16 August, 2011
Was that it?
Was that what all the fuss was about?
A bit of context first, I think. I don't currently have a landline at home and access the web using a T-Mobile USB stick. On the whole it's been very satisfactory. The mast is no more than 200m away and I get speeds close to the advertised 3.6Mbit/s. At £15 a month PAYG the cost is not high enough to motivate me to embark upon the tussle with the Monster Telco (© The Register) required to reinstate landline service. BT's engineering standards are excellent; its sales and customer service is, to use the technical term, incoherent crap. The only drawback of the mobile broadband is that the monthly data allowance is only 2GB. This is fine provided I avoid too many big downloads. As I am no longer in full-time employment with daily access to the web at the office, YouTube links are generally noted down and deferred to my next visit to the pub and its free WiFi service.
Contrary to the impression I may perhaps have given in other posts, I do not spend all my waking hours in Wetherspoons, so such deferred downloads may not take place for some time. And so it is that I have only just got round to actually watching the infamous Starkey Newsnight discussion, which I downloaded from YouTube yesterday.
And I cannot for the life of me see what all the fuss was about. Starkey was coherent, cogent, measured and entirely reasonable; he wasn't even being remotely controversial or contrarian as his reputation apparently demands. His only sins were in being honest and direct, being somewhat old-fashioned in his choice of language and in breaching the taboo that Black people and their doings must never, ever be spoken of negatively, whatever the truth of the matter.
Notwithstanding Professor Geoff Pullum's academic hissy fit about Starkey's incorrect use of the term "Jamaican patois", Starkey's meaning was perfectly clear: many disengaged young White people have been attracted to a particularly unpleasant manifestation of Black popular culture and the Wiggers' often conscious affectation of the "Jafaican" dialect is one expression of this.
Similarly the David Lammy reference which has caused so much uproar amongst the Righteous commentariat was no more than an incidental allusion to reinforce Starkey's point about language and culture. No self-respecting yoot, Black or White, hanging round his endz trying to big himself up before his rivals is going to get very far if he speaks like Brian Sewell*. In the same way, any aspirant, Black or White, to most high-status tie-wearing roles will generally be more successful if they speak a reasonable approximation to RP or an accepted regional equivalent. It's yer basic sociolinguistics lahk, innit?
Starkey was entirely reasonable. Jones and Mitchell just came across as intolerant shouty bigots.
So what was Starkey on about, after all the sectarian shouting has died down? Well, he didn't really get the chance to explain, but for what it's worth here's my take on it all.
On one of the many Radio 4 programmes I have half-listened to over the years, a vibrant group of schoolchildren were interviewed about their cultural identities. Most were positive and confident about their Jamaican, Nigerian, Punjabi, Afghan or whatever identities, which they had some understanding of and drew strength from. Then they turned to the English child, who replied that she didn't seem to have an identity, really, and seemed quite lost, almost disconsolate in her response. It was pathetic; I really felt for that kid; and I found myself loathing her so-called teachers.
This is partly, of course, a consequence of being the default. One of the reasons we find it so difficult to respond to the persistent snarky demands from the Righteous that we "define" British culture or British identity is that it is all around us, despite the erosions of the last 50 years. It is hard to pin down. The name Māori means, in the Māori people's own language, no more than "ordinary, normal". So it is with us. British or English culture is how normal people behave. British identity is what normal people are. Everything else is foreign. That, folks, is how the world works.
Nonetheless our children seem not to be given a sense of that English or British culture as a role model to aspire to. At best they are offered a vacuum: you are the grey substrate of nothingness upon which the vibrant diversity of a thousand cultures will be sown.
Black pop culture and Black culture and achievement generally have however been glamourized for decades, both in our education system and in popular culture.
Nina Simone's classic, "Young, gifted and black", started out as a eulogy to a dead friend, though even then its assertion of the subject's being lucky enough to be born Black as a explicitly fortuitous thing is at the very least tendentious. In practice, the song is heard as a general assertion of the superiority of being Black. This is accepted as natural and uncontroversial and goes entirely unchallenged.
Can you imagine for one second that a song celebrating Whiteness in the same way would be countenanced? Anyone sincerely echoing Cecil Rhodes' dictum that "to be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life" these days would be howled down, would lose their career and would be lucky if they did not lose their very liberty. And yet we accept the corresponding sentiments without demur, even actively welcome them, when they are made by persons of colour.
Our children are offered no positive model of White British culture. Instead they are offered White guilt set in the context of positive images of any and every non-White culture. Our children are taught that they are worthless.
Europeans in general and the British especially, they are taught, went out and raped and enslaved the world, while Olaudah Equiano singlehandedly overthrew slavery, Mary Seacole singlehandedly reformed military nursing and, if Jai the Prolix at Pickled Politics is to be believed (posts passim ad nauseam at PP), Indian troops won the Second World War against the scourge of the Nazis while the British cowered and drank tea in their Anderson shelters.
Is it any wonder then that White kids turn to other identities for self-esteem and sustenance?
Unfortunately the model they aspire to, the one which is barking its wares the loudest in the cultural marketplace, is the worst elements of the Black subculture of gangsta-rap. Misogyny, casual sex, casual violence or at best the celebration of violence, meretricious ostentation, greed, nihilism, anti-authoritarianism and a sense of payback entitlement rooted in self-righteous all-excusing victimhood.
And you're surprised when the little sods go out a-burnin' and a-lootin' for ... well, for what? Trainers and mobile phones.
As another admirable Sewell, Tony of that ilk, perhaps rather unlikely to be a relative of the Standard's veteran art critic, puts it (here via here), "Let’s face it, there were no reports of the vandals looting bookshops or public libraries."
* Brian Sewell. If you have never heard Mr Sewell's splendid and apparently entirely naturally upper-crust accent, it is best captured in John Humphrys' description of him as "...the only man I have ever met who makes the Queen sound common."
They were familiar with brands of trainers and phones and plasma TVs, and knew there were 'better' ones behind glass. They could name or recognise the things they desired, and wanted them quickly. The tribe-members tore themselves away from their video games, called each other on their phones and messaging services and pulled on their trainers. Some of them even climbed into their cars to do it.
They already had them, so they wanted more.
Like the barbarians centuries ago they did not want Rome, because they did not know what to do with it and didn't want to absorb it or understand it. So they did what any horde would do and took the shiny things and set fire to the rest.