Unabashed Heterophobe (paulnolan) wrote in ontd_political,
Unabashed Heterophobe

From now on I'm English, not British

In letting our perceptions of English identity be defined by the far-right, ethnic minorities miss out on shaping what it means

The first time I encountered a white fascist – on an internet messageboard I used to run – I pointed out that I was born in London and had every right to be in the country. He replied: "Just because a dog is born in a stable doesn't make it a horse."

In a bizarre way I've become fond of that insult over the last 10 years, for reasons that will soon become clear. Bear with my personal stuff, if you can, it's somewhat necessary.

It's rare that our sense of identity remains static. Mine is a constantly mutating body of ideas.

For as long as I can remember I've called myself a British Asian. Before that, questions of identity didn't come up much. It started at university, because I was suddenly exposed to a range of cultures and ideas that made me question how I saw myself.

At the same time, an unprecedented explosion of British Asian culture was taking place, enveloping me and my friends. Bhangra music gigs multiplied across the UK until they were dime a dozen every night of the week; Bollywood film screenings sprang up everywhere; Asian students started celebrating religious and cultural festivals like Diwali, Eid and Vaisakhi and dressing in elaborate Indian suits.

We were the first Asian generation born and bred in the UK and, once we got to university, we were no longer afraid to express our Asian side.

"British Asian" was a neat term because it was secular and it was vague on the ethnic side (I refused to call myself British Indian because I felt a sense of cultural solidarity with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis). It was also vague on the "British" side because no one could really define what that meant. It signalled a fusion of two cultures – which is how most of us lived our lives.

There is one question, however, that I was always uneasy on: national identity.

For me, British identity had connotations of far-right nationalism. So, while I was happy calling myself British, I still felt uncomfortable being nationalistic about it.

Englishness was even worse. My perception, and that of many of my peers, was that being English was about being white. We would never be welcome in that club and so we stuck to "British".

But I think it's time to embrace the idea of Englishness. And from now on, I am an Englishman.

Why the change, you may ask.

Partly, the National Front activist convinced me. I told him that I would call myself British whether he liked it or not. More recently I started thinking: why not take it further? Why not also try and reclaim the idea of being Englishness?

I realised that I, along with many of peers (of all colours), had let our perceptions of identity be defined by the far-right. I've come to reject that approach. I choose to be English, whether racists like it or not.

Second, the idea of Englishness is becoming stronger in popular culture. Football leads the way, and it's a useful vehicle because it is an inclusive, multiracial sport. We can unite around the view that the England team are a huge disappointment at the World Cup and not have to get all political about it.

The danger for ethnic minorities is that we become out of kilter with public opinion by associating this increasing Englishness as far-right racism than simply an expression of nationalism.

People fly the English flag because they want to express their love for their country. They're comfortable with a multiracial Britain. They're proud of Andy Cole, Mark Ramprakash, Natasha Danvers, Amir Khan, Kelly Holmes and many more.

The meaning of Englishness has changed and we have to accept that. By not joining in with attempts to shape what it means, we leave that space to the far-right.

My last reason was simply pragmatic. I quite like this country. I probably couldn't live out in the countryside (too slow for me) but I love London. I don't like any other place as much. I'm not going to get all US-style jingoistic about it, but if people criticise it I inevitably get defensive. Which makes England my home. Which makes me English.

Source: Sunny Hundal @ The Guardian
Tags: opinion piece, race / racism, uk

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