The idea of Britishness is intrinsically linked to empire.
That red white and blue flag slowly flutters in the mid afternoon wind, currently flown all across the world, from Canada to Jamaica, to Kenya, to South Africa, to the Indian Ocean, to Australia and New Zealand. That one flag has been the fluttering proudly over government offices and military bases all across the world, yet what actually is Britishness? Nationalists will scream and cry that our culture is being destroyed and Britishness is being attacked – by anyone ranging from a mob of cultural Marxists to Muslims but allow me to put forth a theory as to what the British nationalism is.
At its height, the British Empire controlled one-third of the world’s surface. Starting from acorns of plantations in Ulster to controlling huge swathes of land on every continent, interconnected by cris-crossing islands which served as leapfrog bases for the Royal Navy. This control comes with issues – every nation swallowed up by the seemingly unbeatable British forces brought in another group of people: another tribe, religion, history, set of values and another set of very distinct culture. Even in the lands previously unoccupied (or rather those lands whose native population we replaced with colonists) after a few generations, a distinct differing nationality, differing culture, started to emerge out of these colonies. How do you keep these people supporting you? Supporting a monarch ruling 200, 500, 1000 miles away in London, whom you will never even see? How do you keep these people prepared to fight and die for that red white and blue flag fluttering in the wind?
Of course there have been hundreds of military and cultural attempts to control and subdue a population – of which there is not the time to address properly but one thing is clear and overriding of them all: Britishness.
How do you bring Irish, Indians, Canadians, New Zealanders, former slaves and Africans all under the same roof of nationalism? On the surface it is an impossible task to unite these people to fight for and support the state that murdered their forefathers and punish them with punitive taxes but we have developed this nationality for that very purpose. I don’t believe it was ever a preconceived idea which was followed through but it certainly developed over time and was used for a purpose. As have the Welsh, Scottish, Cornish and other nationalities in the so-called British Isles have been slowly chipped away with over time, it has been replaced with the British nationality. Britishness has been used as a tool to extend Englishness over lands which are traditionally hostile to the English nation.
Interestingly, non whites & immigrants are more likely too consider themselves British, with nine in ten (87%) of people with mixed heritage, 85% of Black Caribbean’s, and 80% of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis all considering themselves British, where as naturally born Whites are more likely to consider themselves their domestic country first, then British, if at all.
So, if Britishness is the colonialist’s extension of Englishness to foreign lands, then what is British nationalism other than the fervent defence of colonialism and all of its ugly effects? Shocking though this assertion might be – has a British nationalist ever apologised for the rape and pillaging of the British Empire? The way it destroyed cultures? From the burning of Cork to the horrors committed in Kenya and all the slavery in between? The rush to abandon Africa which has left most of the continent a constantly bubbling pot of genocide, war and revolutions?
No, they praise the days of the Empire and long for its return. British nationalism is not simply being proud of one’s country, but to be proud of one’s country committing atrocities.
“No flag can cover the shame of innocent people” – Howard Zinn
Gareth Shanks tweets as @GarethShanks