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Gay historian David Starkey issues grovelling apology while blaming his ‘indefensible’ race rant on ‘awful clumsiness’

Josh Milton July 7, 2020
David Starkey.

David Starkey. (David Levenson/Getty)

David Starkey issued an apology Monday (July 6) after fielding intense accusations of racism for suggesting that slavery was not genocide because there are “so many damn Blacks” in Britain and Africa.

The author of several books about Henry VIII and his wives, and a frequent guest on British television and radio programmes, the historian has hastily gained a reputation over the years for his barbed remarks on race.

But it all reached a flashpoint last week when, in the throes of Black Lives Matter, he discussed with Darren Grimes whether the movement has veiled “aims to delegitimate British history”.

In the ensuing criticism – being dropped by his publisher, stripped of his Cambridge title and having a visiting professor role terminated – the 75-year-old said his comments were a “bad mistake” he had paid a “heavy price for one offensive word”, Sky News reported.

He said his “principal regret” was his “blundering use of language […] will further restrict the opportunities for proper debate”.

Gay historian apologises for ‘clumsy’ racist wording.

On his phrasing, which critics flagged was heavily imbued with racism, 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.

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

“I have also paid a heavy price for one offensive word with the loss of every distinction and honour acquired in a long career.”

He then sought to extinguish accusations that he is racist by adding that it was a “misunderstanding of my words in no way reflects my views or practice on race”.

Starkey then stressed: “Central also to British history is a tradition of free speech.

“If that tradition is suppressed on questions of race, resentments will fester rather than disappear.

“My principal regret is that my blundering use of language and the penalty it has incurred will further 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.”

What did David Starkey say?

During the discussion, Starkey told Grimes: “Slavery was not genocide. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there? An awful lot of them survived.”

David Starkey. (Screen capture via YouTube)
David Starkey. (Screen capture via YouTube)

The United Nations estimates that around 17 million Black people died during the transatlantic slave trade, but the death toll varies among historical circles, with some suggesting the figure could be between 30 to 70 million.

Starkey said that slavery was “fruitful” even with the “downsides”, and added: “As for the idea, as I said, that slavery is this terrible disease that dare not speak its name […] I only dare not speak its name, Darren, because we settled it 2,000 years ago.”

He has a long, well-documented history of horrific comments on race, same-sex parents and rape. 

In 2011, the University of Cambridge was forced to remove a promotional video featuring David Starkey when he claimed after the London riots that “the whites have become Black [by adopting] a particular sort of violent destructive, nihilistic gangster culture”. He has also claimed that statistics show a Black “propensity” to violence.

In 2014, speaking on Question Time, he said that violence was required for rape, not just the absence of consent, and added: “I have seen 13, 14, 15, 16-year-old boys and girls that were highly mature sexually that were profoundly manipulative and knew exactly what they wanted.”

Pressed on whether he thought a 14-year-old could groom a 44-year-old teacher, he said “yes is the answer”, before adding: “Can we replace the word groomed by seduced?”

He has also previously said that minority groups and disabled people should stop acting like “victims”, claimed the legalisation of gay sex has “largely destroyed homosexual creativity”, compared the SNP to Nazis and described gay parenting as “ludicrous”.

More: Darren Grimes, David Starkey, Gay, historian, racism, slavery

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