UK historian David Starkey quits Cambridge after slavery remarks

British historian caused outrage by saying ‘slavery was not genocide’ in a recent interview.

David Starkey
Starkey, a well-known television personality in Britain, has published more than 20 books, including many on the Tudors [File: Adrian Dennis/AFP]

British historian and TV presenter David Starkey has relinquished his honorary fellowship at a University of Cambridge college after he drew outrage for his comments about Black people and whether slavery should be considered genocide.

Starkey said in an interview for a YouTube show posted online Tuesday: “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 and again, there’s no point in arguing against globalisation or Western civilisation. They are all products of it, we are all products of it,” he added.

The remarks prompted Sajid Javid – a former finance and interior minister who has talked about how his Pakistani father faced discrimination after coming to Britain – to call Starkey a racist.

“We are the most successful multi-racial democracy in the world and have much to be proud of,” Javid tweeted on Thursday.

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

Javid’s tweet was picked up by British media and Cambridge University’s Fritzwilliam College accepted Starkey’s resignation on Friday.

The head of Fitzwilliam College contacted the historian following his remarks on the YouTube channel Reasoned UK. 

It issued a statement saying that although Starkey did not hold a teaching position, honorary fellows have the same responsibility as all college members to uphold its values.

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

Others associated with the historian swiftly distanced themselves from him. His publisher, Harper Collins, said it would not publish future books by Starkey and that people in the company “unreservedly condemn” the “abhorrent” remarks he made in the interview.

“Our last book with the author was in 2010, and we will not be publishing further books with him,” it said.

“We are reviewing his existing backlist in light of his comments and views.”

Canterbury Christ Church University also terminated Starkey’s role as visiting professor, saying his comments were “completely unacceptable”.

In the interview, Starkey also said an “honest teaching” of the British Empire would characterise the territories Britain claimed as colonies and protectorates as “the first key stage of our globalization. It is probably the most important moment in human history and it is still with us.”

Starkey, a well-known television personality in Britain, has published more than 20 books, including many on the Tudors.

Darren Grimes, the right-wing commentator who conducted the interview with Starkey, sought to dissociate himself from the historian’s remarks.

“Hand on heart, I wasn’t engaged enough in this interview as I should have been,” Grimes said in a statement.

“I should have robustly questioned Dr Starkey about his comments.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies