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Letter to David Starkey

By Dr Carol Tomlin, Aug 17 2011 04:22PM

Dear Dr David Starkey,

Freedom of speech is one of the privileges of belonging to free democratic societies such as Great Britain. The merits of media censorship have been hotly debated throughout the world, and some would argue that censorship is tantamount to a desecration of one’s human rights; however, your recent lively performance on BBC 2’s Newsnight causes me to question this opinion.

Clearly, the topic of race has many facets and subjects encompassing ethnicity, multiculturalism, antiracism and multilingualism are vast areas. Thus theorizing the different facets of the umbrella term race is even more problematic. It has been recognized by many eminent academics that race relations as a field of study is highly contentious. It would not be far- fetched to state that political correctness often renders objective debates on race ineffective. Indeed your honesty, although rather misplaced in my opinion could be applauded. It was apparent that you lack the research evidence on discourses of race. At the very least you could have read a couple of texts from any number of authors, such as Michael Omi and Howard Winant and familiarise yourself with the appropriate language before your guest appearance on Newsnight. Your description of Black culture as “a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion,” was as inflammatory as the sparks that originally caused the riots. Moreover, it reveals that you have not studied any of the ‘Black cultures’ and the differences between the African diasporic communities in the world and the multifaceted nature of African countries that are marked in cultures, customs and histories. Your affirmation and reference to Enoch Powell’s, Rivers of Blood Speech by stating that “The Tiber didn’t foam with blood, but flames lambent wrapped around Tottenham, wrapped around Clapham” signalled to many that you may have a hidden agenda.

Equally, evident is your blind spot pertaining to sociolinguistic structures. You state that “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” is akin to Margaret Thatcher’s reference to Britain being ‘swamped’ and demonstrates that you have very little, if any linguistic knowledge of Jamaican Creole or its variant form BBT (British Black Talk).

Unfortunately, your right to reply to the recent riots in our inner cities has incurred the wrath of many individuals including politicians such as the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who describes your comments on Newsnight as ‘disgusting and outrageous.’ I therefore offer you some words of wisdom. Unless you intend to extend your area of expertise by researching from a range of social scientific and anthropological models, critical race theory, Caribbean Creoles and the language of inner city young people, I suggest that you continue with your fascination for the Tudor period rather than risk further ridicule. Undoubtedly, you are familiar with riots and mob rule throughout the turbulent times of British history. There is nothing new under the sun and human behaviour, as we all ultimately belong to the human race, has no colour or racial distinction.

Dr Carol Tomlin, Senior Lecturer

Author of Black Language Style in Sacred & Secular Contexts (1999) & co-author of The Oppositional Culture Theory (2010)

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