Monday, 12 March 2012

State sponsored Britishness?

Post by Liz.
There has been a great deal of talk in recent weeks of what it means to be British. Many people cry out that we have lost our identity or that our identity is being taken away from us. The Government is on a campaign to right this terrible wrong. Christianity is to be put at the fore, bibles are to be issued to every school child in Britain whether they welcome it or not, the Forward being written by non other than the Godly Gove himself. History of Empire will be taught with greater gusto in schools and our children will feel proud to be British. We shall turn our faces away from un-British things such as poverty and homelessness, we shall celebrate the mighty Olympics and worship our sporting heroes and ignore the fact that people are being priced out from their rented accommodation for this occasion, that people's homes have been destroyed and allotments given to these (not well off) people in perpetuity have been concreted over. There will be no such thing as increased human trafficking and prostitution, the 'riff-raff' are to be cleared from the London streets as I write. We shall ignore the approximately 14 billion it is costing in these times of austerity, which is more than enough to save welfare and the NHS. But I'm sure it will be a grand spectacle, I don't know, because I will not be watching it. But no one does pomp and circumstance like the British eh?

 Still, it's an interesting question, at least to me. I'm a 'people watcher' and social history fascinates me particularly in regards to the 'working man (and woman)'. Britain is experiencing great change at the moment and no one is quite sure how it's going to turn out and this makes people very uneasy, we become like fractious children and point fingers (wrongly) at whose fault we think it is. I feel this is not helped by our politicians rhetoric nor our biased media who fan the flames of distrust and fear. I am genuinely interested in what people think it means to be British and I hope people will comment and share their  views and opinions.

 It is also interesting to me because like many people who were born in this country but may not have a long line of Britishness on which to call upon it feels slightly strange. A lot of this talk seems more 'English' to me. My Grandparents were Irish immigrants from the Republic of Ireland, while I am classed as white British and there is a shared culture, it still has its differences. And one thing I do share with other cultures in my Irish ancestry is the oppression of  State Britishness, the starvation induced Britishness, the unpleasantness of Britishness. I don't want to be forced into being proud to be British to adopt the Government's idea of what it is to be British. I can form my own opinions thanks. I do not wish to celebrate the same 'heroes' as others, many of these so called heroes were warmongering, genocidal pirates.

 Britain has two faces, the inventive, the innovative, the rule of law, wonderful language, incredible history, sense of fairness, the folklore, our quirkiness, beautiful isles, grit and determination, architecture, music, protesting, the radicals, the Levellers, the Chartists, the diversity, the idea of tolerance, freedom of speech. I admire our brave men and women who brought change, helped to abolish slavery, cared about the poor and infirm, that stood up to oppression of the Monarchy or the State and knew they may lose their lives. I would like to celebrate them. I would like to see that taught in schools more often. I studied history at school and it tends to be mostly about our brave men and their battles. Slightly one sided. We learn about the Industrial Revolution, how wonderful, but the grinding poverty, the people becoming wage slaves, the greed that ravished a quarter of the world under Empire is only briefly mentioned, if at all. I'm not doing down the achievements of  Britain, we have contributed much to the world and quite rightly these things should be taught in school, but it should be with balance and in perspective and we shouldn't shy away from our darker, more unpleasant history. My fear is that this renewed call of Proud to be British is nothing but an attempt at patriotism as those in power bang the drums of war.

 Every one of us will have their own feeling on what this question means. And I can only express my feeling from my point of view, and many may not share it. Culturally I am British with Irish ancestry and all that entails. As a human being I am not British, English, Irish, Western or anything else. I do not believe in drawing imaginary lines in the sand, I do not believe that we own the earth. That isn't to say that I don't feel a connection to the patch of earth I was born on, that this small island in the middle of the sea doesn't hold magic for me, it does and if I went away I would miss it.

