Cambridge dons woke war of words: Professor defends calling black presenter 'eloquent'

12 January 2022, 10:07 | Updated: 12 January 2022, 10:08

By Daisy Stephens

A Cambridge professor has defended his use of the word "eloquent" to describe a black history professor and broadcaster after another academic labelled it racist.

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Professor David Abulafia used the word to describe David Olusoga in an article about the acquittal of the so-called Colston Four, prompting Professor Priyamvada Gopal to accuse him of "dismissing" intellectuals of colour.

But Professor Abulafia told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that the use of the word was not intended to be an insult, and said he would do it again.

"What I was seeking to say was something actually rather positive about David Olusoga," said the bestselling author and historian.

"Professor Gopal is well-known for being very strident or acerbic but, you know, using those words I'd probably be accused of I don't know what."

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"She has quite a high profile criticising the views of her colleagues," he added.

"I rather expected some sort of reaction from her to the sort of thing I was saying overall, but not to this particular word which I actually chose with care."

When Nick asked if he would use the word again in the future, Pressor Abulafia said: "I think so, yes, if I felt it was appropriate, I would certainly use it and I'm proud of using it."

Professor Abulafia also told Nick he had "great admiration" for Mr Olusoga, saying he thought the presenter would "respect" his right to have differing opinions in a way Professor Gopal did not.

When asked if he was "whipping up passions or choosing a word that had no substance" as Professor Gopal had suggested, the historian said: "No, and particularly her idea that this is a word that is sometimes used along with the word 'articulate' to describe members of racial minorities in a sort of backhanded compliment... not at all."

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He raised concerns about the accusations, saying: "We should be free to use that word because we don't live in Orwell's 1984.

"What really worries me about this attitude is it's actually reminiscent of the sort of thing that used to happen in the Soviet Union or in communist Albania - which I did visit so I know what I'm talking about there - that certain things cannot be said without great risk to one's reputation, and yet they are things that normal people do say."

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