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Melting pot Britain

I have been slightly ill for the last couple of days, and I still am. And one of the consequences of feeling ill is that if you are quite old, you also feel old. And one of the symptoms of advancing age is that you start to fret about how almost all the news seems to be bad. (Well, course it is bad. That is its nature.)

But today, not all. From today’s Independent:

The vast majority of people from ethnic minorities feel British even if they were not born in this country, according to a report from the National Statistics department.

Racial attacks and recent political gains by the British National Party are leading to long-established immigrants becoming increasingly determined to assert their right to be in this country, it is claimed.

The research by the department, formerly the Office of National Statistics, is the first time that ethnic minorities have been asked how they feel about their national identity, rather than about their actual origin. It revealed that both first generation immigrants and those who were British-born had a strong sense of identity with their adopted country.

It would seem that we here all have one thing to thank the BNP for, which is that by claiming loudly that all these newcomers are not British, they have provoked them into insisting that they are.

I recall attending a meeting about five years ago, it must have been, at which we all talked about ethnic issues – issues meaning when people with different coloured skins fight with and shout at each other – and I was struck by the vehemence with which some of the least white people (both visually and sociologically, so to speak) present were most vehement about being British. Struck, and rather pleased. And it seems that my merely anecdotal research has been duplicated nationally, and has come up with the same answer. And I’m very glad.

After all, one of the nightmare futures for this country was that it would stop being one country at all, to the point where different fragments of it became identified not just with different bits of the ex-country, but with different bits of the world. Like the Balkans, in other words, where three different world religions (Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, and Islam) contend at one explosive meeting point. Was that the future my generation (the last “British” generation) had bequeathed to its descendants? Apparently not.

Of course this new Britain will be – already is – very different from the old one I grew up in, and in which my mother still lives, in the leafy suburbs of the extreme west of Surrey (the bit where Surrey, Middlesex and Berkshire meet, mostly peacefully). But since when was the deal ever that your country remained the same from one century to the next?

In many ways what this means is that Britain has become rather more like the USA, more a country of immigrants and less a country of people who can trace their ancestry back to the Norman Conquest (the Norman Conquest being the event that turned this country into an Anglo-French melting pot).

Many further questions remain unanswered by surveys like this. I wonder, how would the young son or grandson of a family recently arrived in Britain from India, say, have felt watching the brilliant production of Shakespeare’s Richard II that I watched last Monday evening on the television. And I wonder exactly what he would have made of the fact that the actor playing the Duke of Aumerle, one of the doomed Richard’s favourites, was played by a black (Afro-Caribbean) actor? (Maybe nothing at all.) Did that young man feel that this is his history he was watching, as well as mine? I don’t know, but I hope he did.

22 comments to Melting pot Britain

  • Daniel

    I hope he does to. But I know a lot of people who hope that he does not.

  • Parvati

    Well, I certainly consider myself British. And I only got here 14 years ago.

    I didn’t see that production on tv, I saw it at the Globe theatre itself. Mark Rylance was brilliant.

    It certainly felt like ‘my’ history I was watching growing up as I did in the colonies. But then I also studied 300 continous years of English history at university here.

    Unfortunately, while I have been here, I have been told many times that I could never belong. That I don’t have the right kind of blood. Or something. Or the right kind of upbringing.

    But my understanding of histories and national identities, and of British history itself lends itself to more complexity than those who deny me my place, both in the past, in the present and in the future.

    I’m no conservative by the way. From the comments of your other readers in previous thread on race (especially about early immigrants from the subcontinent etc) I would probably be judged to be some malcontent with a chip on the shoulder.

    But a malcontent with a deep understanding and appreciation of British history and literature. Milton, Marvell, Shakespeare, Herbert….it belongs in its particular historical and cultural context, and to the world. And I appreciate it doubly.

  • anon

    The Charles Copeland/Guessedworker combo will be here in 5…. 4….3….2….1…..

  • No, no, it’s only me, coming in with my hands up.

    I was pleased by the results of this survey. My impression was that until recently there was a kind of double pressure on non-white people tending to tell them they were not British. First, ever-present racism simpliciter. Second, a lot of fellow non-whites plus white Guardianistas telling them they were selling out if they expressed their British identity.

    Of course, although I said ‘until recently’ as if the trend has stopped, it hasn’t. But I do think the winds are blowing in a more inclusive direction.

  • Jacob

    It is natural for immigrants to make an effort to assimilate into their adopted country. They make a point of studying it’s history, literature, culture, customs. They usually know more about these matters than the locals, who don’t feel a special urge to study those things in depth. Immigrants usually are ambitious (or they would fail to immigrate) and blending into their new society is one of their ambitions.

    There are also exceptions to this general rule, where some immigrants might stick to their home language and customs. But this is not characteristic of immigrant’s behaviour.