I am thankful for my ancestry and thankful for some of the influences of being brought up within the cradle of Britain, the freedom to explore my faith and compared to where I could have been born, I feel very lucky. All these things have enabled me to be who I am. I'm o.k. with that kind of Britishness. But it is diversity, not uniformity that enabled me to be....well to be me. This is the closest to what I could describe as anything akin to 'Britishness'. I would like to see all people from all cultures be given the same freedoms that I have enjoyed and for them not to just be allowed to feel British but to feel part of the wider community that makes up this country. My feeling is that harking back to years gone by and using a one size fits all approach is cloying, inhibits growth and could under the right (or wrong) circumstances become positively dangerous. Some people would argue that having a sense of national identity is unifying, that is does bring all peoples together under one benevolent umbrella. Hmm, I'm not convinced, social cohesion comes from the communities and the people themselves, we are the only ones who can make that happen. Only understanding, acceptance and celebration of our differences and working together and living together can make that happen. Having someone's idea forced upon us won't bring us together, it may even cause resentment. Oh, on the surface it may seem all bright and shiny, but really it's just bread and circuses.

 Now if someone wants to go to church on a Sunday, pray before a meeting starts, not pray before a meeting starts, worship the Queen and wave a St. George's flag (yet another adoption by the people of this country) lay down their life for Queen and country that is entirely up to them. That's the great thing about Britain - choice, but equally I reserve the right not to do any of those things. This is Britain and Britishness, and as far as I know it's still a democracy (for now).

 I am a human, who happens to live here with some other humans and various animals and plant life. I am a citizen of the world and that is how I would describe myself on any census, at least, I would if we hadn't sabotaged our census  form because of the fact the it was sponsored by Lockheed Martin the arms dealer. But really I wish all this division and nonsense would stop, I belong to one family, I belong to the whole of the human race and the earth is my home and equally it belongs to my brothers and sisters too whether they are human or non-human.


  1. As someone who becomes patriotically Welsh when there's a rugby match on (and only then!), I cannot disagree with any of these sentiments. On a census form I write 'British' and I would think, as I do so, only of those positive qualities of our nation you have listed. I know very well the bad qualities exist, but I say to myself that they are in evidence in other countries too. (as a foreign language teacher I know only too well the same problems exist elsewhere). And so, Liz, like you I consider myself a citizen of the world. Like you, I think that these Olympic Games are quite obscene with regard to the cost, but, unlike you, if only to get away from the many troubles in the world, I shall watch them at times and rejoice in the sporting prowess exhibited, whether it comes from Britain or deepest Africa.Sport for me is one way of escaping from the madness of our world, and as long as I can shut my eyes and ears to the jingoism and patriotism that accompanies it, I am happy. Graham the Anonymous

  2. I have no problem with sport, just in the context its being conducted in this year. Would you add sport to the list of Britishness then, even if we play really badly :) after all we did invent some great games. I miss seeing other minor sports on TV though, I even remember watching Hurley on TV when a was a girl. I'm not a huge fan of sport as you may have guessed but I do like watching rugby and show jumping and cricket (but only in real life)I think sport isn't what it used to be, i.e. too big, cuts out the smaller teams and less well known sports and then there's corruption/prejudice. When sport was a working persons fun & relaxation that conjures up Britain for me...but now, not so sure.

  3. Top of the Morning to you Liz !

    I am English and proud to be so, after that I am British and also proud to be so. We all of us feel the need to have our own identity - it was ever thus.

    Sadly, much of that need is 'territorial'- 'An Englishman's home is his Castle'

    I was on holiday in the Irish Republic a few years ago ( after the 'Troubles' had quietened down). We were welcomed as 'ordinary English folk'with money to spend. Inevitably the conversations turned to the question of Northern Ireland. "Did we not think - said ourhosts -that Ireland should naturally be one country with Dublin as the capital" ? and "Eventually we shall of course out-breed the Protestant Loyalists in the north, become a Catholic majority and vote for a united Ireland"

    In other words it's all about territory - just like the Robin in the garden who chases the sparrows off the bird table !

    It was ever thus Liz ! We can dream of a Utopian world like John Lennon in his poem 'Imagine' and there is no harm in that, but sadly, the reality is different.

  4. Thanks for the comment Roger agus Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig Daoibh (for yesterday);) I suppose culturally to use the words of Morrissey 'Irish blood, English heart' would describe me,there is nothing wrong with enjoying your culture, quirks and some traditions of where you come from, but I still don't see myself as different, better than, or really separate from other peoples. We all descended from the same family. I love many aspects but am careful not to get swept away in a sea of patriotism without really thinking where it leads. I love the song Imagine and love the Beatles..however John was a hypocrite singing that song. Still where there's hope there's life, and just because something seems impossible or out of reach doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to it. Yes the reality is different, and idealistic people like me want to change the world ;)