Day 150 — Do you have to be white to be English?
Today I went to another event by the great people over at Consented. The purpose of it was to explore the question in the name of the event of course. They had a great range of speakers that included academics, editors and I don’t really know what to call Mike Pope (Co-founder of Consensted). He’s a man of many talents and someone with their head in the right place to me at least.
What I actually love about Consented’s events is the people that attend them. It’s great to hear the panelists wow me with statistics and knowledge that simply extends beyond what I know, but I really enjoy hearing them debate with the audience and most of the time, they pose questions which make the event.
Why did I go though? First and foremost, it’s really nice to be in a room with people that are like-minded. Secondly, I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis lately.
Back in July, just before my birthday, I got talking to an old friend from school on Twitter about everything.
My Dad is Jamaican, my Mum Trinidadian. Both born in those countries and came here later on. Me and my brother were born here. I grew up feeling that I was Black British but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve distanced myself from that feeling, it just doesn’t feel right. With that being said, I can’t pack up today, move to Trinidad and suddenly be accepted and live my life like I’m from there, because I’m not. My experience is London.
Ultimately I think I was looking for both closure and an understanding of why I feel like this now.
Once the event got started, speakers went straight into it with what the definitions of Englishness is, class, it’s history, Britishness, the empire, power, ownership, slavery and so on.
A lot of what they touched on was the difference between British and English. A common idea that they mentioned was that British had this idea of niceties about being proper and so on. Tea and Crumpets, that sort of thing. Whereas Englishnesses related to men in the first picture. We moved on to discuss how working class English people are often thought of as white, which in effect, erases POC from the conversation, which I personally think is true.
Then it moved on to look at times when ‘England’ is actually a thing, rather than Britain. Sport is what came to mind, mainly with men’s football, cricket and rugby. I think it was Mr Pope who highlighted Rooney, Sturridge and Sterling from the England team and asked if anybody would question their heritage or ‘Englishnesses’. Rooney was an obvious no. But Sturridge and Sterling? The latter born in Jamaica and having racist rumours and chants sung at him constantly. Pope argued that the rise of Nationalism that we’re seeing in Britain, and across Europe is linked to the financial crisis that we’ve been in since 2008. People get mad when they’re poor, brutal austerity is crushing peoples lives. They need something to hold on to and National pride (read: superiority) is something to be proud of, a reminder that they are still above someone.
A brilliant woman in the audience mentioned a Ted Talk by Taiye Selasi where she says, “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m local” which struck a chord with me. One of the speakers said a similar thing earlier on in the evening along the lines of “It’s about where you feel at home” which is so true.
Whether you’re accepted in that home is of course, a different story.
At the end of the night, the people of colour in the audience where asked to raise their hands if they felt English. Nobody did. Before that, a lady in the audience rightly mentioned the horrible history that Britain has of slavery and robbery of rich lands through the slave trade and questioned how people could feel a part of that story proudly.
To answer the question of the event, for me, no, you don’t have to be white to be English, but you don’t need to be English either, why would you want to?
So as the night ended, I think I got what I wanted out of it. I know that I’m not the only person that feels like this and got to understand why that may be. It didn’t provide any definitive answers and that’s okay, I’ll keep on thinking about it.
Thank you Consented.