Britishness (Oh dear…)

I realise that I may be entering a world of hurt with this, but it is something that I have been thinking about recently.

What is Britishness? How do we define it? Does it need defining? Does it even matter?

With the looming prospect of Scottish devolution, courtesy of Alex Salmond, is Britishness even going to be a necessary concept within the next few years? Or has it already outlived its usefulness? Should we really be asking ‘what is Englishness/Welshness/Scottishness/Irishness etc’?

Is it more important to ask why the political scene has been obsessed with questions like these for the past few years (decades?)?

So, let’s try and define some terms. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Politicians, despite calling for ‘Britishness tests’, or bemoaning the decline of the ‘British way of life’, seem strangely reluctant to qualify exactly what they mean by ‘Britishness’ beyond a geographical location and mutterings about history.

I’m British. There, I said it. And I’m not ashamed. I’m not really proud either though, and that presents a problem. Many people across the world take great pride in being from whatever country they happen to have been born in, but the Britain isn’t really a country, is it?

So, I’m English. Hmmm. Don’t really feel comfortable saying that I’m proud to be English. Images of St George’s crosses, shaved heads and Doc Marten’s boots leap to mind. Enoch Powell and his ‘Rivers of Blood’. Brixton in 1981 and so on. Can a middle class, middle aged, liberal white man safely say that he is proud of his country, when his country has such a history of division, tension and violence? Especially with the recent resurgence in support for the right-wing parties.

I grew up in a predominantly white and middle class area of Southern England. I only knew a handful of non-whites in the first twenty or so years of my life. The majority of my friends today are white. However, as a teacher in Birmingham, many of my students are non-white and from a working class background. The cultural gulf between us is quite large (and the subject of much amusement to the students). But here’s the thing; the difference between me and the non-white kids is far larger than that between the white kids and the non-white kids. The difference between me and all of these kids is pretty large. Essentially, these kids are all from the same background, regardless of the colour of their skin and it is a very different background than mine. Despite the physical or religious or cultural differences between us we are all British.

Kids are kids, whatever their racial background may be, and when racism does rear its ugly head, it is very easy to hear the voice of the adult generation coming through. It is the voice of the right wing tabloid press, condemming immigrants, despite the fact that the kids saying these things are themselves the product of immigration. “But I was born here” is the oft-given response when challenged.

And a dog born in a stable isn’t a horse…

…but that doesn’t mean it has no right to be in the stable. Britain is a nation of mongrels. Wave after wave of immigrants and invaders have shaped this land into what it is today – truly multi-cultural. Surely we can be proud of that? Britain is a country where a Pakistani can sit on a train with a Croatian, an Italian, a Pole, a Scot, a Somalian and an Iranian, and they are all British.

Racism is bullshit. It is not welcome in my country.

There are so many better reasons to dislike people…

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