On Britishness

On being faced with the question: Could these British values of tolerance be the thing that costs us our Britishness?

Britishness? Britishness? It’s just a political construct! A name! The people of these islands have changed, and will change, day-after-day until the end of time. I was born and bred in this country but I’m a quarter-Latvian which means I’m not pure-bred British and so ought I to lop off an arm & ship it back to the Baltic? I’m probably more anti-Britain than most of the Muslims who get abused on a daily basis in this bloody wonderful country but because I’m white nothing will ever be said to me.

What is it to be “British”? Reading the endless drivel about the Woolwich attack made me think just that. Calling paid killers heroes? Knifing someone who looks like a Muslim? Attacking a mosque? Too extreme? Maybe just venting your spleen about ‘them’ on social networking sites like being ‘British’ makes you automatically morally superior to every people in the world by default.

Being ‘British’ means nothing. I’m not British, I’m not European, I’m just a person. An accident of fate means that I was born in Britain, and I’ll concede I was lucky enough that that’s the case. But I’m not lucky to be ‘British’ because Britain is somehow better than other countries, or that ‘Britishness’ is superior to any other -ness, but because 500 years ago the people of these isles decided to act despicably towards the rest of the world before the rest of the world had a chance to fight back. That meant I had food, water, an education, clothing & a roof over my head – all paid for by centuries of plundering the world. I’d rather have it than not, but Britain (and therefore me as one of its subjects) is in no position to take any kind of moral high ground, and if being ‘British’ means I have to look down on the rest of the world and pretend I’m someone special because I’ve got a light-coloured face and was brought up with a cross being rammed down my throat rather than a crescent I’ll pass thank you.

‘Britishness’ is about as concrete a notion as the sea. It’s been changing for thousands of years and it’ll keep changing forever, although it’s only been ‘Britishness’ since 1707 because that’s how long Great Britain has existed. Before that it was ‘Englishness’, and before that ‘Anglo-Saxoness’ and before that… We can’t lose something that isn’t fixed, but we can keep hold of the fact that we’re all humans and that most of us basically want the same things in life.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, I’ve been sucked into the ‘debate’ when I promised myself I wouldn’t. All I really think, because I’m a yoghurt-weaving woolly-minded hippy is that the labels of ‘British’, ‘Christian’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Nigerian’, Conservative’, ‘Cambridge United Supporter’ are just labels we give ourselves because we want to belong, but in the end we’re all simultaneously individuals and one part of the human collective. Maybe if we all started treating the Woolwich killers as two people who did a terrible thing rather than ‘Muslims’ and the victim as a man who was walking home rather than a ‘British soldier/hero’ we might not give other people reason to do this kind of thing again, because you can’t have reprisals against everyone? Give people a label though and you make them a target. Maybe if we were all just a bit nicer to people regardless of where they were born or live, or the colour of their skin, or the version of god they worship there might be less of this kind of thing in the world? Maybe if we stopped judging people from a position of self-imposed superiority? Maybe if we were all just a bit kinder to one another?

If we really were a tolerant nation these terrible things wouldn’t happen. I think they do because we’re only really tolerant when it suits us.

That’s me done, I shall leave with this wonderful cartoon and go back to avoiding the news and trying to be nice to people as much as possible.

britishness

 

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