Englishness gains traction


by Sunny
2nd July, 2010 at 3:19 am    

I wrote last week on why I’ve embraced my English identity. This week David Miliband (no coincidence I’m sure) has written for the New Statesman on why Labour needs to talk about Englishness.

It’s a welcome contribution, and would like to see the other candidates also talk a bit more about re-imagining national identity too. Am writing another article for the Guardian as a follow-up to explain why I think the left should also embrace Englishness.

There’s one point I wanted to clear up about the initial article: I’m not saying that you can only be English and not British. I emphatically believe in multiple identities… and have no problems with people calling themselves British and English.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blog post:: Englishness gains traction http://bit.ly/dfkApN


  2. Roger Thornhill

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blog post:: Englishness gains traction http://bit.ly/dfkApN


  3. Roger Thornhill

    Putting @sunny_hundal's personal statements aside, will this be another hijacking then bastardising by The Left? http://bit.ly/dfkApN




  1. razib — on 2nd July, 2010 at 3:26 am  

    i recently swung through england, met up with a cousin of mine. he group up around newcastle, and he identifies as geordie. he was praising multiculturalism a lot and what not, but at the end of 4 hours, much of it over beers, i pointed out that when it came to his geordie identity he was really concrete as to what it meant. when it came to being proud of being bangladeshi it was more abstract, vague, and frankly, almost nominal.

    of course he may not be typical. but it was interesting. here in the USA i am always conscious of my northern upbringing and viewpoint whenever i go to the south.

  2. boyo — on 2nd July, 2010 at 7:22 am  

    Your previous post certainly caused me contradictory thinking (a first time for everything, although maybe i should TM the phrase…?). On one hand I’ve always seen Englishness as non-racial, but equally I agreed, much more than Britishness, it was a racial identity.

    I suppose in reality it can be both. I’m a quarter English for example, but wholly English.

    I think Englishness is best defined as we define the English language: peculiarly itself while consisting of many foreign influences.

  3. Guessedworker — on 2nd July, 2010 at 10:12 am  

    The ultimate racism – to deny that a people exists, and qanyone can claim its name.

    You xan claim, Sunny, but you are not English, cannot be English and will never be English. Nor will your children. You are a foreigner in the land of the English, and you can offer no evidence that you are wanted here.

  4. Don — on 2nd July, 2010 at 11:29 am  

    A discussion on Englishness can be useful, if we can ignore the usual trolls, but thinking that we have found a definitive answer would be less so.

    A single definition would be inadequate for such a complex and changing concept.

  5. damon — on 2nd July, 2010 at 12:24 pm  

    It’s a difficult one for sure. I can’t see a multi racial group of school kids standing at a bus stop in south London and think of them as anything other than English … and British and Londoners. Of course they are English.

    But then that can be complicated by some of those same English people not being entirely comfortable in every corner of England.
    Because, perhaps they get the idea that some English people might think of them as being other than English (if they are an ethnic minority I mean).

  6. tory — on 2nd July, 2010 at 3:14 pm  

    Why would the Left want to embrace Englishness though?

    - The Labour Party now only exists as a real power because of West Lothian. The English popular vote was solidly Tory in 2005.

    - Standard-bearers like Livingstone dont give a toss about ‘Englishness’ or whatever you call it. They are much happier with celebrating the Irish racial and cultural identity etc.

    - You cant stop people like Birmingham City council calling Christmas celebrations – The Winterfest or some PC crap.

    The Left will do more of the same in view because its politically smart. Keep denying ‘Englishness’ and keep picking away at various English traditions.

  7. Kulvinder — on 2nd July, 2010 at 5:16 pm  

    - The Labour Party now only exists as a real power because of West Lothian. The English popular vote was solidly Tory in 2005.

    The tories only got 0.3% more votes than labour in england in 2005

    - Standard-bearers like Livingstone dont give a toss about ‘Englishness’ or whatever you call it. They are much happier with celebrating the Irish racial and cultural identity etc.

    I’m not really sure what Ken Livingstone’s views are on the matter, nor am i sure what exactly hes meant to be a ‘standard bearer’ for, but his identity is his own to define and ‘celebrate’

    - You cant stop people like Birmingham City council calling Christmas celebrations – The Winterfest or some PC crap.

    ‘Winterval’; and they weren’t trying to call Christmas winterval (unless you bizarrely associate winter with christmas – tell the southern hemisphere that), rather they were marketing a whole host of other religious and cultural events that happened to occur during winter.

    But then why let mere facts get in the way of a good daily mailesque outrage.

    For what its worth around that time BCC gave up on winterval and, i suppose having seen that most english people associated german things like christmas trees with christmas, invited over german stall holders to sell tat and expensive sausages to the punters – the markets take in £120million

    The Left will do more of the same in view because its politically smart. Keep denying ‘Englishness’ and keep picking away at various English traditions.

    examples?

  8. KJB — on 2nd July, 2010 at 7:56 pm  

    LMAO @ Kulvinder. You do do take-downs with style.

    I think perhaps I should start calling myself ‘Bringlish,’ as both words are to some extent problematic.

  9. Anne O'Nimmus — on 4th July, 2010 at 12:35 am  

    What is “English”? It’s not a “racial” signifier. It’s national, geographic, partially socio-cultural, and, like “British” contains within it other regional signifiers. Such as “Brummie”, “Scouser”, “Geordie”, “Yorkie”, “Cockney” and many more, which tend to signify mode of speech as well as pride in natal origin within England – despite any other personal family history! If people, such as for instance, Prince Naseem of boxing fame can “own” their regional “Yorkshireness” (clunky, sorry), why is it so difficult to claim the same – and rightfully owned – Englishness? All of which also fits in with perfect ease under Britishness.

