Dear Race Puritans
I was born and raised in England. I know of no ‘culture’ except the one I live and breath. Its seed may lie deep in the foreign wilderness of my ‘ancestors’ but its flower continues to blossom in the cold of an English winter. The food I eat is enjoyed by many Brits and the national dish I am told is chicken tikka masala. Britain is my home so much so that I am a stranger outside her borders. I feel British but then I come across you and you stir in me feelings of ‘ambivalence’ and ‘disconnectedness’.
You say “a dog born in a barn is not a horse”, such is the power of your intellectual insights thundering through your comedy. Hear me when I say this, I’m not a dog and neither was I born in a barn. My ‘white’ friends tell me to ignore you. They say your visceral outbursts are no counterweight to the country’s legal norms. They remind me of my British citizenship on account of being born in the UK. Whether this makes me a lesser Brit to your authentic peers I leave to the conscience of your undying breed of race-experts. Should I be denied a British identity for the sake of an ethnic purity that shall forever dwell in the kernel of a timeless label?
I leave this proposition to your ethnologists.
Of course ‘race’ is important to you and I concede that my natural tan puts me on the lower rung of an imagined ladder that reaches into the ‘white’ clouds of your ancestors, Hengist and Horsa. But only as a cautionary, similar flights of fantasy not too long ago resulted in the near-extermination of the Third Reich’s “non-Aryan” “Jews” for the
preservation of the “Master Race”. Of that cruelty, your triumphant forbears had resolved “never again” although for Germany’s vanquished daughters they had to suffer a little while longer.
And now we’re at the cusp of ‘Brexit’ and it seems you’ve discovered the true meaning of being British. You’ve also discovered your voice. Ever the more emboldened, you are now galvanized by the ‘leave-vote’ and want to excoriate the excesses of Britain’s liberal ills. You say the “metropolitan elite” have destroyed the country’s national character against the wishes of her indigenous patriots. These are your sentiments entirely. They are not based on facts and are the product of whims that make for great slogans and a great deal of harm. Your claims seldom pass the test of historical truth not least because they are false. And then you sing boisterously ‘Rule Britannia’, proud of your country’s imperial exploits, wrapped in the Union Jack you hold the trident in your left hand. But, for reasons beyond your intellectual wit you recoil, from the global implications of that legacy. Empires come with colonies, subject-peoples, exploitation and mutual-recrimination bound together in a system of reciprocating relations not of anyone’s choosing. The decline of empire signalled the dawn of an age where populations moved beyond their newly created ‘nation-state’ borders.
As a ‘black’ Briton once said, “We’re here because you were there!”
This ‘truth’ applies to migrants from the European Union, a project that has its direct genesis in the terrible cruelty of the twentieth century. I remind you that having killed one another in two world wars, your ‘European’ forbears admonished themselves by saying, “better to trade freely than to exchange blows and bullets and war reparations”. They pledged allegiance to a new dawn of hope and continental peace. Our ‘present’ is very much mired in that ‘past’ and only those with fickle memories are unable to grasp this one certainty, be it inconvenient or exhausted.
I suspect as some in this country are now keen to remind me that I’ll never be accepted as a true Brit. Who knows, providence may prove them right. She may even prove them wrong. But what of this belief, this notion of ‘Britishness’, this myth of racial ‘whiteness’ inextricably linked with the ‘colour’ of a person’s face? Perhaps it is more than mere pigmentation but linked to a person’s bloodline and ancestry? I concede on both counts I’ve none of that “authenticity” – thankfully – that allows your peers to stiffen their backs with their chests pumped out. It’s true that I’m not the descendant of the ancient Britons, the Picts and their cousins. But I ask weren’t they the offspring of Indo-European speaking Celts from Central and Western Asia? Perhaps the linguists have got it wrong. I am neither the linear descendant of Roman Soldiers nor their aristocrats but weren’t they settlers from ‘southern Europe’, ‘North Africa’ and ‘Western Asia’? Perhaps the historians have got it wrong. I do not claim descent from the ‘Angles’ or ‘Saxons’ and neither have I descended from the ‘Jutes’, ‘Vikings’ or ‘Normans’ but weren’t they marauding invaders from ‘Northern Europe’? Perhaps the geneticists and anthropologists have got it wrong. Of the countless refugees who came to these British shores having left their lands in mainland Europe fleeing religious pogroms I’ve no connection, but again weren’t these people foreigners? Perhaps the humanitarians and constitutional lawyers have got it wrong. I accept that I am the child of an immigrant whose courage I thank in the same legacy that bought many of your ancient and medieval forebears to Britain.
