Thursday, 30 May 2013

What does it mean to be British?

Originally I was going to write my posts on here in a particular order. In the order of my “labels”. However, given recent events in Britain I’m going to attempt to talk about “Britishness” and its relation to the very sad events in Woolwich. It was a horrendous crime committed by a man who clearly has some very serious problems. It has left a family husbandless and fatherless and the effect on anyone who was there will last forever. That young man survived a war zone and should have been able to enjoy some well deserved downtime at home; instead he had to suffer a sickening death at the hands of a madman. I can’t imagine how anyone could even begin to justify that mans actions, religious motives or not I hope he faces the full force of the justice system and is one of those cases where I think he should never be released from prison. It’s not really that that inspired my thinking but the reaction of certain people and certain sectors of the British press.
There has been a lot of racism thinly veiled as patriotism thrown around. Two things; making racist comments whilst waving a Union Jack or St Georges cross doesn’t make you a patriot just racist and an embarrassment to the rest of us, putting “It’s not racist to...” before some slightly racist statement does not negate the racism. Talking to some of my new French friends, they think that Britain is an example of successful multiculturalism. In places we are. Drive or walk around North/Central Bristol and you’ll see multiculturalism at work and it’s great to see. A good barometer  of a culture is food, for me the best/easiest (Not a surprise to those who know me!), and the range available in a small area in this little corner of Britain really shows what is possible. There is some work to do in Britain. On both sides I think. More needs to be done in terms of integration and the almost ghetto-esque conditions that prevail in some British cities needs to be addressed. All it does is serve to add fuel to the narrow minded right wing “us and them” mentality that prevails in certain sectors of British society. Perhaps next time these people throw race based hate around they should bear in mind that in all humans’ DNA is at least 99.5% the same.
Current findings show that the earliest humans in Britain migrated from the Balkans and ultimately the Middle East. The British Isles is a land that is made up of immigrants. Celts, Anglo Saxons, Romans, Vikings, Normans, People fleeing the Wars of Religion in Europe, India and Africa (The last two as a result of us invading countries on the other side of the world. Sound familiar?) The only thing that has changed is that people can now travel further to migrate. If people really want immigrants to "go home" then pretty much everyone in Britain needs to pack up their bags and leave as we are all descended from immigrants. Think about it.
We can be proud of Britain, and ashamed at times. We are generally a multicultural success. We have a rich and varied history and our influence on world history has been immense. Not always for good reasons mind, perhaps now is the time to consider our behaviour towards the indigenous populations in places like America, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa (Where we were the first people to use the concentration camps) to name but a few. None of these are our finest hour. We have great food and even better beer! Despite the weather our food production is among the most varied in the world. We are home to the greatest rugby team in the world (England, in case you’re wondering. There are some others in Britain but I don’t think we need to go into that here!) You can worship, or perhaps more importantly, chose not to worship whoever and whatever you like. There are not a lot of places in the world where you can say that.  Everyone can vote and go to school, what we should be ashamed of is that so many do not. The health service is free to all. You can listen to whatever music you like (unfortunately), watch (within reason) whatever you like and read whatever you want. We are hugely culturally diverse - Cheese rolling in Gloucestershire, Haggis in Scotland, the choirs in South Wales, Cockney music in London. The list is endless. Add into this food from India, music from Jamaica and all sorts of different influences from all over the world. We should be celebrating how diverse we are rather than picking on the current convenient scapegoat group based on the actions of one or two clearly sick individuals. Diversity is great. A bit of rivalry derived from it is great as well. Everyone loves the banter thrown back and forth at the six nations for example. My Granddad is Welsh and we’re always at one another, especially during rugby matches! Another reason Britain can be great, our local rivalries generally keep themselves within the sporting arena or a bit of friendly banter rather than going to war. There is a thin line between banter and joking around and racism but I think it’s mostly to do with intent and knowing when to stop. We are not perfect and there’s a lot to work on but generally it’s pretty good.

Am I proud to be British? On the whole yes. Despite the fact I’ve chosen to leave, which actually has more to do with house prices and space to live this strange self sufficient lifestyle we’ve chosen to live! As I have stated elsewhere the current cultural influences at play in Britain are also a disappointment to me. Our obsession with celebrity and the choices the media make in who they “force” upon the public as icons leave a lot to be desired. We do have an issue with patriotism and it does sadden me that the English and British flag have become the symbol of certain right wing thinking groups. I feel it’s time to take them back and, in particular the English flag, use them as they do here in France and in Wales and Scotland. As a symbol of where you are and where you’ve come from and not as a symbol you wave around when you want to disguise your racism as patriotism. I don’t like the direction we appear to be headed in but it’s not too late. There are far worse places in the world to live. There are some lessons we could learn from across the channel, and in the other direction, but that’s a discussion for another time. I’m not ready to be hounded out yet! So remember, we have some things that are great, some that are not so. On the whole I think I can sum up Britain with one phrase that to me seems typically British. We do alright, don’t we? Now put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea.

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