How do you define being English? And being ‘anti-English’?


by Sunny
20th June, 2010 at 11:09 am    

I want to follow on from the earlier thread on ‘anti-English racism’ and start with an anecdote I’ve related here a few times. Back in 2005 when I was passionately arguing against the Sikh play Behzti being shut down, because some Sikh extremists were angry, I was invited to a radio discussion. Sitting next to me were some Sikh ‘human rights group’ who said, with a straight face, that they wanted to see the playwright Gurpreet Bhatti (herself a Sikh) put on trial for ‘inciting racial ahtred against Sikhs‘. I kid you not. I laughed at them.

Of course, they didn’t get anywhere, thankfully. I’ve earlier pointed out why Sikhs and Jews in the UK, absurdly, are legally defined as a race. Briefly, it’s a legal instrument to ensure they were covered by race relations legislation while having some particular exemptions. The point is that the law is a bit of an arse and it’s terribly outdated and messy. New Labour did say they were going to streamline and simplify all this equalities legislation but I’m not sure it got anywhere.

The broader point is that the Campaign for an English Parliament are behaving exactly like how Ms Bhatti’s detractors were at the time.

Now. I am happy to call myself English. It was a term I used to shun earlier, but I’m currently writing a few articles on Englishness and why I’ve changed my mind on it. My point is that making Englishness an ‘ethnic’ identity has racial connotation – which is why many Asians in England have always been loathe to call themselves English. We always assumed that being English meant being white.

And so I see being English as a civic and political identity rather than a racial or ethnic identity. Sure, you could probably interpret the law to say being English is also a racial identity, as the CEP have undoubtedly done. The hapless and clueless police have just gone along with it.

But it’s an absurd situation because it’s actually an attack on free speech. Going around with a t-shirt saying ‘Anyone But England’ isn’t an incitement to violence or hatred against English people! Hell, I used to be in that camp! I have friends who still are. But they’re not Scots. And they don’t go around looking to beat English people up, and it’s absurd to use such examples to actually ban such t-shirts and claim they’re inciting racial hatred.

Let me tell you where this is going. This is going to a situation where people are going to start using anything they find racially or religiously offensive as a way to state that statement is ‘inciting racial hatred’. We already have enough fuckwits claiming to upholding liberty while calling for any Muslim they don’t like to being banned. We’ve had, for years, Muslim groups calling for the ban of people they didn’t like. The Sikhs followed suit. The CEP are following that same line of argument.

So I object to Englishness being a ‘racial’ identity on the grounds that it implies that it is exclusive and people have to be born into it. And I reject the premise on which these t-shirts have been banned.


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  1. Michael Harrison

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: How do you define being English? And being 'anti-English'? http://bit.ly/9VjuAz


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  1. Toque — on 20th June, 2010 at 11:38 am  

    In the CEP I think you’re going after the wrong target Sunny. The CEP and the police are just following the law, they didn’t write it.

    If you bothered to read up on the CEP you would know that they’re not making English an ethnic identity (it’s already an ethnic identity). The CEP want to make English a civic identity as well as an ethnic identity, which is why the BNP and other groups actively dislike the CEP.

    If you want to accuse people of ludicrous racism, then there are far far more legitimate targets for your frothing impotent rage.

  2. tally — on 20th June, 2010 at 11:41 am  

    New Labour and the BNP had more in common than they would admit. They both believe being English means being white.

  3. zak — on 20th June, 2010 at 11:41 am  

    I don’t think i follow Sunny..in purely technical terms being English is a distinctive ethnicity versus a more broader identity of being British?

  4. Toque — on 20th June, 2010 at 11:42 am  

    In the CEP I think you’re going after the wrong target Sunny. The CEP and the police are just following the law, they didn’t write it.

    If you bothered to read up on the CEP you would know that they’re not making English an ethnic identity (it’s already an ethnic identity). The CEP want to make English a civic identity as well as an ethnic identity, which is why the BNP and other groups actively dislike the CEP.

    If you want to accuse people of ludicrous racism, then there are far far more legitimate targets for your frothing impotent rage.

  5. boyo — on 20th June, 2010 at 12:04 pm  

    As I pointed out on the previous thread, this is a situation you and your fellow travellers have largely contributed to.

    To be honest it does sound a bit like you’re bending with the wind – what with the Tories in power and Britishness inevitably to decline (independent Scotland by 2014?) I can understand your re-positioning but I think you should probably re-examine the underlying issues and what you hope to achieve.

    “Race” has been used to police multiculturalism, remember? This is why it is perfectly consistent for anti-English sentiment to be viewed in this context, even though it is definitively wrong. It’s hilarious for someone who frequently implies critics of Islam are racists to now moan “foul” over freedom of speech.

    I suggest you take a step back and develop a consistent position before you tie yourself further in knots.

  6. Toque — on 20th June, 2010 at 12:17 pm  

    Boyo is right, the logical endpoint of multiculturalism is when majority groups start petitioning for their rights, privileges and protection, just as minority groups do. The CEP are just playing the game.

    The ethnic communalism that has been encouraged means that people demand their rights as ethnic groups rather than individuals, whether it’s Blacks, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, or the English.

    Tally is correct too, the mainstream parties (Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem) all deny the English nation legitimate political expression as a national community, so they therefore play into the hands of the BNP by reinforcing the idea that there is only one legitimate English identity – the ethnic English identity.

