David Starkey resigns from Cambridge University after 'racist' comments

3 July 2020, 13:02

Historian Dr David Starkey has resigned from his position at Cambridge University
Historian Dr David Starkey has resigned from his position at Cambridge University. Picture: Getty

By Ewan Somerville

TV historian David Starkey has resigned from his honorary fellowship at a Cambridge college after he claimed slavery cannot be seen as genocide because “so many damn blacks survived”.

Fitzwilliam College has cut ties with the 75-year-old after his remarks were branded “disgusting racism”.

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.

A statement on Friday said: "The Master has accepted Dr David Starkey's resignation of his honorary fellowship with immediate effect.

"Fitzwilliam prides itself in leading the way in Cambridge in opening access to higher education for under-represented groups. Our student and academic bodies are diverse and welcoming to all. We do not tolerate racism."

They added: "Honorary fellows have the same responsibility as all members of our college to uphold our values."

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

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…”

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

Publisher Harper Collins have also dropped him as an author, saying the views he held were "abhorrent".

The 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.

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 Dr 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.