What is it to be British?


A question that is becoming more and more difficult to answer.  In last week’s British The Sunday Times, an article stated there are a growing number of ethnic minorities who consider them selves to be British, not English I should stress, but British. And in no way do they see it clashing with their own culture.  I guess it makes sense that the longer each generation is rooted in a country, the more likely they will be connected to that country. 

I am second generation born (of West Indian parentage) in the UK and have to admit, that my generation did not see themselves as Brits and found it difficult to apply any title or label.   But a lot of the younger generation see themselves, without any doubt, as British.  It’s also really strange seeing and hearing some of my own people talk about ‘too many foreigners’ coming into ‘our’ country and how ‘we’ must put a stop to this!  At times, I listen to our conversations and quietly laugh to myself at how things have changed since the 70s.

You detect traces of sympathy for the Anglo-Saxon because he/she is losing their identity more and more and don’t know where they belong; the nasty little old white lady, who we all had as a neighbour once upon a time, we want to say all is forgiven especially when you now have a ‘traveller’ or an East European living next door to you.  I am shocked that we have somehow forgotten how painful and humiliating those days were, and really surprised that we don’t have much time for anyone who goes to the UK to seek a new life – just like our parents did fifty years ago.

 Integration has improved in the UK although from time to time, a Jade Goody will pop up to remind you that racism is still very much alive and kicking. But to answer the question – what is it to be British?  I wish I knew.  I haven’t got a clue but it’s good that the younger generation can come up with an immediate answer.




8 thoughts on “What is it to be British?

  1. Excellent post, my friend!! Greetings from Mexico!! 🙂

    P. S.
    Why the young generations? Anyways, the question seems to be now: how is an identity built?

  2. Hi, to you and Mexico!! Happy that you liked my post. Why the young generations – because in my experience they have a very definite view about race, to the point they feel my view, of whether or not I’m a Brit, is not something they have a problem with. They are more concerned with if they made it to the Pop idol auditions!!!

  3. Hello Plantain, I was playing basketball with a young Black man once, and after the game asked him “Where are you from?” to get to know him better since that was our first encounter. “London” he replied. “Ok” said I, “but what country are you from?” i had assumed that he meant he was born in London. he replied “I’m British” as if he was slightly irritated by my interrogative questions. At that point i questioned myself, “Would his parents say the same thing some decades ago?”

    Those are a few, but a common British identity cannot be applied to all, or can it? especially when white Brits consider you nothing more than a foreigner! Multiculturalism cannot be reconciled with a common British identity. I am sure many whites resent the idea that anyone can become British nowadays, yet are silenced by the cloak of Political Correctness!

  4. Thanks Shafi,
    Which is why I say that I don’t know what it is to be a Brit. Plse read my ‘Brief Encounters’ as this piece covers the very thing you are talking about.

  5. I know it’s naff to comment on old posts, but still. What Britishness means is something that I was thinking about myself before I came across this. Obviously this is an idealised view, but I think for a lot of people – if they ever think about it at all – being British is an extra layer, something *secondary* to belong to. You can be English, Welsh, Pakistani or Jamaican or whatever and *also* British if the British Isles are where you live, work, vote etc. That the Britishness doesn’t have to take away from whatever else you are, it’s just an umbrella of extra belonging.

  6. It’s not naff at all. I wish I had your ‘understanding’ years ago. I’ve grew up in a time when Norman Tebbit went on about the cricket test (which I knew I failed) and accepted his definition as to who had the right to call themselves British. If you read my essay/short story about meeting a woman from Essex in Johannesburg, then you realise that living as a ‘non-defined’ is something that I have accepted and find difficult to shake off. But as I say, I am happy and relieved, that the younger generation hold no shame, issues, or embarrasment, guilt in calling themselves Brits!! Thanks for taking the time.

  7. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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