    Don’t blame the CEP for the system.

  7. earwicga — on 20th June, 2010 at 12:58 pm  

    Great post Sunny. Deceptively simple but thought provoking.

  8. M — on 20th June, 2010 at 1:12 pm  

    “I object to Englishness being a ‘racial’ identity on the grounds that it implies that it is exclusive and people have to be born into it”

    But surely the same applies to every ethnic group / race on the planet? Ethnic boundaries are as arbitrary as national borders – they’re flawed conceptualisations of distinct human groups.

    It’s unfair to single out the English for illegitimacy when the same question mark hang over every other ethnic group, from the Germans to the Kurds to the Koreans.

  9. Rujul — on 20th June, 2010 at 1:14 pm  

    As I said Sunny, I fully agree with you on this T-Shirt thing being utterly stupid PC mishmash.

    But I also say that your attitude to the English people is equally barmy.

    One minute you are anti-English, and then you are actually English?!

    Did you really need to work out who you really are or was it just a nice option when this moronic Marxist concept of ‘self-defining’ came into full swing you decided that you weren’t anti-English after all, but you were English!!

    I really cannot fathom why this is even an issue for a British Indian; why you would work so hard to redefine who the English people are so you can claim to be one. Maybe it’s just my age, I don’t know, but I think simply being a British Indian is source of enough pride and integration without having to try and reinvent the English people for more.

    I posted the Wiki definition of the English people in the last thread Sunny, and pointed out that the very name of these people belies their origin, and I am sorry Sunny but you can ‘self-define’ till the sky falls down but you are not and never will be English.

    You are British. Yes. You are a British Indian. You are not an Englishman.

    I ask you my simple question again: If you parents had moved to New Zealand would you have been a Maori? Or if they had moved instead to Australia would you have been an Aborigine?

    Please do answer if you can Sunny, I think it would be most constructive.

    But I do note that your objection to the English being allowed to remain as a distinct people with a historical heritage and a shared ancestry is based upon how you feel, rather then how it is:

    “So I object to Englishness being a ‘racial’ identity on the grounds that it implies that it is exclusive and people have to be born into it.”

    “Which is why I’m saying this is a ludicrously racist attempt to make being English into a whites only label..Bollocks to that.”

    You may as well object to the keeping of time and calendars because you don’t want to age. It would have just as much merit.

  10. Kulvinder — on 20th June, 2010 at 1:45 pm  

    Tally is correct too, the mainstream parties (Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem) all deny the English nation legitimate political expression as a national community

    Really, how?

  11. Robert — on 20th June, 2010 at 2:07 pm  

    Kenan Malik’s ‘From Fatwa to Jihad’ book is good on this, showing how this has ultimately become a campaign to prove who is most marginalised.

    Part of the problem is that Englishness is not so clearly defined as Scots, Welsh or Irish, because it has been the dominant culture of the Union. It is much bigger than any of the other nations, both in size and population. There is a sense in which Welshness, Scottishness and Irishness have all been defined as ‘not-English’ and the ABE world cup t-shirts you see are unsurprising.

    This clashes at perfect right angles with the issue of race relations. Here, it is ‘whiteness’ which is dominant, and everyone else is effectively defined against that majority – witness, for example, the BAME acronym which lumps together many disparate groups – “If you’re not White, you’re (politically) black.

    So in both cases you get people who are part of the dominant majority population, who find that the groups to which they belong lack the clear definitions of membership that other groups can point to.

    Defining regional identities would not even solve the problem. That way, you might get a sophisticated description of what it means to be Cornish or a Yorkshireman, but much of it would devolve to ‘not South-East’ and the problem would re-emerge in a new form.

    Personally, I think this calls for more multicuturalism, not more. by this, I mean the mindset that cultures can meet and exist within individual identities (rather than in communities). Those from ethnic minorities are, it seems to me, most adept at reconciling the competing claims on their identity. To take the case of Sri Hundal, our host here: he can be Indian, Silkh, English, British or European as the circumstances dictate. We all live within a giant Venn Diagramme of overlapping affiliations. I think T
    the intellectual contortions of the EDL/CEP are simply attempts to avoid recognising this – a game of political Twister, if you will, which becomes more and more ridiculous at every turn.

  12. Hamish — on 20th June, 2010 at 3:16 pm  

    Rujul – your antipodean analogy is flawed since Sunny is not claiming to be for example a Celt or an Irish Traveller.

    England, like Britain, New Zealand or Europe is a political institution and so it is not unreasonable for him to identify as English and for others to identify him as such.

    Cross the border to Wales or Scotland and you’ll see these Welsh and Scottish are very commonly held by ethnic minorities (much more so than English in England). There’s no reason why English can’t follow suit.

  13. Rujul — on 20th June, 2010 at 3:40 pm  

    @ Hamish

    Not at all flawed as the English people are not a nationality but an ethnicity and certainly not a pick-and-mix ‘I think I am going to be English today’ as I ‘self-identity’ baloney.

    If Sunny’s parents (or even himself) were to move to New Zealand or Australia and obtain citizenship they / he could quite rightly call themselves (Indian if they wish) New Zealanders / or Australians but they could not simply ‘self-identify’ as one of the indigenous ethnic groups and expect it to mean anything in reality.

