Before going to America, I did not really consider myself to be British because I associated Britain with its history of slavery and colonizing other countries alongside more trivial things such as fish and chips or drinking tea. I did not feel as though I really had a place in Europe or anything in common with ‘white Britain’, although I still considered Britain to be my home because myself and my parents were born here. My mixed feeling probably arose from being in a sixth form with the majority of students being white British, and so I felt the full effect of being an ethnic minority in situations where I was the only black female in an ALevel sociology class, and having to study topics such as race where I’d have to sit through uncomfortable discussions over various statistics and theories on the subject.
However being in the states opened my eyes to the reality that I am definitely more British than I thought in my norms, morals, and values. Here are some examples of British characteristics which I think many from similar demographic backgrounds to myself can identify with:
- If you apologise for everything, like when someone bumps into YOU; or you say “sorry” at a restaurant when you have to return an incorrect order; or you apologise when someone asks you for a lighter and you don’t have one, as if it is a bad thing that you don’t smoke, then you are British
- If you go to the hairdresser or barber and they mess up your hair and you don’t rant or refuse to pay until they fix it because you don’t want to make a fuss, then you are British
- If you then say “thank you” for that bad hair cut, or “thank you” for most things in your day to day life as a general automatic response, then you are British
- If queue jumping makes you want to bitchslap someone, then you are British
- If small talk is always awkward, and you hate when some stranger starts up conversation at a bus stop when you have headphones in because you believe they should just catch the hint although you still nod and smile, then you are British
- If personal space is of the upmost importance to you, unless you are in a club or on public transport, then you are British
- If you have been on a cheap summer holiday to Spain, then you are British
- If you can’t help but roll your eyes and feel a little irritated if someone gets on your bus/train and starts talking loudly on their phone or start acting a fool about their oyster card, then you are British
- And if you suffer from road rage or your blood pressure rises when you are dealing with public transport to the point where you would push a kid out the way to catch your train, then you are British
I believe that many second and third generation ethnic minorities in Britain do not think of themselves as British, but from the country of their parents or grandparents. So I did a little bit of qualitative research (for all the social science students lol) and asked a few people from ethnic minority backgrounds about their views on their nationality and received very mixed responses.
West Indians: Most people from west Indian backgrounds considered themselves to be ‘black British’, which they identified as being separate to British culture as a whole. They viewed their culture as a diluted version of West Indian culture, but their official nationality to be strictly British because they went to school here, have a British passport etc but still eat Caribbean food, go to Caribbean churches etc
Africans: Most people from African backgrounds did not consider themselves to be British at all, simply because they believed their home life was too different from that of British culture. Many said that they felt as though they had a different persona outside the home which could not be mixed or overlapped, however, this second persona still was not really British. One of the reasons given for an aversion to being classified as British was because they thought the media does not really acknowledge many Africans as actually being British, unlike other ethnic minorities.
Europeans: The European people I asked had very mixed views which were based on their own different situations so cannot really be generalized as easily as the west Indians and Africans. But many did not view themselves as strictly British or European in their culture but a blend of the two and were quite content with their multiculture, not feeling any conflict between the two.
The term ‘British’ is evolving beyond the stereotypical culture which has been subscribed to us from the rest of the world e.g. an obsession with the royal family (although most of us probably don’t even know their last name or anything about their German origin). Due to the increasingly multicultural development of many of our major cities, being ‘British’ has become more lucid, and is probably more of a mindset rather than specific cultural standards e.g. certain foods, music, fashion etc. As one of my respondents put it, “I am a diluted Jamaican. Like Ribena and water”. Most of us have key cultural roots and an emotional connection to a former country which we express through food, slang, hair styles etc, but our values, norms, and morals are all most certainly British.
By Priscilla McGregor-Kerr @cillahope_ www.cillahope.wordpress.com