13 August 2011

Captive Jamaica Took Her Civilized Captor Captive...

When my younger brother was small, he used to watch a cartoon called Sharky and George, and once, years later, when it came up in conversation, I misheard the show's name, and thought someone had uttered the rather odd phrase 'Starkey and George'. That conjured up a very peculiar picture...

The Crimebusters of the BB-Sea?

... and before you wonder whether I'm implying something by associating David Starkey with an effeminate pink fluffy hippo, I can assure you that when I first misheard the phrase and enjoyed myself by mucking about with Photoshop for just my second time ever, I didn't know Starkey was gay. No, I'd not planned any insinuations. It just looked like it afterwards.

Anyway, I think it's a funny picture. Certainly, it's far more amusing than what Starkey said on Newsnight yesterday. He started pretty well, repeating somebody else's claim that the riots hadn't been real riots so much as mere 'shopping with violence'; a contentious claim, and not one that goes without saying, but certainly a point worth considering. But then, we had this:
'... I think there has been a profound cultural change. I've just been rereading Enoch Powell. The 'Rivers of Blood' speech. His prophecy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber didn't foam with blood, but flames lambent wrapped round Tottenham and wrapped round Clapham.

But it wasn't intercommunal violence; this was where he was completely wrong. What's happened is that the substantial section of the chavs that you [Owen Jones] wrote about have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together, this language, which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that's been intruded in England. And this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country.'
Emily Maitlis pressed him to clarify his position a bit, saying, 'In that speech Enoch Powell talked about in twenty years' time the black man having the whip hand over the white man--', and Starkey interrupted, saying, 
'That's not true. What's happened is black culture -- this is the enormously important thing -- it's not skin colour. It's cultural. Listen to David Lammy, an archetypical successful black man. If you turn the screen off, so you were listening to him on radio, you would think he was white.'
Now, at least, unlike the odious Kevin Myers, he's not putting forward an explanation that could as easily be summed up in the phrase 'black bastards', but just because his argument's not without sophistication doesn't mean that it's not wholly wrong-headed. 

Starkey's thesis, in essence, is that Britain has suffered from a detrimental version of how Horace said the conquest of Greece had affected Rome, when 'Captive Greece took her rude captor captive, and brought the arts to rustic Latium,' such that as far as Professor Starkey is concerned, 'Captive Jamaica took her civilized captor captive, and brought savagery to urban England.' And no, I'm not being pretentious by pulling out a Classical quote here; Powell was a Classicist, and his speech explicitly drew from the writings of Horace's contemporary Virgil.

Aside from being deeply offensive in its crude equation of whiteness with civilization and blackness with savagery, it's obvious that Starkey is simply wrong on this. As with the BBC having originally called the English riots 'UK Riots', this is a case not of political incorrectness but of factual incorrectness.

Insofar as Jamaican rude boy culture has affected British culture, it seems to have done so in two waves, the first being back in the seventies, giving rise to the Skinhead and Ska movements, and the second being in the mid-eighties, when 'Yardies' arrived in London, giving rise to a new form of British gang culture, where violence was often a first resort rather than a last one, and where wealth and firepower were ostentatiously displayed by gang leaders, these leaders becoming aspirational figures in the most broken of London's estates. That London's gangs, in particular, modelled themselves -- at least in part -- on these Jamaican gangsters seems indisputable, with them being further influenced by American gang culture, especially as codified in Gangsta Rap music. 

Part I, Chapter 4 of the Centre for Social Justice report, Dying to Belong: An In-depth Review of Street Gangs in Britain is very useful on this point. The whole report, to be fair, is excellent. I think we'd be well-advised to turn to the CSJ and ResPublica for a lot of help in coming months.

However, to single out the Jamaican influence in the way Starkey does is both perverse and lazy; he extrapolates later in the discussion from the fact that the first riot was connected to the killing of a black man, without pausing to consider whether the Tottenham riot may have had discrete roots to those in the rest of London, and without giving a moment's thought to the possibility that the riots outside London might have been radically different in character to those in London. Nobody has done anything even resembling a survey of the demographic profile of the rioters but it seems clear from footage and court reports that English people of all shades rioted side-by-side in a national frenzy of equal opportunity vandalism.  

What's more, it's deeply disingenuous to talk about thuggery on this scale without reference to the fact that during the seventies and eighties the English were proverbial throughout Europe for their penchant for mass violence, such that football hooliganism was known as 'the English disease'. Wild rampages through cities have been a hallmark of white English males, without any Jamaican influence whatsoever. And this didn't stop in the eighties either, despite the Heysel ban and Mrs Thatcher's pressuring the FA to pull out of European football. I still remember the shock in 1995 when English fans rioted at Lansdowne Road, such that I wasn't surprised about violence in London in 1996, in Marseilles in 1998, and during Euro 2000 such that England was threatened with being expelled from the competition. 

And in recent years, lest people were tempted to forget this stuff, there have even been TV documentaries that effectively glorified such havoc.

It is, frankly, claptrap to make out that mass English thuggery is due to a foreign intrusion. What happened this week wasn't remotely unEnglish.

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