  14. boyo — on 20th June, 2010 at 3:52 pm  

    “Cross the border to Wales or Scotland and you’ll see these Welsh and Scottish are very commonly held by ethnic minorities (much more so than English in England”

    What does that mean? England is certainly no more a creation than Scotland, Ireland or Wales. In any case, as someone else pointed out, what Sunny wants is not relevant to what is.

    It’s not all about Sunny! ;-)

  15. boyo — on 20th June, 2010 at 3:53 pm  

    Just because you’re called Hamish, doesn’t necessarily make you Scottish ;-)

  16. halima — on 20th June, 2010 at 4:02 pm  

    Interesting this topics keeps coming back again ( and again) .

    It’s helpful to separate two strands in this topic.

    1) The case for an English parliament – and the whole business of England, Scotland , Wales, Northern Ireland etc.

    2) The issue of whether English is a civic or ethnic based identity.

    Is the second issue up for debate? I must admit i always thought English was an ethnically loaded identity – which i don’t have a problem with. I don’t particularly want to be part of any exclusive definition of identity – and enjoy identifying along a British civic identity if I have to put labels down . But London is a good enough identity for me.

    Does it matter? What is at stake?

  17. boyo — on 20th June, 2010 at 4:11 pm  

    “Does it matter? What is at stake?”

    Ask Sunny.

    I’m only a quarter English, as it happens, although i regard myself as wholly so, which is why i’m somewhat ambivalent about what is or isn’t English.

    But what I think it illustrates best is the bankruptsy of “race” per se.

  18. halima — on 20th June, 2010 at 4:29 pm  

    But ‘race’ has always been bankrupt, no? It was invented to talk about difference.. didn’t it come into circulation and currency at a precise time in history? Before the invention of ‘race’ as a concept, people were perfectly happy to call themselves something or other – the main demarcation for identity being language, not ‘race’.

    People died over preserving language – it’s what’s given a lot of potency in the past to nationalist movements.

    I don’t consider myself English at all. It’s not a negative statement, just descriptive. Identities are also imagined to some extent – and if enough people want to imagine Englishness to be one thing that is fine , why not reclaim a civic identity for Englishness, but belonging comes from many things. If not being English means I was denied something, perhaps I would be a little bothered, but as it happens, being British seems to do the trick… I have a great deal of affinity with values of tolerance and openness – Britain displays this, as do many other countries, so it’s not the exclusive preserve of Britons.

    Though I am asking myself is it easy to make the leap from an ethnic to a civic identity? I was under the impression the Germans resisted this for a while, but then gave way.

  19. chairwoman — on 20th June, 2010 at 4:38 pm  

    rujul

    I agree with much that you’ve said.

    I’ve often mentioned here that as a child in the fifties I was most definitely ‘English’, during the late seventies and early eighties, I discovered that I had become ‘British’, and now I am a (just about) British Jew.

    The Victorians and Edwardians had it about right when they called those born here ‘Englishmen/women of the Hebrew persuasion’.

    Like you are proud to be a British Indian, I will be content to remain a British Jew.

    And Sunny, I hope you finalise the identity saga soon :) .

  20. Jules "Terrible Reactionary" Whackett — on 20th June, 2010 at 4:54 pm  

    Ironical ain’t it? The Left like to deny national identity, but they are the only people thinking about it seriously; but only out of fear of the Far Right, and only to defuse it (eg par excellence Billy Bragg’s sparkling interventions on the subject).

    So why are you raising this Sunny? Just to clear up a technicality? Or did you have something more strategic in mind?

  21. Rujul — on 20th June, 2010 at 6:04 pm  

    Yes, thank you Chairwoman.

    Be proud of who you are is my main idea here. Much sadness and conflict comes with confusion.

  22. Kulvinder — on 20th June, 2010 at 8:30 pm  

    And Sunny, I hope you finalise the identity saga soon

    ditto!?

    I’ve often mentioned here that as a child in the fifties I was most definitely ‘English’, during the late seventies and early eighties, I discovered that I had become ‘British’, and now I am a (just about) British Jew.

  23. I AM DUFFY — on 20th June, 2010 at 8:42 pm  

    The unspoken subtext in Sunny’s pronounced intention to become English is that an English identity has become so devalued and intrinsically worthless that anyone should be able to take it on, no questions asked.

  24. Kulvinder — on 20th June, 2010 at 8:53 pm  

    The Left like to deny national identity, but they are the only people thinking about it seriously; but only out of fear of the Far Right, and only to defuse it

    How astonishingly true.

    Post WW1 Lenin was interested in the oppression of the proletariat by the ‘petty-bourgeois national prejudices’ that at once sought to exploit the working classes within nations, but also used them as fodder for pointless bloody wars (as the great war was). But his interest wasn’t merely in national identity but a whole host of other problems; which all leads me to perhaps my fav draft ever done by lenin. Its the work that directly influenced Ho Chi Min and frankly i love it; firstly because it seeks to create a sort of ‘unified theory’ on vastly different socio-economic problems – look at diversity of problems hes trying to solve; and how relevant some still are

    Austrian experience;
    Polish-Jewish and Ukrainian experience;
    Alsace-Lorraine and Belgium;
    Ireland;
    Danish-German, Italo-French and Italo-Slav rel;
    Balkan experience;
    Eastern peoples;
    The struggle against Pan-Islamism;
    Relations in the Caucasus;
    The Bashkir and Tatar Republics;
    Kirghizia; Turkestan, its experience;
    Negroes in America;
    Colonies;
    China-Korea-Japan.

    but also because of his italicised irritation at the verbose nature of the responses he got

    in the most concise form (no mree than two or three pages )

    But yeah the left has historically sought to defuse national identity (as well as certain other forms of identity) on the premise they ultimately lead to the brutalisation of the working classes.