  • Alan Peakall

    It is interesting to note the appearance of both the phrases ‘English history’ and ‘British history’ in Parvati’s contribution above. I was born and educated in England and my state education left me knowing substantially more about American history than Scottish history. I can thus sympathise with Scots who claim that only they, plus relatively recent migrants, qualify as British with the majority of the UK’s citizens being merely English. This was yet another argument against the wording of the nationality question in the last UK census.

  • Charles Copeland

    Good stuff there anon – and of course I have long been aware that Samizdata is part of a conspiracy whose sole rationale is to get a rise out of myself and Guessedworker …

    And now back to business as usual:

    Let’s have a closer look at that article in The Independent:

    The research […] revealed that both first generation immigrants and those who were British-born had a strong sense of identity with their adopted country.

    Now, when people are filling in questionnaires, they will often give the answer they think will put them in the best light. If I were living in Saudi Arabia, I’d probably do the same just to make the locals feel good about themselves – tell them you think those Mosques are fab buildings, you just adore their women’s fashion accessories, etc. But to determine the percentage of immigrants who really do have such a British sense of identity, it is more important to examine their behaviour rather than their words alone.

    Take for example the fatwa against Rushdie in 1989, a kind of acid test. Most Muslim immigrants to Britain and most Muslim organisations in Britain endorse the fatwa and consider it just and proper that Rushdie should be executed for his heinous crime of taking the Mickey out of Mohamed. At least only a handful of Muslim immigrants came out against it.

    Execution for blasphemy – part of an ancient British tradition, needless to say.

    On to honour killings, now becoming par for the course in Muslim immigrant families.

    Part of an ancient British tradition.

    Not to mention the burqa, polygamy, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and beating the living Jaysus out of your wife as a leisure activity.

    Part of an ancient British tradition.

    No wonder they feel at home here – because wherever Muslims go, they first bring their own ‘culture’ with them. Next they begin the work of extirpating the civilisation of their host societies. A task which does not even require much in the way of violence in these contraceptive times. Just allow the Guardianistas, Samizdatarians and co . to continue their infertile, hedonistic life-styles, and a few generations of Muslim female meat machines will do the trick without even raising a scimitar.

    Yet Brian is still so mesmerised by the melting pot myth that he cannot recognise a multiracial salad bowl even when it is staring him in the face. The idea that Britain will become a ‘proposition nation’ rather than a Kanakistan-style or Balkan-style hellhole is an illusion. But like illusionists the world over, Brian trawls through the data to find what he is looking for, not to discover what is there.

  • Jacob

    “On to honour killings, now becoming par for the course in Muslim immigrant families.”

    Could you please share with us the information about just how many honor killings happened in Britain in the last year ?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Copeland, ever determined to impose his own racial pessimism on us, argues that the survey was worthless because folk wanted to be seen “in the best light”. In other words, Charles says the respondents were liars.

    In other words, heads I win, tails you lose.

    The sheer effrontery of Copeland and those who think in this way takes the breath away.

  • Charles Copeland


    Well, err, hmm – at least one, if not two.
    Just wait until 2010, though!

    Johathan Pearce:
    I’m not saying the survey was worthless or that the respondents were lying. It’s just that you can’t judge an immigrant (or anybody else) by his cover. It’s what people actually do, not what they say, that matters. That’s my point.

  • Charles Copeland

    Brian and his fellow-Pollyannas might like to ponder over the following memorable words of Charles Moore, former Daily Telegraph editor:

    You can be British without speaking English or being Christian or being white, but nevertheless Britain is basically English speaking, Christian and white, and if one starts to think that it might become basically Urdu speaking and Muslim and brown, one gets frightened and angry. Because of our obstinate refusal to have enough babies, Western European civilisation will start to die at the point when it could have been revived with new blood. Then the hooded hordes will win, and the Koran will be taught, as Gibbon famously imagined, in the schools of Oxford.

    Islamophobia – the more, the merrier.

  • Parvati

    Alan, I specifically mentioned ‘English history’ because that is really what I did specialise in, and a lot of my favourite bits of history is before the three kingdoms could be properly addressed as a unitory state, so it really is ‘English’. I can’t claim to have as much knowledge of Scottish or Welsh history. This is something I do feel the lack of (and there was, at the time I started studying at Oxford, a big push to recognise how little Welsh and Scottish history we did indeed study. So I am aware, but I have *not yet* rectified it).

    Honour killings: it is a little odd to me to see this so particularly attached to Muslim people. I grew up a feminist because of the deeply unjust position in society of women in my culture, because of arranged marriages, because of the caste system etc. I’m not Muslim. I’m half buddhist half Christian, and I grew up in a large Hindu community.

