David Starkey: Historian apologises for 'clumsy' slavery comments

David Starkey

Historian David Starkey has said using comments denounced as racist during a discussion about slavery were “a bad mistake” for which he is “very sorry”.

He apologised “unreservedly” for the offence his “deplorably inflammatory” words had caused, saying he had spoken “with awful clumsiness”.

The academic and author told an online show that slavery was not genocide as “so many damn blacks” had survived.

His comments were widely condemned and saw him lose several university posts.

Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam College, Canterbury Christ Church University and The Mary Rose Trust were among the organisations to cut ties with him.

Starkey made the offensive remarks in an episode of Darren Grimes’s Reasoned, entitled “Dr David Starkey: Black Lives Matter Aims To Delegitimate British History.”

Grimes, a conservative commentator, also distanced himself from his guest’s remarks, saying he rejected what Starkey said on his YouTube show “in the strongest possible terms”.

‘Paid a heavy price’

In a statement released on Monday, Starkey said he had “paid a heavy price for one offensive word with the loss of every distinction and honour acquired in a long career”.

Speaking about his use of the phrase “so many damn blacks”, he 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.”

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Former chancellor Sajid Javid condemned Starkey’s remarks

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

“Moreover, this misunderstanding of my words in no way reflects my views or practice on race.

“I have lived and worked happily and without conflict in multicultural London for almost 50 years and I spent much of the podcast discussing bi-culturalism as a key to the success of Britain’s multicultural society.”

Starkey’s original interview sparked a backlash, including from former chancellor Sajid Javid, who said Starkey’s “racist” comments were a “reminder of the appalling views that still exist”.

Publisher HarperCollins said he had expressed “abhorrent” views and added it would no longer publish any of his books.

During the original discussion, Starkey said slavery “was not genocide” because “otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or Britain would there? An awful lot of them survived.”

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Starkey said he had spoken “with awful clumsiness”

He also claimed that the Black Lives Matter protests, following the death of George Floyd, had been characterised by “violence”, “victimhood” and the “deranged” pulling down of statues.

He continued: “As for the idea that slavery is this kind of terrible disease that dare not speak its name, it only dare not speak its name, Darren, because we settled it nearly 200 years ago.

“We don’t normally go on about the fact that Roman Catholics once upon a time didn’t have the vote and weren’t allowed to have their own churches because we had Catholic emancipation.”

In his statement, Starkey said free speech was “central” to British history and that he feared his “blundering use of language” would “restrict the opportunities for proper debate”.

“For it is only open debate that will heal the divisions in our society that the Black Lives Matter movement has both exposed and expressed,” he concluded.

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