  25. spelling cop — on 20th June, 2010 at 8:55 pm  

    Sitting next to me were some Sikh ‘human rights group’ who said, with a straight face, that they wanted to see the playwright Gurpreet Bhatti (herself a Sikh) put on trial for ‘inciting racial ahtred against Sikhs‘. I kid you not. I laughed at them.

    And I laugh at your spelling of “hatred”.

  26. Kulvinder — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:10 pm  

    Can someone unspam my comment above (not the duplicate)

  27. Kulvinder — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:11 pm  

    The unspoken subtext in Sunny’s pronounced intention to become English is that an English identity has become so devalued and intrinsically worthless that anyone should be able to take it on, no questions asked.

    If it had ‘intrinsic value’ it would be defined and protected by statute.

  28. I AM DUFFY — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:27 pm  

    In reality – rather than the fairytale dimension that globalist and leftie one-worlders inhabit – all ethnicities have intrinsic value. Not all of them appear to be as portable though as those who assume an English one imagine that one is.

    If I (an Englishman) were to migrate to China along with my (English) spouse, would our offspring born there be entitled to claim Han ethnicity, or Fukkinese or whichever other they took a fancy to? What do you imagine might be the reaction of the locals to such claims, especially if they were to be made on large scale by incoming English people?

  29. Kulvinder — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:36 pm  

    If I (an Englishman) were to migrate to China along with my (English) spouse, would our offspring born there be entitled to claim Han ethnicity, or Fukkinese or whichever other they took a fancy to? What do you imagine might be the reaction of the locals to such claims, especially if they were to be made on large scale by incoming English people?

    Dunno ask them. Though i see you’re setting your sights high by comparing England and the UK to a totalitarian country.

    That what we need to be more like China

  30. Rumbold — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:42 pm  

    Hahaha Kulvinder.

  31. Nadia — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:43 pm  

    You know, as a kid growing up and moving around the UK one thing was always constant; I was told I wasn’t ‘English, dear. British yes…but not English.’ By some parent or other who was shocked at OHMYGOD having a kid with a brown face in her house. Or the ‘friendly’ old people I was chatting to at the bus stop.

    A few months back I was asked how I defined myself – again by an elderly couple at a bus stop! (It’s great for conversations, trust me.) When I said I first and foremost identified myself as a human being, that wasn’t enough. So I eventually said ‘British’. And got a huff in response. “Yes, it’s funny that. Always British, never English.”

    Go figure?

  32. I AM DUFFY — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:48 pm  

    China is merely one example, I could just have easily used Nigeria, Belgium or any of the dozens of other multi-ethnic states. I think you are aware of that but just being silly.

    As for asking the natives, I think you’ll find that most English people* would feel affronted to be informed that their identity is so trivially unimportant that it can be assumed by anyone from hither or thither simply on demand. As I suspect would most Han, Yoruba and Flemings.

    *The regulars at sites such as this one being an obvious and vocal exception. For such people ancestry and heritage count for nothing.

  33. Hamish — on 20th June, 2010 at 9:58 pm  

    @Rujul

    OK, if you don’t subscribe to the idea of self identification there’s not much to discuss. Just send me a link to the authoritative classification of who is what so I can be sure what to call myself.

    An migrant to NZ could call themselves Maori but 99.9% of people would not accept that – so you’re right that identification isn’t just ‘self’, it requires endorsement of others. But if a migrant to England (or their children, grandchildren etc.) call themselves English alot of people, may be most, will accept that. Not you obviously but an identity doesn’t need 100% endorsement to be meaningful.

    @boyo – sorry for rubbish sentence.Just mean that in Scotland/Wales (just as much political constructs as England) it’s very common and uncontroversial for ethnic minorities to identify as Scottish/Welsh which suggests that there’s nothing fundamental stopping the same from happening in England (although obviously history and politics differ)

    And despite having the most Scottish name possible I don’t really identify as Scottish!

  34. censoredbyFaisalGaziSpittoon — on 20th June, 2010 at 10:23 pm  

    This post was deleted by Faisal “Heresy is another word for freedom of Speech” Gazi at Spittoon

    Hopefully it will find a home here

    The Zakir Naik School of Comparitive Religion
    http://www.spittoon.org/archives/6778

    “Yeah he certainly seems like a sectarian bigot teaching intolerance of other religions with lectures like these

    Similarities between Hinduism and Islam – Dr. Zakir Naik
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5619946571510310036#

    Faisal Gazi is a government toady.”

  35. Jules Whacket — on 20th June, 2010 at 10:34 pm  

    My earlier comment, made after imbibing a quantity of English ale, looks more negative than I intended.

    To be clear, although national identity is traditionally expressed in ethnic terms, an historical feature of being English is that foreigners have chosen to be, and have been accepted as, English.

    I appreciate that that analysis sadly doesn’t really hold up any more.