    I also love the culture and community I grew up in, btw. I don’t want to give any other impression. With all its faults, with all its peculiarities, with all its wisdom/ I still eat with my hands at home, I am bi-lingual and I add chillis to just about anything I cook. I am unredeemably ‘foreign’ while also being ‘British’. It was once suggested to me that my wearing Saris to mayballs was inciting racial tension with my flagrant display of otherness.

    Mostly my reaction is: dude! if people are going judge my Britishness on how I look, there’s no way I’ll ever be British enough!

    My interest in how people define themselves, and with British identities leads me to react to people like Charles Copeland with interest. “How fascinating!” and take notes. I don’t really see that such attitudes say anything about me as a person, but with other people’s visions of society, and how they define themselves and others.

    I am happy in my complex heritage and identity. Sometimes, I am reminded that I am ‘nothing more than a paki’ (I got beaten up as a schoolgirl by some thugs), but that doesn’t trouble me either. I have nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Charles Copeland

    Now fully aware that Samizdata is the product of my own fevered, solipsistic mind, that Brian, Jonathan, Jacob etc. exist only as long as I think they are there, I will continue to entertain myself on this dull Friday afternoon in Luxembourg, having fulfilled my weekly quota of papersomeness for the European Commission:

    Here’s a question for you guys. Brian seems to celebrate immigration because, if the survey he refers to is to believed, British immigrants will eventually become more like the British than the British themselves, so there’s nothing much to be worried about.

    Do you think real existing welfare state Britain should welcome any foreigner who wishes to come, regardless of his culture or racial origin? Are you, in other words, for open borders? If not, where would you draw the line?

    And just to make your day, a citation from Enoch Powell as food for thought:

    To be integrated into a population means to become for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its other members. Now, at all times, where there are marked physical differences, especially of colour, integration is difficult though, over a period, not impossible. There are among the Commonwealth immigrants who have come to live here in the last 15 years many thousands whose wish and purpose is to be integrated and whose every thought and endeavour is bent in that direction. But to imagine that such a thing enters the heads of a great and growing majority of immigrants and their descendants is a ludicrous misconception, and a dangerous one.

  • ernest young

    In all honesty, the article did seem rather solipsistic. It has a sort of whistling in the wind, feeling about it, seeing the changes taking place in Britain, and hoping like mad that these changes are for the better, but at he same time having increasing doubts as to that premise.

    After all, one of the nightmare futures for this country was that it would stop being one country at all, to the point where different fragments of it became identified not just with different bits of the ex-country, but with different bits of the world

    You can almost sense the underlying panic developing, as the realisation that places like Bradford, Wembley and others, are always going to be ghettoes, and will never become ‘part of the whole’. The Bradford Muslim cleric’s strident calling for a separate Parliament, must surely give a hint of the trouble to come.

    Of course such panic will be denied, and optimism will reign supreme. We have all met the immigrant from the Indian sub-continent who tried his damnest to be more British than the British, such behaviour stemming, more from a hangover from the days of the Raj, and Indian culture, than any political machinations of the CRE. To an indigenous Englishman, this sort of patronising behaviour comes across as a gigantic ‘suck-up’, something a ‘real’ Englishman would never do. Would he?

    The old rule-of-thumb still applies – just who do you cheer for at an England, India, (or wherever), cricket match?

    In my experience, this wanting to be British is more prevalent among the better educated immigrants, such as Doctors etc., but among the ‘economic’ immigrants, the opposite seems to be true, with many not even attempting to learn English, or to adapt in any way to British habits, and these are the ones who are producing many offspring, and who are the most frequent attendees at the local mosque.

    One small point that is overlooked in Brian’s piece, as evidenced in the last para. generally, the Indians are far more racist and class conscious than even members of the BNP, so the beautiful thought that the theatre goer would not even notice that the Duke of Aumerle was played by a black actor is highly unlikely. He may not have commented, but he would certainly notice.

    For myself, I have more respect for the man who honours and respects his culture, while at the same time not trying to disrespect or denigrate my culture, which is so often the case, and the cause of a lot of raciscm from both sides. I can perhaps see a future which owes more to being a mixture, rather than a compound – for those that know the difference!. where religion plays a smaller role, and humanity a larger one.

    The CRE and the politically correct spoutings from academia, the media and Government, are far more damaging to assimilation than any utterances from the BNP could be.

    p.s. Glad I didn’t mention EP, as I see that Charles got there first.

  • One of the many reasons I don’t like the welfare state is that it gives even those people who would not normally be hostile to immigrants a motive to be hostile. They, rationally, think “we can’t afford to give all these welfare goodies to everyone who comes – and with these goodies on offer, everyone will come.”

