and learns like he has never learnt before!
The key question to ask is what is it about our western, British, society that encourages those who are most vulnerable – some of our Black communities and some of our white working class communities – any community that doesn’t have hard resistance in the form of religion or hard-core cultural habits – to fall apart at the seams? I don’t believe it is poverty. It is more complex than that.
To claim that disorder only surrounds the Black family is preposterous. Not only that, but within the Black community, there are great variations. Black African fathers are far more likely to be in the home than black Caribbean ones.
Theodore Dalrymple, pen name of a psychiatrist in British prisons, has written extensively on the white underclass in Birmingham and is one of my heroes because of his honesty, perception, and commitment to the cause of trying to help the underprivileged. Does Starkey really believe that the only white kids involved in the chaos were wanna-be Blacks?
David Starkey is a historian after all. He must know of the many riots that have taken place in this country over the years. Northern Ireland has had several. There were the Gordon riots of 1780 in England when white people destroyed property and looted, long before the vast majority of blacks ever set foot on these isles! India was plundered by British soldiers who marched off after every battle with as much stuff as they could carry! "Whites have become black"? It is simply absurd!
That isn’t to say that the Black community doesn’t have its issues and that it shouldn’t take responsibility for addressing them. But the white community also has its own issues. Many ordinary white people seem incapable of judging racial issues with clarity and aplomb.
Either they jump on the Starkey bandwagon (even if they don’t say it), and are completely inaccurate, or they insist that Black people are incapable of taking responsibility for themselves, cannot achieve or behave in school and are "criminalised" by poverty and their race!
Now, some of my best friends are white – that’s a joke, by the way. I understand the frustrations some white people may feel when race relations do not seem to work in this country. But I would urge all people, whatever their colour, to resist the temptation to be crude in one’s understanding of the riots.
By all means, point to racial divisions and let’s face the issues head on. But for Starkey to propose a dynamic which claims, as Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis summed up, that "white is good, and Black is bad" is short-sighted. Frankly, it is embarrassing and demonstrates lazy thinking.
The one thing Starkey gets right is to point out that the Tottenham riots had their origins in a political and racial protest. David Starkey often makes me laugh and I have defended his performance on Jamie’s Dream School on this blog. But when David Lammy speaks articulately, works hard, and lives with dignity, he does so as a Black Briton, and David Starkey would do well to notice.
* Katharine Birbalsingh is an inner London teacher who exposed the failings of the comprehensive school system at the Conservative Party conference last year.