    But what may be of greater interest for this discussion is that what constitutes Englishness has been largely determined by foreigners. Our view of Shakespeare has been made by Goethe and other Germans, our modern poetry is the work of the Americans Ezra Pound and T S Eliot. And so on. It takes a foreigner to sense and articulate what is valuable in the English.

    Maybe this contains the seed of a way through which our diversity can be used to “rediscover” English identity.

  36. MixMatch — on 20th June, 2010 at 11:24 pm  

    @ Sunny,

    “My point is that making Englishness an ‘ethnic’ identity has racial connotation – which is why many Asians in England have always been loathe to call themselves English. We always assumed that being English meant being white.”

    As a poster has pointed out, that is where the BNP and many multiculturalists ahve long been in agreement. While I understand why the latter might cling to that, I think most of the population has been able to see beyond that for a long time.

    “And so I see being English as a civic and political identity rather than a racial or ethnic identity.”

    Well I partly agree (certainly about the racial and ethnic point), but I also see it as being a cultural identity at least as much as a civic and political one. And race and ethnic ancestry should be no bar to that.

    If you are born in England, grew up in England, sound English etc, then so far as I a concerned that makes you simply or at least primarily English, whatever cultural modifiers you might – quite reasonably – like to add to reflect on ancestry etc.

    As for the argument that people of Indian ancestry will never be and can never be English, the same could have been argued about Flemish, Normans, Saxons, Danes etc over the centuries, and it probably was ut it now would seem absurd. And it is absurd and depressing to think that people of Indian or other non-British ancestry could not feel they were at some generational stage simply English.

    I’m of course aware that much of the resistance over the decades has come from white English people but that is surely fading. Msot people now know and understand that Englishness is not determined by skin colour. Surely you would wish that at some stage your descendants are treated as and consider themselves to be every bit as English and as much part of English culture as any other English person. English culture is no more fixed than any other culture, and it will keep growing organically while retaining certain (preferably the best) elements that have aggregated over the centuries right up till and including now. It doesn’t have to be defined once and for all anymore than any other national identity does, and it certainly doesn’t mean ‘white’.

  37. MixMatch — on 20th June, 2010 at 11:44 pm  

    As an afterthought, I see that the distinction is being made between British Indian and English, on the reasoning that the former is civic but the latter is ethnic. I understand this but it’s somethign I’ve never agreed with.

    Personally, as someone who has no problems considering themselves both English and British, and with neither taking priority, I don’t view either in terms of civic or ethnic identity. For me they are both my nationality. One is more geographically ‘zoomed in’ but ‘British’ is to me also a geographic and cultural nationality signifier as much as English is.

    There is English cultural identity and there is British cultural identity, and the two overlap just as do Scottish and Welsh cultural identity with British identity, because of our shared geopgraphic and historical identity. It’s not to deny specific differences between the component parts to note that.

    That is to say, in Sunny’s case it would, in my humble opinion, make no real sense to define himself as British-but-not-English, because British is a cultural-national signifier as much as English, and it is a geographical-national signifier as much as English, and neither is any more or less a racial one.

    If Sunny was born in England, then that makes him as British and English as myself – which is not in any way dismissing modifiers like Indian in terms of ancestry and cultural influences etc so far as is wanted. But the latter shouldn’t have to be an eternal disqualifier to ‘Englishness’ anymore than Italian or German or Polish or Hungarian or Carribean or Russian ancestry has been for many English people over the centuries.

    Ps I agree with the other posters who have pointed out that ‘Englishness’ is no trickier or more nebulous a concept than any other nationality. There’s no racially ‘pure’ nationality on earth.

  38. Rujul — on 21st June, 2010 at 12:35 am  

    @ Hamish

    Ah yes, another fad of your generation: The internet has all the answers. If it is not online its doesn’t exist.

    You don’t need an internet link my friend, you need education away from politicisation.

    You know why 99.9% of people wouldn’t accept someone arriving in New Zealand and arbitrarily calling themselves a Maori? Because it isn’t true!!!

    And extremely offensive, as well as bizarre into the bargain.

    What a crazy world we now live in.

  39. I AM DUFFY — on 21st June, 2010 at 12:48 am  

    It’s hard to decide who is being more delusional in this thread. Is it a poster like MixMatch @36 and @37 who, while ostensibly English, considers his ancestry and heritage, together with the unique identity that that confers, to be so trival and inconsequential that he is willing to allow others to ‘borrow’ it more or less on request. Or is it Sunny, who perhaps finding his own identity, as conferred by his own ancestry and heritage whether he wishes it or not, inconvenient and insufficiently trendy, wishes to discard it like an unwanted carapace and don a shiny a new one? Both seem equally oblivious to the fact that identity is not something that can be passed around and shared like a comfy old jumper. One’s identity is not a simple matter of choice like deciding to support a different football team because the present one is shite, it is the very core of what and who we are

    There seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst posters here about whether or not the English constitute an ‘authentic’ ethnicity, although that same confusion doesn’t seem to extend to others that have been mentioned. Nobody appears willing to state openly that the Maori, the Han, the Yoruba (even Punjabis) et al do not constitute real and recognisable ethnies; it’s only the English (and to a lesser extent other Europeans) that have come under the spotlight.