IT WAS THESE PEOPLE WHO SHAPED THE COURSE OF BRITAIN’S HISTORY.
And so I ask you, do you know your ‘origin’ so much so that you want to spite me because of mine? Perhaps, unlike our experts and liberal metropolitan elites you’ll know better!
No matter how far back you go into the chronicles of history in the attempt of tracing your ‘indigenous’ roots you cannot feign a primordial British identity – for you too are the distant offspring of migrants, perhaps less distant than you care to know. You are not ‘native’ to these Isles any more than you were born with title deeds to your piece of little England as you exited your mother’s womb exhaling ‘hail Britannia!’! I accept that in your mind you are a true patriot and I will never ask you to disown your origin-myths in as much as I don’t want to be asked every so occasion, “but where are you really from?” Perhaps this is the price of our country’s incessant obsession with ‘foreigners’. It may even be the price of a collective fallacy that reduces individuals to categories and boxes, ‘extensions’ to something else.
I am not a collective though. I don’t belong to a ‘tribe’ or an ‘imagined nation’. I’m not the informal representative of a people’s religious or ethnic traditions by virtue of some association stamped on my forehead. I am just a person with hopes, likes and aspirations like anyone else. I have a family and want the best for my children. This latter sentiment may not give me British credentials but it makes me one hundred percent ‘human’.
I ask you to accept me on humanistic terms as an ordinary person, born and raised in these British Isles in the spirit of countless others. If you’re still unwilling to accept my ‘Britishness‘ – and I’m not in need of a label – then please cast an eye on the origin of your most celebrated Brits in the hope of intellectual redemption. You don’t have to look far though. You can begin with senior members of the Royal Family and work your way to important political, business and media personalities; to the very peoples who founded your Parliament and gave you your ‘English’ language; to writers of some of your most cherished novels and scientists of the greatest calibre. Many of Britain’s largest listed companies are owned, managed and staffed by people from ‘immigrant’ backgrounds creating the very wealth you’re so keen to covert. They may be ‘white’, they may be ‘black’, or they may eschew the language of 19th century race-theories, but their distant origins are beyond the borders of these Isles. If this does not sway you from your irrational hatred of me by virtue of my ‘foreign’ roots, then I direct you to the content of my actions.
PERHAPS, IT IS MY ACTIONS THAT OFFEND YOU?
And so I ask, how have I diminished your country’s ‘worth’, ‘prestige’ and ‘global standing’? How have I made Britain less culturally authentic and how have you made it more true to itself? How have I made Britain less great and how are you redeeming that ‘primordial’ “Greatness”? How has my presence in Britain made you poorer and how have you made me richer? In fact how have you made your countrymen – the ‘authentic’ ‘indigenous’ ‘whites’ – more prosperous? In what way have you personally contributed to the accomplishments of your nation’s many undertakings and how have I, the descendant of a foreigner lessened it? You lament, “Britain is not great anymore”. You protest “they’re stealing our benefits and our council houses” but you never once ask why this is owed to you simply because your presence predates that of others. You exclaim, “But I’ve always been British… I’ve roots here unlike the ‘foreigners’ who come here for the benefits…” alas ignorant of your own incoherence when you condemn people for living off hand-outs. You speak the language of entitlement and play the politics of ‘race’, envy and suspicion, and yet you fail to ask yourself why should your wealthier peers be obliged to give you a place to live? Why should they clothe and feed you, whilst you, whose done nothing to produce and earn that wealth, spite the misfortunes of others?
If you ponder this question in earnest, you will realise that you are a walking talking contradiction! You are, in fact, living a lie. The very answers you take for granted have their precursors in a liberal humanistic tradition that goes against the very fibres of your personality. The Britons who created the welfare state sought to give human beings dignity in their lives so that they were clothed, fed and housed when they needed it most irrespective of their class or creed. The enlightened activists who fought for the poor, downtrodden and disenfranchised also fought hard to give working people rights. It is part of that same tradition that protection from discrimination for Britain’s minority communities is rationalized and put into statutory effect. Those who made this aspiration a reality also belonged to that ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ whose contributions you cheapen when you shower scorn on the “rich” and “wealthy” in some populist plea to awaken in the masses their most base instincts for political gain. And yet you are utterly illiberal in your views, beliefs and actions. Despite your protestations that you’re speaking for those ‘left behind’ you are unable to offer anything tangible, material or of substance to improve the lives of the very people you seek to manipulate. What you do offer is hate and bigotry, ‘entitlement’ and ‘status’ on the back of a history that transcends your internal clock.
