My indescribably curious mind is unable to fully comprehend the statement “i’m proud to be British“. I stay clear of saying it, because it provokes a deep thoughtfulness that just exists to annoy me. I always finding myself questioning the sentiment, and then questioning my conclusion; the conclusion I always come to is that you cannot be proud to be a Nationality. And so by definition, I musn’t be proud to be English. Which begs the question, how can I be proud of our troops, the guys dying in far away lands so I can live free and in luxury? And here lies the paradox; I feel a deep sense of pride toward those guys. They are performing a task that I could never perform, and they do a damn good job. They are the lifeline of this country. And so, with that in mind, I must be proud to be English afterall, right?
So the next few paragraphs, is simply my mind trying to work this whole thing through. I apologise in advance if it doesn’t make much sense.
I always wonder what it is people mean when they say “I’m proud to be British” or “I’m proud to be American” or suggesting pride in any Nationality at all. It is much like those who insist that they are incredibly “proud to be White” or “proud to be Black“. To me, it’s never made sense. I’ve never been able to bring myself around to saying that i’m proud to be white, or proud to be British. To say “i’m proud to be British” would be like saying “i’m proud to have a nose“. It isn’t about being proud to be White, or black, or British. It’s about feeling relieved at how lucky you got to be where you are.
I think that language plays a strong role in this debate. There appears to be no middle ground. You either declare that you’re proud to be British, or you declare that you’re not proud to be British. There is no compromise. It’s language rather than intelligence. If I say i’m proud to be British, I go against my principles as a Humanist. If I say i’m not proud to be British, it suggests I dislike this country, which I don’t. So what other option do I have at my disposal?
I figure I was born in England, through luck through chance. I did not have a say in the matter. Similarly, I was born white. It was pure luck. I could have just as easily been born into a third World country and dead before my fifth birthday. I didn’t choose to be born here. I did not achieve anything to have significant pride in.
I love this country. I love the liberal values. I love that anybody is welcome. I love that we’re understanding. I love that we’re tolerant. I love that we live in relative luxury. I love the opportunities we are presented with on a daily basis. I love our foods. I love our sense of decency and friendliness. I love our TV. I love our willingness to contribute to social projects like the NHS and the education system because we’re happy to help those less fortunate. But I did not achieve any of that. I was lucky to be born here. I cannot show pride in something I haven’t achieved. I cannot show pride in luck.
I am proud of my ancestors for their struggle during Wars, including my great grandad who died during World War One. He was a kid, younger than I am now. I cannot imagine how scared he must have been. His sacrifice means I can sit here in comfort and write this now in freedom. My grandad fought in the Navy during World War II. I’m proud of him for his strength and courage. But I see this as completely different to being proud of a land mass.
Here’s where language comes into it again. Saying you’re proud TO BE British suggests you assume you’ve achieved something in your quest to be born here. It’s like me saying i’m proud to have two hands. I didn’t have a say in how many hands I have. It’s the same as somebody saying “I’m proud to be black“…. you cannot have pride in something you had no control over. You can however, be proud of the brilliant men and women of the black race (Like Dr King and Rosa Parks) who dedicated their lives so that as a black person, you are now free and equal to the white person. You can be proud of their fight. You can be proud that they stood up for what was right, you can be proud of them. I can quite happily say I’m proud of how far our ancestors have come, how much of a fight they have put up, how much they have sacrificed in order for their children to have more opportunities than they had themselves. I’m proud of our ancestors.
If you were to say “I’m proud TO BE an accountant”, you’ve achieved that level of success that has granted you the feeling of pride that you aim inwards at yourself. So by that very same logic, saying “I’m proud TO BE English” suggests you’ve achieved Englishness, which you haven’t.
I realise the statement “I’m proud of our ancestors” is somewhat contradictory to my original statement that you cannot take pride in something you did not achieve. Given that I had no say in the achievements of my ancestors, how can I be proud? Well, i’m not suggesting pride in myself, in the same way that people are when they say “i’m proud to be british“. I’m showing pride in others. You can show pride of your fellow countrymen during certain times. War perhaps. Or the fight for certain rights. The colonies were right to be proud of their fighters. They were right to be proud of people like Franklin and Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington. These people along with the other founders, freed them.
England is a mixed land. All that is actually truly ‘English‘ (in the man made sense) is the land itself. The people, are a mixture of Roman, Celt, Saxon, and Norse. Our technology owes itself to Japan, America, China, Europe and every other land of the World. Our clothes, our food, our medicines, our literature, our ideas, are all intermixed. Our history and culture, is intertwined with the history of the rest of the World. We are not a static entity free from outside influence. So by suggesting pride in being English, you must also suggest pride in the mixture of heritage that got us to where we are today. So by that logic, you cannot (as the BNP does) suggest pride in England, whilst wishing to close our borders to international trade of goods and a labour force. By doing that, you are not proud of England. You are the opposite.
People may ask “Can I be proud of my brother or sister then, given that I had no choice in them being my brother or sister?” This is much more difficult to answer. Love and pride are two different things entirely. When they’re born, you love them an incredible amount. The feeling of pride comes later on, when they achieve something. You may feel a strong sense of pride in their eagerness to learn to walk. Or their love of learning. Or their new University degree. Or how mature they have become, settling down to raise a family. Similarly, if your sibling were to murder someone, you might say “i’m not proud that he’s my brother“. This lack of pride is due to their actions rather than their relation to you. So why shouldn’t a sense of strong pride be down to their actions rather than their relation to you?
And so this brings me on to our troops. These guys, as I stated previously, I consider to be our lifeline. The reason we’re a strong nation. They are the pride of the people. And as we’ve seen, it is possible to be proud of those who fight for you, who give their lives to fight for you, without suggesting pride in your by-chance birth. You can be proud of English men without suggesting pride in being born here.
Is it possible to be proud to be English? No.
Is it possible to be proud of the achievements of those who have fought and shaped the privileged times we live in today? Yes.
Is it possible to be proud of little achievements of our friends and family? Yes.
One of my friends has summed this up perfectly, by suggesting that the word “pride” is the wrong word to use. We should say that we feel “privileged to be English“. I’d agree with that. Pride and privilege are getting confused more and more recently. I do not feel proud to be British. Similarly, I do not feel any animosity toward being British. I simply feel privileged to be British.
My head hurts. Too much thinking. Too much debating with myself.