    I suspect that the reason why Englishness is under attack and strenuous efforts are being made to marginalise it are because English Nationalism is perceived as a threat to the ‘project’. Hence the reluctance to consider the English as a ‘legitimate’ ethnic group. But let’s look at the question through an academic prism, rather than a political one. In that sense, definitions like the following are of much value, since they have the merit of academic rigour. This one is quite widely cited; it first appeared in Ethnicity, J. Hutchinson and A.D. Smith (eds.), Oxford University Press, 1996.

    Ethnies habitually exhibit, albeit in varying degrees, six main features:

    1. a common proper name, to identify and express the ‘essence’ of the community;

    2. a myth of common ancestry, a myth rather than a fact, a myth that includes the idea of common origin in time and place…

    3. shared historical memories, or better, shared memories of a common past, including heroes, events, and their commemoration;

    4. one or more elements of common culture, which need not be specified but normally include religion, customs, or language;

    5. a link with a homeland, not necessarily its physical occupation by the ethnie, but a symbolic attachment to the ancestral land, as with diaspora peoples;

    6. a sense of solidarity on the part of at least some sections of the ethnie’s population.

    So the questions then arise: on the basis of this definition do the English qualify as an ethnie and; how well do Sunny’s qualifications for inclusion in an English ethnie match these criteria?

    The correct answers would seem to be (a) yes and (b) not well at all.

  40. MixMatch — on 21st June, 2010 at 1:26 am  

    “Is it a poster like MixMatch @36 and @37 who, while ostensibly English, considers his ancestry and heritage, together with the unique identity that that confers, to be so trival and inconsequential that he is willing to allow others to ‘borrow’ it more or less on request.”

    I don’t consider it something that can simply be ‘borrowed’. I do believe it’s something one is (primarily) born into. If you are born in England, then you are a part of the place and consequently of its history and culture. I don’t consider my country’s history to be trivial or inferior. I love England intensely, but I love it primarily simply because I am attached to it because it is where I was born. It is home.

    I am not sure how long ago my first ancestors came here – many centuries ago so far as I know, though I have no real interest in finding out exactly when – but in any case, my attachment to England goes back for its entire history as a country. There is nowhere else for me.

    I suspect that if Sunny’s great granchildren are living in England they will feel and say something similar and that for them India will be a very vague link if any at all. Which will be a quite natural state of affairs.

    What I find sad is that BNP types would still never acknowledge such people as English – when, as I pointed out, the Normans, Saxons etc were once foreigners here also – while many multiculturalists would also deny people with non-white skins the right ever to call their nationality that of the country they were born in.

    For me it is a matter of place of birth, not of ‘race’, and it is primarily a matter of culture not of politics. I don’t consider Englishness to be cheap thing. I do consider someone with ancestry from other countries born in England to be English, moreso in fact than a person of English ancestry born elsewhere.

    It’s precisely because I love my country that I do think it should be good enough for people like Sunny, born here, to think of themselves as English. It pisses me off that thick racists are largely those responsible for making some people feel they could never be treated as English and consequently that they shouldn’t even want to be English. I fail to see how it is advantageous to the cohesion of the country.

    “There seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst posters here about whether or not the English constitute an ‘authentic’ ethnicity.”

    There is no confusion for me. They constitute as much of an ethnicity as any other nation, no more and no less. Where I differ from you is that as your own citations show, ‘ethnicity’ is not the same thing as blood, it is first and foremost a matter of culture. One does not have to be white to be English. One does, generally, have to be born here or to have integrated with a strong sense of attachment. That’s all. Neither English blood nor a British passport can alone or even mainly do it.

    If you can’t accept that then with the best will in the world you will find yourself getting into absurd and frankly nasty territory of trying to decide on the ‘purity’ of people’s blood – especially bearing in mind that people have an inconvenient habit – so far as BNPers and multiculturalists are concerned – of interbreeding and rather messing up their notions of ‘ethnic’ ‘authenticity’. And a good thing too.

  41. chairwoman — on 21st June, 2010 at 9:37 am  

    kulvindar – I know who I am, thank you very much.

    The whole point of the paragraph you selected is about how my identity has been perceived and changed by society in general.

  42. MaidMarian — on 21st June, 2010 at 9:48 am  

    ‘My point is that making Englishness an ‘ethnic’ identity has racial connotation – which is why many Asians in England have always been loathe to call themselves English.’

    Probably the best argument against identity politics I have heard. English is one of the most civic identities I can think of and that is a very, very good thing. The zealots from the identity industry and the far right should leave a perfectly good civic identity well alone.

    The only thing I would add Sunny, is that like any civic identity, it needs a civil society to underpin it. Perhaps unwittingly the identity industry has undermined that civil society seeing race as more important.

    They were wrong.

  43. Jules Whacket — on 21st June, 2010 at 9:59 am  

    Can anyone on here please say what “English” or “British” means beyond the label?

    One has the slight impression of people fighting for possession of something that no longer really exists. Of course the absence of identity is felt deeply; which is one reason why it is such an issue. And its absence makes it easy for commentators to impose their own constructions on it. Thus we have the BNP with their version that is favourable to their ethnicity agenda, and we have Sunny saying that he favours a version that excludes ethnicity. Gosh, what a surprise.

    It’s a mess, and it’s probably impossibly difficult. But ‘getting it right’ is important to the happiness of everyone because ‘identity’ isn’t a social construct but it’s about what you are. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity here; I don’t think the Right are equipped to deal with this because in this area they actually carry more baggage than the Left.