  10. cuckoo — on 4th July, 2010 at 3:56 pm  

    “The English (from Old English: Englisc) are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early medieval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens.

    Historically, the English population are descended from several genetically similar peoples—the earlier Britons (or Brythons), the Germanic tribes that settled in the area, including Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, who founded what was to become England (from the Old English Englaland), and the later Norse and Danish Vikings and Normans”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_people

  11. Stanislaw — on 5th July, 2010 at 10:18 pm  

    I don’t see any problem with being English and being British, or why Sunny shouldn’t be considered English and British. ‘English’ is no more a questionable construct than Scottish or Welsh or Irish. it has been denigrated and even denied as an authentic ethnicity.

    And by ethnicity I mean not a racial category, but a cultural and geographic one. Someone who is born in England, speaks English, sounds English, follows English customs, and is attached to the place of their birth is quite simply English. That doesn’t prevent them from being British also or from having family and cultural ancestry from elsewhere. I don’t think this would be an issue in any other country, and I deplore the fringe attitudes that either

    a) Englishness is some pure racial category (in any case impossible and unfactual, like any other national identity)

    or

    b) Englishness is a false construct which deserves mocking because it can’t be reduced to some consistent and absolute cultural formula that is wholly distinct from every other nation in the world – because the same can be argued about any other nation.

    It is a pity that Labour, having treated Englishness like leprosy for years, is now having to get its head around what should be a fairly unremarkable if undeniable fact. It is a disgrace that there are also racists who persist in portraying Englishness as some finite racial category from which people with brown skins should be automatically excluded, and forever.

    There is actually a fairly large and comfortable gap between these two false narrativeness – of ‘pure Englishness’ and of ‘worthless Englishness.’ I have some Welsh and Polish ancestry. I am also quite simply English. England is my cradle, my culture, my home. There is no doubt or embarassment for me about that, just as there is no feeling of superiority or hostility to others, because I also manage to consider myself British, European, and simply a member of the human race. It’s not all that hard – no head-scratching, hand-wringing or chest-beating required.

  12. douglas clark — on 5th July, 2010 at 11:53 pm  

    Stanislaw,

    If you say you are English on the basis you do, there are few folk that should have an issue with it.

    As an exercise I replaced the word English with Scottish into your post @ 10:18pm and on that basis, I can only concur. It is more or less how I see myself and others, from a slightly more Northern perspective.

    I’d have thought no mature adult, nor indeed most children, would have any difficulty whatsoever with your conclusion. If you say you are English on the basis you do, there are few folk that should have an issue with it.

    It is the exceptionalism of extreme nationalism that is the nasty part.

  13. Stanislaw — on 6th July, 2010 at 9:21 am  

    Douglas,

    I think the problem is that the two opposing fringes, although quite small, thrive off each other. The ‘worthless Englishness’ and the ‘pure Englishness’ fringe have a far larger place in the media than is merited. What each have managed to do is to suggest to politicians and the media that they are the only sides off this argument, and that you are either with them or against them.

    Almost all English people I know want neither the BNP nor someone telling them they should be ashamed to be English. That boring reality is largely ignored. ‘Englishness’ is not a problem except for some white racists, a lot of politicians and journalists, and some people who hate England. Even put together they don’t amount to much, they just have loud voices.

    With all due respect to Sunny, I don’t think it should even be necessary to have articles about Englishness in the papers.

  14. bananabrain — on 6th July, 2010 at 9:25 am  

    i like stanislaw’s take on this subject very much. englishness, in my experience, is most evident in situations where it is a distinguishing factor – you can see how english i am if you put me in a group of american, or australian, or brazilian, or french jews, it becomes very obvious very fast. by the same token, it is obvious that i am english if you put me in scotland and, in fact, it is also obvious that i am a londoner if you put me in manchester. it’s just one of those things about tribalism and differences – i think englishness has a tribal feel from time to time; by the same token, two english jews in a group of americans (mixed both jewish and non-jewish) will have certain things in common – i feel, most likely, around linguistic and cultural not-specifically-jewish norms, whether satire or marmite. britishness, however, for me, feels more like a civic identity, concerned with more formal things like legal citizenship, being subject to the laws of the uk parliament, paying taxes and allegiance to the british crown (in a formal sense, that is). these are things that i have in common with a non-jewish glaswegian, but it won’t necessarily provide any sense of shared identity, if that makes any sense. the things i have in common with sunny, for example, are for the most part english things, like accent (within reason) and cultural markers of majority culture, like, for example, both knowing what marmite is and what it’s for.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  15. douglas clark — on 6th July, 2010 at 11:10 am  

    bananabrain,

    I agree that Stanislaw has come the closest yet to a civil version of Englishness.

    If you ever met me it would be pretty obvious where I come from. But it’s not the whole story, is it? Neither of us would – I hope! – retreat to cosmopolitan Jewishness or Scottish atheism respectively. For we have much in common, more than separates us, I think?

    In other words there are other ‘markers’ for identity that have knowt to do with ephemeral stuff like that. One of which might be a psychology that requires us to comment of pieces like this!

  16. douglas clark — on 6th July, 2010 at 11:12 am  

    The edit facility was good! “on pieces like this!”

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