By Maximus Mccabe Abel
David Starkey – esteemed Tudor historian, TV personality and controversial commentator – is the latest public figure to be fed to the media tigers after his abhorrent comments about the history of black slavery.
In an interview with far-right campaigner Darren Grimes, Starkey asserted that “slavery was not genocide” owing to the survival of “so many damn blacks.” His former academic peers are right – it is about time he’s given the boot.
Starkey is no stranger to public controversy. From sexist comments made towards female historians, to vocalising blatant racial prejudices, it is without doubt that this career-ending move will spell out his social and academic obituary.
After his remark, which undermined the harrowing history of black slavery, Starkey has since been dropped by his publisher HarperCollins, has resigned from his honorary fellowship at Fitzwilliam College, and has seen his long-standing ties with Cambridge and Canterbury Christ University severed.
A commentator in The Independent argued that, although it was a sad way to end his career, ‘the fallout sends a clear message that racism will not be tolerated.’ The volcanic momentum that the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining in recent months has not been impeded by Starkey’s comments; his cancellation only serves to prove that racism has no place in the 21st century.
In a spell of tragic irony, during the fatal interview with Grimes, Starkey expressed his derision of the ‘deranged’ cancel culture – the very same which now threatens to engulf his entire reputation. Once a credible historian; now the architect of his own demise.
David Starkey is not the only public figure to have been ‘cancelled’ by the media in recent weeks. Whether it’s Harry Potter fans burning J. K. Rowling’s books over her transphobic comments, the witch-hunt against those in the public eye has become one of the central features of the modern day.
Remarkably, David Starkey has managed to cling on to his position despite his previous controversies. With the inexhaustible fuel of social media, and the appetite for change, Starkey’s cancellation is long overdue, yet, ironically, is not so different from the doomed Tudor queens he studies.
Rather amusingly, I met David Starkey in 2017 at a historical lecture and book signing event. He wrote someone else’s name in my copy of the book – hardly grounds for national outrage, but I’ll admit that I no longer looked upon him quite so favourably.
However, whilst it is comforting to know that both the public and the media are actively tackling racial prejudices, how far the Cancel Culture will go is unclear. Will it be a way to dismantle hatred and deconstruct bigotry, or will it manifest itself as a more sinister public witch-hunt launching daily smear campaigns?
The extent to which Cancel Culture will grow is uncertain, but, regardless of the outcome, David Starkey’s removal from public academia is undoubtedly a relief to many Durham students and academics who seek to promote the teaching of black history in its full and complex form.
Image: Mark Carline via Flickr