Yesterday was St George’s Day which, while it has little official recognition, is a kind of “celebrate England Day”, in that St George is the patron saint of England.
England is in a funny position in the UK as it isn’t “Britain”, yet Britain’s rulers have been centralized here for centuries, so in a way it has become eclipsed. In folk terms “England” becomes the demon child of Britain and you still, hilariously, hear people verbally shaking their fist at “the English”. It probably goes down well with the crowd somewhere, calling upon a mythic enemy from a mythic past. It’s so much more romantic than shaking your fist at a government, at least if you find ethnic identification romantic. Because the English really don’t exist, except as people who happen to live permanently, or be born on this piece of land.
From my experience, for “English people”, there is little sense of ethnic identification (as opposed to plain local identification, where I live, where I’m from etc). It’s not that they don’t have ethnic roots, everyone has of one sort or another, but it’s not a strong issue generally, and a lot of people have mixed ancestries. Is it different for populations elsewhere in the UK? Well maybe, though I can’t be sure. What is verifiable is that not only does England contain the great majority of the UK population (84% in 2011), but it also contains the greatest numbers from ethnic minorities. So England has a concentration of both the population and the diversity of the UK. Which means that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland between them had only 16% of the population in 2011, and that population was relatively homogenous as compared to England.
The strange thing, given this, is that when “English sentiment”, or calls for “English pride” are raised at all, they are generally characterised as “racist”. Yet when the ethnically far less diverse countries of the UK express nationalistic sentiments, these are seen as quite immune to ethnic chauvinism. But as I heard one Welshman say with undisguised contempt: “the English are a mongrel people”*. Quite so. But when did ethnic purity become a virtue? Who’s the racist?
I think all parts of the UK must be heading in the same direction ultimately, and England’s greatest concentrations of both population and ethnic diversity lie within its cities, but then the fact remains, that England looks more like the probable future.
English people in general are not exactly overwhelmed at the sight of nationalism, and if they have a sense of pride in history or culture, it tends to be on the quiet side. There are exceptions, but they are small and tend to be maladjusted, and unpopular. We don’t even have our own regional parliament(s), unlike every other part of the UK.
England is just the most invaded, colonized and serially ruled part of the British Isles, probably because we are so relatively flat. People will never get England if they don’t realize that, and that England is a subsisting place, not a convenient tribal stencil to be used for or against the many people who find themselves living here. It’s a landscape overgrown with ghosts and foreign imagination.
Sorry if I’m not honouring anybodies ancestral grievances, but I really don’t care. My dad was a Serb, I know about ancestral grievances, and they are a pile of shit. His best friend was an Irish Catholic from Northern Ireland. They understood each other well, and I think quite deeply.
Sorry to burst the tribal bubble, but it’s just not there. We are an imaginary people.
Alice (as in Wonderland) should be our real patron saint. Though I do like blokes in beards dressing up.
* I don’t take the attitude to be characteristic of anyone other than this individual, but the attribution of mixed ethnicity to England is correct.