The Quality Of Britishness

Several readers have made this point about Britishness:

I was born in the UK, in the south-east of England, and I’ve always lived here; but my perspective on Englishness or Britishness has a specific nuance that none of your correspondents so far have mentioned. It has to do with race; particularly how those, like me, who have mixed backgrounds, identify ourselves.

BRITAIN-ATTACKS-MILITARY-MURDERMy dad came to the UK from Malaysia on his own to go to boarding school in England in the early ’60s. About five years before that he and some of his family escaped from persecution in China. He later went to university in Scotland, became a doctor, met my English mother, married, took British citizenship and settled here permanently. He’s not English; he’s a Chinese man who is British, and who has lived in both Scotland and England. And I’m not English either; if you’re talking about my race, I’m half-English, but I identify as wholly and proudly British, part of a country that embraces people whose origin is African, Pakistani, Chinese … and Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English.

I’m married to a man who was born in Wales and lives in England, with one Welsh and one English parent. How is he to choose whether he’s Welsh or English? He’s lived here in England longer, but the town of birth on his passport is on the other side of the Severn, and we spend a lot of time with family who still live there. There’s a simple answer: he’s neither. He’s British.

Separation of Scotland has more than political implications. For many of us who do not have any vote in the matter, it carries profound implications about our identity, and what our nationality means.

This strikes me as a really valuable point. Britishness surpasses nationalism as a kind of supra-nationalism. It leaves space for the other; it is a rubric – largely defined as well by the Crown – that has more virtues than might immediately appear. Maybe it takes the potential end of Britain to value it all over again. Another reader notes:

Just an observation about the uniqueness of British nationalism in the European landscape.

I am unsure of another European example of a country that has for the most part successfully integrated large disparate immigrant classes, and I have always wondered how much the concept of British helps with this. Concepts like German, French, Dutch, and the like all have the same problem of tribal affiliation.  I could live in London for 25 years and never feel I am English (I know my heritage, and it isn’t English), but I would see no problem with becoming British.  By accident or design, the United Kingdom created a national class that would seem to put it in a much better position vis a vis the US/Australia/Canada in terms of the movement of immigrants and all of the benefits and drawbacks contained therein and if the Kingdom splinters, I wonder if they will lose this as well.

(Photo: A man wearing Help the Heroes tshirt looks at floral tributes left at the scene where Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion was killed outside Woolwich Barracks in London on May 24, 2013. By Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty.)