Diversity is the Heart of Britishness

One of the least pleasant aspects of Boris Johnson’s recent rant was his comment that young people in Britain today have “split loyalties” because they wear or fly the European flag.

This insinuation, that having a European dimension to your identity is somehow unacceptable, or even a threat, is dangerous. Next step is to brand them as un-British. Enemies of the people.

Such tactics are not new. The Nazis claimed Jews were not proper Germans. The EDL claim Muslims can’t be proper Brits. Some Pakistanis say Christians aren’t fully Pakistani. And so on – usually leading to violence, most recently with the Burmese treatment of the Rohingya.

We British should be perfectly at ease with the idea of having more than one layer of identity. Like many English people, I support England in football, Britain in the Olympics and Europe in the Ryder Cup. This is not contradictory, it is simply illustrative of different dimensions of identity. You could add your local football team and your county cricket team. Or to move away from geography, you may have a particular religion as part of your identity. Or gender. Or sexuality. A recent piece by Ian Dunt explores this more detail.

Identity is pluralistic, not uniform. Different dimensions will be important to different people. Some layers may not be considered important at all by individuals. Others will. All of us will be different. To demonise people who feel that Europe is part of their identity, reflecting centuries of cultural, political, commercial, musical, sporting and other interaction across our continent, is both pathetic and dangerous.

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5 Comments

  1. I missed Johnson’s comment and am offended by it now. Thanks for bringing it to attention, and for presenting a clear vision of the variety of identities that we can hold with pride, and without exclusivity. I remain a European as well as an English Morris Dancer etc – I do hope that the Party sides with the Lib Dems on this i.e. that there is a call for a second referendum – and that in the meantime we present all the positives of international and interpersonal cooperation.

  2. Johnson’s linkage of nationalistic tribalism to authentic patriotism will not impress a generation whose compound identity simply matches the interconnected world it inhabits. That vivid blue face paint is a defiant gesture of European solidarity and the power of its message makes Johnson queasy. He realises our young are immune to the siren cry of xenophobic jingoism – the Brexiteers’ biggest weapon.

    My own daughter’s experience is enlightening. Without really trying, she has met and made friends with people from France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Nepal, Hong Kong and Japan. Social media and rare meetings maintain the friendships. She values the cultural differences, attempts the different languages and would never think being British makes her superior. She has far too much emotional intelligence to take that position. But Johnson? Apparently not.

    If the Foreign Secretary is planning to win over the younger masses to his vision of drawbridge Britain – where other cultures are inferior and foreigners are less than welcome – he’d better prepare for a long, hard and futile battle.

  3. I have just finished reading Stefan Zweig’s memoir, The World of Yesterday. His subtitle was Memoirs of a European and the book is in part a lament for the loss , caused by the terrible history of the 20th century, of regarding oneself as European rather than a narrow nationalist ; and being able to travel freely throughout the continent without a passport. He was speaking mainly of continental Europeans as opposed to the Uk but many of us have learned to feel as he did. Hence our dismay about Brexit. Reading Zweig one is forcibly struck by how much Freedom of Movement means to the EU and most of its citizens.

  4. I consider myself as English(born on Ilkley moor) but I welcome everyone under the sun , the youth of today recognize the value of foreign travel and meeting different cultures and nationality. I’ve lived in Europe, Africa and the far east for my work ,Its been amazing meeting so many people of all spectrums and wealth, it’s true that travel broadens your horizons. I am gutted we are having this stupid brexit when it’s the young that will suffer in the long run ,along with the country of course.

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