Cambridge University says comments made by David Starkey on slavery are 'indefensible'

2 July 2020, 16:45

David Starkey, author and historian
David Starkey, author and historian. Picture: Getty

By Ewan Somerville

A Cambridge University college has said comments made about slavery by TV historian David Starkey are 'indefensible.'

Fitzwilliam College is now considering Dr Starkey's Honorary Fellowship after his remarks were branded “disgusting racism”.

In an interview with the Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes, released on Tuesday, Dr Starkey said: “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.”

Launching an aggressive defence of colonialism, he added: “The honest teaching of the British Empire is to say it was the first key stage of world globalisation.

"It was probably the most important moment in human history and it is still with us. Its consequences are still [felt] and generally speaking in most ways [it was] actually fruitful…”

A statement released by Fitzwilliam College said: "Fitzwilliam College does not tolerate racism.

"We support and promote freedom of speech in our academic community, but we have zero tolerance of racism. Dr David Starkey’s recent comments on slavery are indefensible.

"Fitzwilliam was founded upon values of fairness and mutual respect and we are proud of the College’s inclusive and diverse membership.

"The matter of Dr Starkey’s Honorary Fellowship will be considered by the Governing Body at its meeting next Wednesday."

Dr Starkey has also resigned from his position as a board member following the furore.

he Mary Rose Museum, which commemorates Henry VIII’s warship that sunk in 1545, confirmed it had “accepted Dr Starkey’s resignation” as a board member, adding it was “appalled” by his comments.

“Mary Rose Trust is a charity that exists for the benefit of everyone and we have zero tolerance for such comments," it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Mr Grimes moved to distance himself from his own interview for Reasoned UK, which he heads, following the backlash, saying: “Hand on heard, I wasn’t engaged enough in this interview as I should’ve been.

“It goes without saying that Reasoned UK does not support or condone Dr David Starkey’s words.”

Cambridge scholars demanded the college’s senior managers drop the controversial author and alumnus as a fellow, a position he held for over a decade.

The furore comes following weeks of Black Lives Matter protests which have piled pressure on universities to address their colonial ties and condemn them.

Dr Starkey, a familiar face on television programmes and the author of multiple popular books, prompted an immediate backlash.

Nicholas Guyatt, a Cambridge American History academic, said he was “ashamed of our connections” with him and urged bosses to “cut all ties with him”.

He added: “His connections to Cambridge have always anchored his public-intellectual credibility; and we should state clearly that we don't consider today's statement about "damn blacks" to be protected speech. He's free to say it; we're free to cut our ties with him forever.”

Piers Morgan tweeted: “Disgusting racism by Starkey, shamefully endorsed by nodding dog @darrengrimes_ .” Former

Chancellor Sajid Javid said: “We are the most successful multi-racial democracy in the world and have much to be proud of.

“But David Starkey's racist comments ("so many damn blacks") are a reminder of the appalling views that still exist.”

Cambridge was forced to ditch a fundraising video presented by Mr Starkey in 2015 after staff and students complained that he was “aggressively racist”.

Hundreds of students and senior academics wrote an open letter to the university demanding it disassociate, citing him saying of the 2011 London riots that “a substantial amount of the chavs have become black”.

At the time, the university acknowledged Dr Starkey’s “controversial statements in the past” and re-edited the video to omit him, but did not apologise or drop him as an honorary fellow.

There has been a growing focus on British universities’ anti-racism commitments following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in US police custody in May.

Cambridge’s Gonville and Caius College said it would remove a stained glass window commemorating the eugenicist Sir Ronald Fisher last month, recognisng it caused “broad offence”.

Meanwhile, the governing body of Oxford’s Oriel College voted to take down a statue of the Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes on its facade after hundreds of students staged protests.

LBC News has approached Dr Starkey for comment.