    For that and many other reasons, I’d like the welfare state to go away. Given that it doesn’t seem about to, I don’t know the best solution. A fixed period of ten years where immigrants don’t get any welfare, perhaps? I wouldn’t be surprised if those who went through that so-called ordeal would end up generally richer and better integrated than those who didn’t.

  • Parvati

    Hmmm, I guess now I have to defend myself against being too ‘British’, sorry ‘wanting to be British’.

    I think this demonstrates exactly the dilemma immigrants and their children find themselves in. It really has not that much to do with wanting to ‘outBritish’ the British.

    I often have to ‘prove’ and ‘justify’ my citizenship, in a way that few white residents born here have to .

    My cultural background is just what it is, I do not consciously pick and choose what ideas I let enter my head, nor what inspires me. I grew up reading literature long before I arrived in this country, long before I moved here, and I didn’t leave my country of origin voluntarily. It’s because I came from a cosmopolitan and educated family (and not middle class either – my father was a poverty stricken, rural, farmer’s son).

    It appears to sting some, that I have such an interest in ‘their culture’. If I am immersed in it, it becomes a part of what influences me. If it helps it’s only in poetry that I value British literature most (with a few honourable exceptions!). It’s Proust, Mann, Stendhal, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky & Guy de Maupassant, among others that I love when I look to prose.

    Though recently, I have been reading a lot of early modern American history. My love of literature and history has no boundaries. Humanity is all of one for me. I think that being excluded from many cultural identities can be a blessing, sometimes.

  • Charles Copeland

    A very good piece of psychological insight there, Ernest. Yes, that’s it – Brian and lots of awfully nice people like himself – the kind of people who say they’re sorry when you carelessly bump into them on the street – are trying hopelessly to square the circle. Because open borders could be a good thing in a counterfactual universe – if, say, people the world over were subscribers to The Economist and approved of sodomy, fornication and family planning – they assume that such borders must be a good thing. They derive logical conclusions from a false premise, namely that of the plasticity of human nature. In the teeth of the evidence they believe in the adaptability of immigrants to the culture and values of the host society. They clutch at straws – and what is that report in The Independent other than a straw. They are, truly, whistling as night falls.

  • Charles Copeland


    You quite obviously belong to the top centile on the IQ bell curve.

    You are not representative of British immigrants, most of whom are uneducated and (probably) uneducable Muslims, whose spiritual and political leaders want to turn Britain into a Medieval theocracy.

    I can tell you that there won’t be a lot of Proust and Mann etc. in your local library once that lot take over. It’s not so much a question of whether – it’s a question of when.

  • ernest young


    You misread my comment, you do not have to justify yourself to me for being ‘too British’, that is not, and you are not, the sort of person that I was describing. The sort of person that I described is the one who tries to be ‘more British than the British’, and is quite prepared to denigrate his own origins in the process. You, on the other hand, demonstrate a love and appreciation for your background, and are to be admired for your broad-minded intellect. You put me to shame, as I know comparatively little of the history of the Indian sub-continent, pre-Raj.

    I do wish the rest of my comment had made as much impression as that paragraph, I did try rewritng it, to avoid someone donning full body armour in defence all immigrants, when in fact it applied to only a few. I felt it worthy of mention in this discussion on ‘Britishness’.

  • Guy Herbert

    Nor are Charles’s views particularly representative, methinks. (Though I think he’s wrong because he’s wrong, not because he’s in a minority: the truth is not democratic.)

    You have to go into a rather big library to find Proust and Mann these days–but it has very little to do with immigration and a great deal to do with a liberal (for a change) fashion for patronising the lower classes.

  • Verity

    Anyway, Kilroy-Silk has been gagged by the BBC until he has been fully “investigated”.

  • Parvati

    Ernest, thanks for clarifying. I’m sorry I misunderstood your point!

    I haven’t been to my local library for a while, but I did indeed read my Proust there. We were very poor when we arrived here, so I was utterly dependent on my local services for everything.

    My local librarians, and the ones at my school knew me by sight as I often went every day – they went out of their way to supply insane reading habit.

    I have no idea whether they still stock the well thumbed copies of Proust at my local library, but it does take a hell of a long time to read – I was lucky to catch any of the volumes in. That used to apply to War & Peace, Clarissa Harlowe or any of the big volumes.

    Umm, Charles, I’ve just returned from a Justin Timberlake concert so you may want to reconsider your assessment of my intellect!

    (I’m not particularly brilliant at all.

    My flatmate is a third generation child of immigrants, from a very different part of the colonies. She went to Cambridge, and surpasses me in all round talent. And the friend I went out tonight? Second generation immigrant. Went to Oxford. A very successful career woman. There are quite a few of us around. Though she doesn’t do much reading of Proust. But my flat mate is reading Mann on my recc.