You seem to not know that the hatred you espouse today was the same hatred that existed in yesteryears. It exists in many places, countries and continents. It has precursors in every society on earth as many a historian will attest, deafened by the howls of history’s hapless victims. The world from that inward-looking perspective has always been full; “just too many “Jews” or “Irish” mouths to feed…”; “…too many “Huguenots”, too many “persecuted dissidents” for our little country to house!” Its remedy did not lie in your particular brand of ‘nativism’ but in a benign tradition that demanded compassion for all human beings irrespective of background. And yet you are the antithesis of that tradition. You don’t even have the inkling to know that had you been born in any of those places, you would not be part of any ‘resistance‘ – perhaps you too would be seeking out greener pastures. Bigots exist in all countries, racists are not far behind; no one nation has a monopoly on hate-preachers, but you exemplify the very thing that denudes people of their humanity.
Which brings me to my concluding remarks; it’s okay to hate me by virtue of ‘who’ I am and ‘where’ I come from. I won’t hate you for it, for hatred is a burden too great to bear and I want to be free from its shackles. You may feel that your particular brand of hatred gives you national pride because you have demonstrated your allegiance to your ‘white’ peers, ‘blue-blooded’ ‘Queen and ‘green’ countryside but in reality you are deluded! You are mistaken and living off the achievements of others. Yes ‘your country’ is great. It is the birthplace of personalities of centuries old and new who are justly celebrated for their wonderful accomplishments and their striking humanity. And yet these achievements are in spite of you. Your society has its vices as it has its share of virtues but unlike you, it seeks to right its wrongs; it has always sought to challenge tyranny and the abuse of power. It holds itself to account before it holds others to account. This ‘nation’ is home to the first parliamentary democracy and the suffragette movement. It is home to the Magna Carta and the rule of law. Great Britain is not a miserly country as she donates billions of pounds in charity for domestic and international causes even as her people are gripped by economic fears and uncertainties – whilst you personally decry this ‘excess’. This country of yours stands up to aggressors in a world riven by cruelty and oppression even when it gets no thanks for it. It may not be a perfect political ‘Union’ as it’s surely not an equal or fair society but for the most part it is a principled and humane country, welcoming and at ease with itself, as it tries to come to terms with its fault-lines.
For those of us who look to this particular version of Britain for inspiration, we look to the future whilst you look to an imaginary past. It is this inclusive Britain I call ‘home’. It is this ‘Britain’, I hope, will continue to lead the world in human rights, democracy and liberties whilst your insular projection of Britain will be a blip in that timeline.
So, it’s okay if you want to repatriate me, I don’t need prompting. Before you finally get to the stage of forcibly repatriating ‘the likes of me’ and ‘the wrong sorts of Britons’, I promise you I’d have left for a new ‘home’ for the curiosity that took our shared forbears out of Africa still lives within us. Our shared ‘species’ is not bereft of its humanity, not yet at least, for we are still intelligent enough to understand the culture of fraternity and inter-dependence. ‘Great Britain’ for the likes of me is not merely territory; it is not even her constituent parts. For me, Britain is not just her ‘flag’ or her national songs, it is so much more; ‘Britain’ is a sacrosanct value that many hold dear to their hearts. It is an idea that epitomises the very best of the human spirit even during its darkest moments. And so there really is no reason to swear at me at a supermarket aisle or at the GP’s surgery and neither do you need to spray paint community buildings or pull off someone’s religious attire. You don’t need to kick or punch frightened women and neither do you need to teach your innocent children to hate their guiltless peers. You’ve done a sterling job of marketing your particular vision for Britain that the ‘foreigners’, ‘tourists’, ‘international students’, ‘investors’ and the ‘undesirables’ will think twice about coming to these shores and you’ll have succeeded in keeping ‘your’ Britain ‘white’, ‘monotone’ and ‘pure’.
On behalf of the lesser Britons, white, black or brown or somewhere in between; gay, straight or otherwise; of whatever gender, class or creed or none; whatever their political orientation; whether we voted to leave the European Union or remain, I implore you not to claim Great Britain’s virtues when you are steeped in all that is wrong with our modern world. No one likes a hypocrite especially a confused one, and you no more own Britain than a suicide bomber owns ‘victimhood’ whilst blowing up others. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, but the existence of “us lesser Brits” demands that I show you the absurdity of your tropes. I may even be wrong in my sentiments or thoughts but at least in Britain no one has imprisoned, maimed or killed me for my aberrations.
I’m free to speak my mind as you do.
So don’t tell me to “shut the fuck up and go home”.
I never left.
Primordial Immigrant AKA ‘the lesser Brit’.