Why are people afraid to say ‘I am proud to be English’? - Rosie Payne

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Rosie Payne is a student at Sussex Downs College in Lewes and will be finishing her third year this summer with 4 A levels. Rosie is pursuing a degree in Ecology and Conservation, despite her keen interest in Sociology.

After a recent government decision to decline a petition signed by nearly 14,000 people for St. George’s Day to become a National Bank Holiday, I question; what is happening to patriotism?

The decision was reached despite Lord Goldsmith’s review of Citizenship published in February 2008, which recommended “considering the case for creating a national day focused on ideas about shared citizenship”. Perhaps it can be argued that a bank holiday such as this would have a negative effect on our country’s citizenship and togetherness. I suspect the government fears such a national day would exclude ethnic minorities or those who do not see themselves as English, causing a divide and increased tension between nationalities.

7.9% of the UK population is made of ethnic minorities. A relatively small proportion, but it can be argued that their presence is having a detrimental effect on English and British identities, such as a lack of pride to be English or concern about expressing patriotism.

The sociological term of ‘invisible culture’ describes how traditional English and white culture fades, such as Morris dancers, the Royal Horticultural Society, May Day celebrations, ploughing matches, and even roasts dinners. Perhaps these examples have faded for reasons far from the increase of ethnic minorities living in England, but other English traditions are threatened. The following quote was taken from the Youth Parliament online discussion board and matches the opinions of many:

“If I sing the national anthem too loudly, I may offend an ethnic minority. If I put up a Christmas tree, I am blocking the attempts of social cohesion between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

As well as restricting traditional and free behaviours such as those described, it can be argued that migrants to England also impose their norms and values on our culture, such as language – pick up any government leaflet such as those distributed about swine flu, and you can see the necessary information in foreign languages. Religion is another key example in which our traditional norms and values must be changed to suit ethnic minorities. Recent cases of non-Christian girls wanting to wear their religious jewellery and clothing to school have caused controversy, forcing school policies to change. This is an example of celebrating other cultures yet hiding our own in which English culture is suppressed to accommodate for other nationalities, ethnicities, and religions.

Although such changes have little effect on white British, the sense that their identity is being pushed aside or compromised for the benefit of immigrants can cause tension and anger, strong patriotic and often racist views are increasing. This is reflected in the recent increase in supporters of Nationalist political parties such as the BNP, UKIP, and the English Democrats. Many are awaiting the upcoming General Election to see if this trend is continuing.

The controversial film by Shane Meadows 'This is England' (see video on left), demonstrates the extremes of patriotism and the racism which can follow alongside. Although set in the 1980s when social cohesion was less common, the views can be translated to our society in which immigrants are labelled.

Interactionists such as Cooley and Mead suggest we label ethnic minorities, and more often than not, these labels are negative and inaccurate. The film by Meadows pictures an Asian man running a convenience store; an occupation often used today as a label for Asians. Similarly, the label of all Muslims as terrorists is far from valid, but Islamophobia is too becoming widespread amongst non-Muslims, especially the white British. This extreme patriotism can be seen as racist and is by no means justified. Such opinions may be spurred by the anger felt by some towards the increased number of Muslims and quite definitely, mass media portrayal of Muslims.

Despite criticisms towards inclusive nationalism welcoming immigrants along with their norms and values, and incorporating them into mainstream English society, there are positives to this multicultural society.
Post-modernists such as Bauman and Lyotard suggest this integration allows people to develop their own personal identities in which they mix fashions, norms, values, music, foods, etc, to create a hybrid identity. For example, many English people wear flip flops – an export from Australia, or the Nepalese warm winter hats. Similarly, the vast majority of English enjoy a typical Indian curry or Chinese dish, despite practicing exclusive nationalism or extreme patriotism. Post-modernists see the increase of many different nationalities as giving everyone the choice and freedom to create their own identity.

I ask you, how many of you will be supporting the English football team this summer by flying the St George’s Cross outside your house, or celebrating St. George’s Day on Friday 23rd April? Undoubtedly the argument about showing patriotism will rear its head again during the World cup season, but can you imagine that any other country in the world considers flying its own national flag as a negative?

Conclusion
It seems almost impossible to raise the issues of nationalism and pride without being accused of being racist. Surely you can enjoy multi-culturalism AND be proud to be English, surely national pride and racism are two very different behaviours? The only thing we can conclude is that England has changed dramatically over the last few decades, what it means to be English is ambiguous and whether it is ok to demonstrate your English pride remains an issue people approach with caution.

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A 'negative' image?

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The 'old' national dish

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Islamaphobia - a growing trend?

A scene from the film 'This is England'

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Hybrid fashion: Nepalese winter hat

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Wayne Rooney wears the St.George's cross with pride.