Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Importance of Being English

It could be said that the first rule of being English is not to talk about being English. While other people may want to analyse their cultural characteristics, or broadcast their national identity; we prefer to be quietly confident about who we are.

But can we afford to be quiet anymore when the notion of Englishness is at risk of being hijacked by the unscrupulous to serve their dubious agenda? If we let them define ‘English’ in ethnic, religious, even jingoistic terms, such misrepresentation could take hold by default.

Instead of allowing this to continue, we should more readily assert and celebrate the Englishness that truly binds us. We must not hesitate to speak of it with pride, or dismiss attempts to taint it with prejudice.

For a start, what kind of people do we English regard as embodying the best that is within us? Looking back on our history, we admire those who curbed arbitrary rule, extended the democratic franchise, and gave us all better military and social security. While our past was not free from the shameful activities of slave traders, we side with reformists who condemned slavery and tirelessly put an end to it. Reflecting on the scars from religious hatred and conflicts, we esteem those who led the progress towards respect across diverse faiths and beliefs. And we accord the highest honour to those who defied and fought against such repugnant threats as Nazism and all its fascist allies and variants.

The heroes of England, past and present, are the ones who enhance our wellbeing – physically, intellectually, culturally. Think of the many outstanding English scientists and inventors; thoughtful critics and dedicated campaigners; the great writers, artists, and composers; outstanding stars in sports and entertainment; and above all, think of our abundance of everyday heroes, like our soldiers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, doctors, and nurses, and many others who dedicate their lives to serve our common good.

And do our heroes come from a single town, city or region? Do they all subscribe to one particular religion or none? Do they speak with one uniform accent, and have exactly the same taste in what they eat and drink, what they read and watch? Do they know all the classic allusions or every contemporary cultural reference? Are they without exception descended from one ethnic group, or arrived from a single place like Denmark or French Normandy? The answer is a resounding ‘no’ on every count, and any accurate portrayal of Englishness must reflect the rich diversity that permeates every dimension of who we are.

Of course it does not follow that ‘English’ can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. We have a shared history that underpins our sense of belonging. We have a vibrant language that, despite its propensity to evolve, serves as an anchor for our mutual understanding. We possess a distinctive blend of humour, pragmatism, and delight in inventiveness. And we have no time for bullies and oppressors.

Our flag of St George commemorates the legend of a Greek-Roman hero slaying, not some defenceless scapegoat, but a mighty dragon that was posing a threat to innocent people. That indeed is a fitting symbol of the English spirit.

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1 comment:

Woodman59 said...

Very encouraging...