A Very English Experience

Herrington Country Park, just outside Sunderland, provided a very English Sunday experience yesterday. There were ducks and geese on a serene lake, lush green grass sloping in various directions and a strange stone sculpture on the horizon, but within the park, in one direction. In the other direction you could look over and see the Penshaw Monument. There were children riding bikes with and without stabilisers, running along, being carried on shoulders or pushed in buggies. Dogs were wandering obiedently along and a cool breeze was blowing. The sky was a mix of grey and blue, threatening but never giving a shower. There was an unexplainable beauty and calm within the scene which was, as I say, quintessentially English.

However, I suspected looking at it that this very English scene was a redevelopment of the landscape and a quick trip around the internet, finding some beautiful photos along the way, confirmed. The clues were in the signposts and the layout. It was all just a little too polished. The signs pointing to the ampitheatre and so forth were all of clean wood and scene was all a little too well landscaped and lush. In some ways it was reminicent of a golf course.

Herrington Country Park and it’s neighbour the Penshaw Monument then both sum up Englishness totally, in a way more authentic buildings and landscapes don’t. The Park is something of worth and beauty which came about through the painful and difficult demise of something else, in this case the mining industry. The Penshaw monument is a piece of the past which has it’s own beauty but is of little use now beyond attracting visitors who want to take some time out of reality to visit a rather interesting bit of history. Englishness, a useful vibrant Englishness, has evolved as the culture and ethnic mix of this country has evolved. This has not always been an easy process. To get to this current state of Englishness things, perhaps worth preserving, have been lost. These things which have been lost have been those items of identity which have given worth to some who now benefit from what has emerged but still feel alienation and anomie as a result of their loss.

So it is that we witness scenes like those this weekend in Birmingham, which the BBC and others have reported upon. Looking at the coverage of this demonstration and the placards being held, aswell as listening to the chants being made, the picture emerging was one which worried me. The placards that the racist group were holding were specifically anti-Asian. One of them proclaimed “we are not racist, we are not the BNP, Black and White Unite”. The understanding of Englishness some of this group had really was slightly different one suspects to the BNP. This understanding of Englishness was one which included those from an afro-caribbean background, but sought to exclude those from an Asian background. In some ways this is a more worrying development in the political tactics used by the far right. They are seeking to appeal to wider numbers of people, including larger sections of the working class, to then scapegoat one particular ethnic group. One only needs to think back to the LA riots a few years back to see the effects of this tactic. When a white police officer beat Rodney King the victims of the riots, and the group the angry blacks turned their anger upon were the Koreans and Hispanics in their own neighbourhoods. In this way white racism was able to contain the anger within poorer neighbourhoods and set one ethnic minority against another.

Another interesting thing I noticed reading the placards shown in the report is that this group are seeking to use a campaign against the building of a mega-mosque to whip up this Islamiphobia. Yet, going back to my earlier point it would be interesting to see how many of these people with anti-Asian opinions view going to have a curry as a very “English” thing to do now. They are reaping some of the benefits of what “Englishness” truly means now without accepting the way it has evolved.

What worries me aswell is how the media have chosen to portray this demonstration. It was a racist, anti-Muslim demonstration based upon Islamaphobia. It was not just anti-fundamentalism, as some parts of the media were reporting. Part of the way racists work is by creating charactures and stereotypes based upon extremes which they then seek to apply to the whole of a particular population. In this case “Muslim bomber” was the stereotype they were seeking to use.

For a more indepth explanation of everything going on and the way the campaign against the Muslim community is unfortunately developing in this country Bartholowmew’s Notes on Religion seems like a good blog to read. The fact that the far right groups who link their violence with alligence to football are getting more media and politically savy is also worrying…a thug is always a thug however one trys to present it. Anybody who can remember the rise in racially motivated violence in the past should be worried by the way the situation in this country is developing again. Facism and racism, which are different but connected, tend to flourish when the economy is struggling. It is times like our current ones when people tend to feel most keenly the things which have been lost and fail to recognise the benefits and beauty of what Englishness has emerged into.

In addition to the blog mentioned earlier some other useful sites to look at to monitor how this situation is developing and actions anti-racists can get involved in see:
Searchlight, Unite Against Facism, UK Indy Media and for the folkies out there I note Folk Against Facism is forming. It appears the My Space site is more developed than the website at the moment.

Whilst there are several different versions of Pastor Niemoller’s quote I think it is appropriate to remember it and I will use this version posted on the Serendipity site. You may wish to consider the challange that many of us will be faced with by changing the word Catholic for Muslim and Protestant for Christian.

“In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

About tractorgirl

Hi my name is Sally Rush: I'm a Christian, a mother, a community engagement officer, a listener, a dreamer, a partner, an experienced teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister and so much more.

5 thoughts on “A Very English Experience

  1. Amen.

    We undergo similar rallies here often: and demonstrations against mosques at council meetings have been occurring far too often in my view – with success. I do not claim I am perfect, far from it, but it is sad how some sections of the media [which many people trust, sadly [sadly as they have an agenda]] do portray sterotypes or push a certain ‘popular’ view.

    Lord, have mercy.

  2. I live in Scotland. We have dogs, kids with bikes, curries and lovely views too. It disturbs me when even normal people think that “Englishness” is something special and I think ultimately plays into the hands of the BNP etc. (and I am not a ScotNat, I was born and lived my early years in England).

    Please consider using British next time?

  3. why would valuing ‘Englishness’ disturb you? I love being English, love the history and the culture. I was recently in Granchester, sitting in an Orchard full of writers and graduates on canvas deckchairs. It was a riot of Englishness. we weren’t all English though, there were Scots and Irish..all dear friends who value and celebrate each others cultures. I shall delight in soending next week in Scotland and shall enjoy the differences as much as the similarities.

    See the problem isn’t the celebration of Englishness, it’s when that is accompanied by the denigration of otherness. denial of one’s own rich heritage doesn’t bring equailty it brings blandness. The joy of humanity is our diversity. I am an Englishwoman and proud of it (I write it large across forms that ask me to declare that I am British), my heritage includes Scot and German and I love that fact too. I believe everyone should celebrate their own culture, that way we demonstrate it’s richness to the world so that others can enjoy it too.

  4. Catfood – because the things you describe are not “English” culture – I would allow you the warm beer, cricket (just) and spinsters cycling to Evensong that John Major waffled on about, but the claiming of absolutely everything that happens in England as “English” culture (with the implication that it is better) is annoying and can be disturbing. Its why lots of Scots don’t have time for the English and that upsets me more, but it becomes understandable.

  5. Agath, don’t think the thing is wanting to see English as better. Rather it’s trying to find things to have pride in. Scotland, Wales and Ireland have identifiable cultures which contain lots to be very proud of and clear identity. In England we don’t have that in the same way and so have to look harder. We also have more shame to try and get past from the way we have oppressed other nations, including Scotland. This is one reason I am not prepared to be described as British, apart from on my passport. Personally I prefer to regard myself as East Anglian and European but realising the reality of the world I live in I am happy to regard myself as English aswell.

Comments are closed.