    I don’t know what ‘getting it right’ means in this context, and I would love to see that properly debated, ie more than everyone just rehearsing the same tired old positions and conflicts. Some of the most intelligent voices in this country have over the last 50 years joined in the derision of all things English; it would be good to see their successors reverse that trend. But the real need is to foster the organic process of transition to a new culture.

    Unfortunately everything seems to be an obstacle to this happening.

    Hmmm. God knows. Maybe the best of a very bad job is just for the old-fashioned English like me to say, I own Englishness and will carry on being English, in a Last of the Mohicans/Confucian sort of way, while everyone else consigns him and herself to Hell.

    Modern notions of Britishness are, by the way, repellant to many English, partly because of the label-like-ease by which anyone may become that thing, citizenship ceremonies notwithstanding. We increasingly self-describe as English on forms etc.

  44. Ravi Naik — on 21st June, 2010 at 11:01 am  

    In reality – rather than the fairytale dimension that globalist and leftie one-worlders inhabit – all ethnicities have intrinsic value.

    Preserving ethnicity, which is the primary obsession of ethno-nationalists like yourself is a fairytale – it can only be artificially maintained by fascist and totalitarian regimes using draconian anti-miscegenation laws and genocide.

    There are two realities about ethnicity. First, it is the result of isolation, and second it changes over time as the result of migrations and invasions. This is why ethno-nationalism is deeply flawed, it just picks one point in time (1943, ice age) and wants to stagnate there.

    You really can’t. And that’s not the Left stopping you, it’s the weight of the whole world moving forward. You never had a chance.

    English is one of the most civic identities I can think of and that is a very, very good thing. The zealots from the identity industry and the far right should leave a perfectly good civic identity well alone.

    Totally agree – as soon as we start shunning the identity industry, the better.

  45. Jules Whackett — on 21st June, 2010 at 12:13 pm  

    The identity industry – what’s that? Oh, anyone who disagrees with your take on this.

    Many people self-describe as English for unreconstructed reasons. To them, any argument against that form of Englishness sounds like (and often is)anti-Englishness of the sort they are weary of.

    What is interesting about people from minority communities who self-describe as English as opposed to British is that that implies a real investment. It also sounds like assimilation; but if they are helpng to re-form Englishness, then it’s effectively the integrationsist’s dream of adaptation on both sides.

  46. MixMatch — on 21st June, 2010 at 12:23 pm  

    @ Jules,

    Interesting post and I’m in sympathy with much of what you say.

    “Can anyone on here please say what “English” or “British” means beyond the label?

    One has the slight impression of people fighting for possession of something that no longer really exists.”

    I don’t agree that this is true of Englishness or Britishness anymore than of ‘Frenchness’, ‘Chineseness’, ‘Italianness’,'Nigerianness’ or any other nationality. It is hard – or rather, impossible – to try and sum it up and define it without turning it into an inadequate caricature, but that is true of any national culture, and no one has any difficulty in general in instinctively identifying an aspect of culture as French, Chinese etc. I think the same holds true about Englishness and Britishness.

    “I don’t know what ‘getting it right’ means in this context, and I would love to see that properly debated, ie more than everyone just rehearsing the same tired old positions and conflicts. Some of the most intelligent voices in this country have over the last 50 years joined in the derision of all things English; it would be good to see their successors reverse that trend. But the real need is to foster the organic process of transition to a new culture.”

    I think Englishness has always changed and is always changing, as is any culture. So long as it feels organic and is gradual and not prescriptive, that feels natural and okay to most people. It’s when change feels forced, sudden and unnecessary that it gets people’s backs up.

    It is manageable, and I don’t think it really even needs a debate, because national character and culture isn’t something to be decided by committee so much as by customs that we are contented with and which we feel link us in a nurturing way with the past.It’s barely even conscious. Obviously those customs don’t have to be set in aspic and evolve gradually over time. I think in many ways Englishness hasn’t significantly changed in recent years, we’ve just had a propaganda war between multiculuturalists and BNPers who each have a vested interested in saying that it has – the latter because they want to portray England as under attack, the former because they think it should be trashed because it is an intrinsically bad thing. I have contempt for both groups.

    I think what has aggravated many people – completely unneccessarily – has been the mixture of sneering about and meddling in ‘Englishness’ by our ruling class and media in the past decade or so. I don’t remember these chinstroking or sneering ‘Yes but what is Englishness anyway, does it even exist?’ ‘debates’ before then, and the bulk of the population were secure in their identity without being Last of the Summer Wine clones or white supremacists.

    Last point – I don’t agree that ‘some of the most intelligent voices in the country’ were responsible for this, I think they were idiots playing a game of snobbish sophistry that they never would with regards to any other national culture. One could equally be asking, ‘Yes, but what is Chineseness?’ and it would be just as pointless.

  47. Tony Rogers — on 21st June, 2010 at 1:31 pm  

    “And so I see being English as a civic and political identity rather than a racial or ethnic identity.”

    Englishness as a civic construct? Before being hijacked, the latter was predicated on the former my friend. In any case, what does it matter what you see the English identity as? Why do you feel the need to “define” it?

    My ancestors were English without definition and so am I. Yet nowadays, at least for your ilk, no definition by an Englishman will suffice. It would be an easy venture to define every ethnic identity on Earth out of existence using the same methods employed by your ilk on the English. And, like the English do, they’d all see you as the patronising charlattans you are too.

