Cultural Contumacy?

Over the past several days the media has been awash with theories which claim to identify the cause of the recent English riots. One of the most controversial theories, as confidentially articulated  by historian David Starkey, is that so-called Black culture is to blame. Starkey’s comments have reignited a national debate on the relationship between race and culture.

19th century anthropologists viewed culture as a static phenomenon attributed to particular racial groups. Crude notions of cultural sophistication were developed which seemingly proved the superiority of European culture. Objects like those in the Living Cultures collection were used to demonstrate the assumed primitive nature of non-European cultures, particularly those in Africa. This cultural primitivism was believed to have caused moral impoverishment, the jingoistic remedy for which was colonial intervention.

British officers meeting with the Sobo people, Nigeria, Africa, late 19th century. The Living Cultures collection, the Manchester Museum.

Shockingly the idea that African and Black culture is somehow negative is still perpetuated. So too is the absurd notion that culture is inextricably linked with race and cannot transcend it. Over several decades individuals, communities and organisations, such as the Manchester Museum, have worked tirelessly to confront and extinguish these myths.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

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3 thoughts on “Cultural Contumacy?

  1. Didn’t know Dr David Starkey said this. Astonishing for two reasons: one, that an intelligent person should think this; and two, that an intelligent person would go on telly and say this! His career is f*cked!
    Also, don’t know what ‘black culture’ he means? ‘Gangsta Rap’ may not be the natural music genre of the law abiding citizen, but, c’mon, I thought the old argument of ‘the music made me do it’ was as stale and fusty as ‘the devil made me do it’. Free Jazz may sound like an actual riot, but it’s never made me want to start one..
    And yet, art is always put in the frame when crimes are committed. Duh…
    There was a lot of pondering here North of the Border as to why it was that England ‘kicked off’ and Scotland didn’t. The usual suspects, ‘greater sense of community’, ‘too drunk to riot’ were trotted out, including other arguments tied into culture.
    My blog covers a lot of ground – and is almost as unruly as the rioters in terms of marshalling an argument – but I do provide a perspective from a Scottish Police Officer which is – I think – instructive.
    Anyway, thanks for the heads up – I will play the clip now and gawp in amazement at one man’s career going down the tubes, on the tube. What a tube!
    Regards,

    Innes

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