England, My England

All sorts of odd thoughts abour imperialism, multiculturalism, patriotism etc. Not very entertaining or worthwhile unless you’re a retired teacher with time on your hands.

I started to write this while listening to ‘Impi’, by Johnny Clegg and Juluka, a rousing song about the defeat of British forces by Zulu warriors. It’s stirring, passionate stuff. I suppose that very few would argue that the European armies which invaded Africa and a lot of other places had right on their side. I think however that Jonny Clegg has probably some sympathies with the British soldiers: the ‘poor bloody infantry’.

It got me thinking about all manner of things: what it means to be the descendant of imperialists; what it means to be a white man in a multicultural world; what it means to be patriotic; what it means to be English… or is it British?

In no particular order, then: multiculturalism (whatever that means) is a fact of life in my country. (Just for the sake of argument, let’s call my country England.) No amount of posturing or opposition is going to change that. I think that my children don’t really notice colour or culture. I do, because I am a late middle-aged white middle-class man; but I try to embrace it and not to let my upbringing prejudice me. Multiculturalism brings its difficulties, but also huge rewards.

So does multiculturalism mean that we- or I- can’t be patriotic? I think that we can.

When I talk about being patriotic, I mean that I have a strong feeling for the country I live in. That includes all its multicultural elements. I won’t begin to give examples, because I’m sure I’d offend somebody, or myself. (Oh, alright then. Music, art, food…. and music.) I do not mean my country, right or wrong. As Tim Stanley said in the Daily Telegraph, if you think your country is doing wrong then you have a patriotic duty to correct it. I love my country, but if I didn’t, I would try to change it or get out. (Yes, I know Dr Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel; he was talking about a particular instance, not the term in general.)

Yes, I am also very aware of my country’s imperial past. A huge amount of what was done was wrong. But it wasn’t my fault! If slavery had been happening in my lifetime and I had been aware of it I would have tried to change it. I did not support the Iraq war; to my shame I did no more than fulminate about it.

I particularly love the tolerant attitude of very many of my fellow countrypersons. Maybe they are even a majority? Most people I meet don’t give a ****** **** about colour, race, religion, or choice of dress, food or music. I realise I live in the soft South; yet Southampton has quite a high immigrant population, and I love sitting in a café and watching mixed race couples or grous of friends wander past with no comment at all. Yes, I know this is a very small piece of England/ Britain…. but this blog has to be about how I see it from my corner of the world.

So, let’s look at that list of issues that Johnny Clegg started….. I see I haven’t covered the English/ British debate. I think I’ll leave that to another time, as it seems to warrant more thought. There is also a hidden issue, that of English song, which I keep avoiding writing about. Look up Johnny Clegg- he’s no relation to Nick Clegg, as far as I know. The music is excellent; what you might call early ‘world music’. I imagine however that he might be quite scathing about my privileged first world musings.

By the way, I am finishing this blog listening to “Drone4Daevid” by various musicians.


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