    Just as I can’t simply decide to be Japanese, you can’t just whimsically decide to be English simply by creating a definition that suits you – no matter what social-engineering agenda you’re entertaining.

  48. Jules Whackett — on 21st June, 2010 at 2:20 pm  

    Thanks MixMatch.

    I agree that defining national identity is a slippery pastime. We need a better framework within which to frame the question. But I do believe that there was once a distinctive Englishness, and that it has now gone. I’m sure other western peoples could say the same thing. There are plenty of people around to take the anthropolgical view, but being an Englishman I look at this subject from the inside.

    One man’s intelligent debunker is another’s snobbish sophist. But all the same, writers like Raymond Williams, E P Thompson, Perry Anderson, Anthony Sampson etc put a hell of a lot of effort into demolishing England.

    Having said that, I think that consumerism, transatlanticism and the global corporations probably have more to answer for.

    But we are where we are.

  49. Kismet Hardy — on 21st June, 2010 at 3:35 pm  

    Identity. There’d be about 100,000 struggling authors every year who’d have to change their dreams without it…

  50. Kulvinder — on 21st June, 2010 at 6:27 pm  

    The whole point of the paragraph you selected is about how my identity has been perceived and changed by society in general.

    I wasn’t disputing that; i was pointing out that your identity evolved, and comparably, so did Sunny’s. As such asking someone else to ‘finalise the identity saga’ was (perhaps inadvertently) flippant.

    Identity. There’d be about 100,000 struggling authors every year who’d have to change their dreams without it…

    qft

  51. douglas clark — on 22nd June, 2010 at 6:19 am  

    I’d like to pick up on the comments here, as well as the opinion piece.

    If I may?

    Sunny says:

    But they’re not Scots.

    Well, yes we are!

    _______________________________

    Sunny, you really ought to get over that Westminster Bridge and see what the rest of the country is like!

    I have:

    got slandered, Libeled,

    I hear words I never heard in the bible

    and I’m one step ahead of the shoeshine

    Two steps away from the county line

    Just trying to keep my customers satisfied, satisfied….

    Seems to me that you have flipped 180 degrees on what you used to think.

    It seems to me that there are folk on your side, my side really, and it has fuck all to do with any of your ideas. We will be there, whatever you think…

    You attempt to explain something that doesn’t require explaining.

    ———————————

    There are folk that think we have a common purpose, and there are folk that think we don’t.

    I know where I stand, and I thought I knew where you stood.

    Anyway, if you’ve any sense, 50p on Argentina might win you a bob or two!

    Sunny. You could argue a case far better than that!

  52. douglas clark — on 22nd June, 2010 at 8:20 am  

    Kismet @ 49,

    Identity. There’d be about 100,000 struggling authors every year who’d have to change their dreams without it…

    Indeed.

    I suspect if you think about it a lot – as Sunny appears to do – it defines you, not the other way around. Which is where he is going wrong, in my honest opinion. I love the guy, but the idea that there is some right or wrong in definintions of racial identity seems to me to be just, well, fraught.

    It is using the language of the opposition, and that can never be right.

    As far as I’m concerned we’re all Jock Thomsons’s Bairns:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jock_Tamson%27s_Bairns

    I doubt, correct me if I am wrong, that you would see it any different?

  53. douglas clark — on 22nd June, 2010 at 8:53 am  

    Sunny, I am trying to save you from yourself.

    There is nothing worth measuring – really – in national identity. National identity is a waste of time.

    There is nothing worth getting upset about about religion, either.

    I thought you knew that 101?

  54. douglas clark — on 22nd June, 2010 at 10:05 am  

    You can all pretend to be thurled to some sort of racial identity.

    I don’t think so.

    Race, and nationality too, are a moveable feast.

    I don’t think race matters, nor do I think it is real.

    Which, obviously, is to argue against any idea of Englishness, or, to turn it on myself, Scottishness.

    It appears that Sunny is desperate for an identity, whereas I couldn’t care less.

    You are what you are, seems to me…..

  55. wow wee — on 22nd June, 2010 at 9:15 pm  

    Wtf?!!!

    Clark started drinking earlier then usual before posting today, or maybe he never stopped from last night!!!!

  56. douglas clark — on 26th June, 2010 at 6:07 am  

    wow wee,

    The whole point of this thread is to pretend that to identify yourself you have to define yourself. I reject that out of hand. It seems to me to be a social construct aimed at conformity.

    No-one is under an obligation to define themselves to suit others….

    ——————————

    The somewhat desperate attempts to find a supra political or social group to belong to are actually pretty pathetic. I am a Scottish Nationalist, and as far as I’m concerned that is a political decision, it has sweet FA to do with ethnicity or even nationality really. It is based on genuine concerns about the dichotomy of the UK state.

    We might as well be arguing about other major, and possibly more real, social divisions, such as sexuality or religion. For some folk these are the major defining idenities in their lives. These are the issues that exercise them. You can, it seems to me, choose to define your nationality. To an extent your freedom of choice relating to religion and sexuality are more circumscribed.

    My point is merely that nationality is a question without merit….

    I don’t see why folk get so hung up about it.

  57. douglas clark — on 26th June, 2010 at 11:12 pm  

    wow wee,

    It just seems to me that you are!

    Is that such a bad thing?

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