I often get accused of being unpatriotic, especially at this time of year, but I don’t care. I will sing this country’s praises where it has earned them, and I will criticise our actions and institutions if I disagree with them. I am glad to live in a country like the UK (England isn’t a country, it is a constituent state and has been for over 300 years) for the relative freedom of speech, movement and creative expression. I like how one can openly state ‘David Cameron is a C*nt’ without being thrown in prison for political dissent.
Our nation has spun literary gold with the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Tennyson, Austen, Flemming, Rowling etc. Our music scene BC (Before Cowell) defined whole generations around the globe with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Iron Maiden or a hundred other bands I could name. Even now we live in one of the most tolerant and accepting societies, where Women, ethnic minorities, and Gender and Sexual Minorities are now pretty much equal in law to everyone else (although there is always room for improvement in both law and public attitude). We look after our sick and vulnerable (or try to despite the Tories’ constant attempts to sell off the NHS), we prop up the poor and disabled so that they don’t have to suffer the types of poverty that other nations let their dispossessed fall into. This is a place where people from all over the world want to come to live and work free from persecution and poverty, and that is something to take a little pride in.
However, the people who accuse me of being ‘unpatriotic’ are, almost without exception, those to whom literature, political discourse, minority rights and human compassion are not important. To have one’s own opinion is fine, regardless of how much I might disagree with it, but there are some massive fundamental differences between my view of Britishness, and theirs. There are those who would scrap foreign aid without a second thought, regardless of the death and suffering it would cause… There are those who can’t associate brown skin, or religious headgear, with Britishness. They look at a former empire built on slavery, conquest, exploitations, war, racism and religious persecution and get nostalgic for it. Military or sporting victories mean more than any cultural or academic achievements such as the discovery of DNA, the invention of the internet, the theory of evolution by natural selection etc. That is the side of England that has adopted the St George’s flag as its badge, and I do not feel part of that ‘nation within a nation’. There doesn’t appear to be much demand for a Bisexual Transgender Liberal-Socialist Republican Hippie/Goth in that part of society anyway. Is it really any wonder, with how the English flag has been appropriated, that a lot of people feel disassociated or even uncomfortable with it? Fly it all you want, just don’t get pissy with me for not saluting it.
I am British, and I take pride in my country in a truly British way… by not making a fuss and just getting on with it. I make sure I vote, take part in political discussion, stand up for the rights of those who need it, put my litter in the bin, recycle and try damn hard not to run over stupid people who walk in front of my car without looking. Common courtesy, mutual respect and being willing to call someone on their bullshit without resorting to violence… to my mind, THAT is the British way.