The question of what it means to be ‘British’ is one that appears to have greatly vexed the Government. They blame a lack of ‘Britishness’ for any failings in society and have a test specifically designed to weed out those not ‘British’ enough to own a British passport. Teachers are expected to instil British values in students and it is promoted in society. But what on earth is it?
Channel 4 are currently showing an interesting documentary series about Bradford, ‘making Bradford British’. Running a Big Brother style house for a variety of residents, the makers / researchers hope to engender a greater sense of ‘Britishness’ which they believe will help to break down many of the barriers between different communities living in what they describe as the most segregated city in Britain. It’s worth a watch for an understanding of social interaction and historical racism, if nothing else.
The Guardian have published a nice selection of comments from a wide variety of residents of Britain on the same topic. Most of them embody multi-identities and don’t see this as a problem.
My favourite article is from Mark Easton on the BBC: ‘Define Britishness? it’s like painting the wind’ His highlighting of the importance, and inevitability, of change is essential to our understanding of identity. Culture does not stand still, and the mythical ‘Britishness’ that so many seem to espouse is just that, a myth - or at the very least, simple nostalgia.
What makes me British? It isn’t my love of silly traditions and ceremonies, my preference for the monarchy over a presidential system, or my defence of red post boxes and route-master buses. I am British because my parents chose for me to be born here, and I choose to continue living here. It’s a label on my passport. The rest of it is only what I want it to be.