» Andrea Levy - This is my England
“I am English. Born and bred, as the saying goes … England is the only society I truly know and sometimes understand. I don’t look as the English did in the England of the 30s or before, but being English is my birthright. England is my home. An eccentric place where sometimes I love being English.
When I hear that the surge of energy needed after a good television programme is because everyone is getting up to make a cup of tea, it makes me smile. I, too, was there with my teapot after the last episode of Only Fools And Horses. I love that our national dish has become curry. And the view from London’s Waterloo Bridge just takes my breath away. I hate being English when I hear what happened to Stephen Lawrence. When every day seems like a battle against racism, and hatred, and the quiet, polite hostility that holds many black and Asian people back from fulfiling their potential. I want to belong to anywhere but this place where I am made to feel like an outsider - not welcome, definitely not welcome at all.
Saying that I’m English doesn’t mean I want to be assimilated; to take on the majority white culture to the exclusion of all other. (I cannot live without rice and peas. I now dance like a lunatic when Jamaica wins anything. And I will always make a noise when moved by emotion.) I will not take up a flag and wave it to intimidate. And being English will not stop me from fighting to live in a country free from racism and social divisiveness.
There are many white people here who are appalled that someone like me could be English. And there are many black people with similar backgrounds to mine who do not wish to be called English. But national identity is not a personal issue. It is political. It cannot be decided at the whim of the individual. Englishness must never be allowed to attach itself to ethnicity. The majority of English people are white, but some are not. If we say otherwise, it is in tacit agreement with the idea of racial purity, and we all know where that dangerous myth can lead. Let England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland be nations that are plural and inclusive.
Last year, I was in Scotland reading at the Edinburgh Festival. I was telling the audience about my great-grandfather with the flame-red hair. After the reading, a Scottish woman came up to me, held my arm and whispered, “You know, I could just tell you were Scottish.”