British Identities

I wrote in an earlier blog that I didn’t understand how people hadn’t established their national identities in the same way as I had. I think I now get it. National Identity isn’t a fixed thing, it’s fluid.

I define my national identity like this: Welsh, British, European, World Citizen in that order with being Welsh as the prime identity. I felt I had this identity because I grew up in Wales, and thus have an identification with Great Britain & Ireland as it’s nearby and influential, then European, then the rest of the world. This reasoning is based on where my cultural influences stem from.

However this is not the only way of defining nationality. An alternative view  and perhaps a more advanced one is that cultural influence is the prime factor but isn’t geographically based, it’s more based on personal association. The more you associated with a particular culture the more it forms part of your nationality.

For example, I went on a holiday to Iceland and loved being there, ever since whenever I watch an international football match featuring Iceland I now have a preference for supporting them over any other country I have less association with, (with the obvious exception of England!). This is true of other countries I have visited or spent more time in, like Madasgascar or Honduras. I don’t think this bias is all that uncommon.

I know people who have come to live in Wales and over the years they slowly become more Welsh, understand the culture better and take some ownership of it. I have done the same. I have lived for many years in England and Scotland and most of my family live in England  and identify as English and that has strengthened my British identity.

For me there is actually a case for placing world citizen ahead of European as I have spent more time when I’ve been outside Britain in the rest of the world than mainland Europe, yet common European culture is strong enough to not justify this, but I can imagine a year living outside Europe would probably tip the balance.

Everyone, in the island of Great Britain is a mixture of different nationalities as the four nations are bound together by geography, history and culture. I was born  in England, yet because I grew up in Wales, have a mainly Welsh family and have lived in Wales as an adult it has always been my prime identity.

However, people move around a lot more these days, dragging their children with them. It is not uncommon now for someone to have family from one or more countries, be born in another, then spent their childhood in several other countries. Such a persons national identities would be a broad rich mixture and when asked may simply describe themselves as a World Citizen as their primary identity with some justification.

It used to be much simple as most people would have one nation where they lived there entire lives within one country where their families had been for generations uncounted. For such people nationality and ethnicity would be the same and indistinguishable.

A difficulty with this is that having this close identity with a country, of nationality and ethnicity allows some to believe that there is some kind of special relationship between ethnicity and nationality or even that they are the same thing. I was even bullied at school as I was ‘English’ because I had been born there. To those bullies my Welsh ethnicity and identity apparently meant nothing. Is it not then possible for someone to be forced the accept a nationality of a country they spend only their first weeks of life in and never visited again. Place of birth often does matter for another kind of identity, citizenship, or the nation state responsible for you and there has been a tendency in some people to identify with their citizenship, indeed many countries insist upon it in order to be granted a change in citizenship.

I think all this bullying of those who may arguably have a shallower relationship with a particular nationality as they have a broader richness in nationalities is because as human beings identity is important to us. When we are stripped down to our ineermost selves as perhaps we’ve lost relationships with loved ones, it is our prime nationality we return to with proud happy tears. Nationalities are very complicated and mixed up with all our other identities, our selves and our minds, that they are often something we as people don’t want to think about, we just want it to be a given. So whenever anyone questions our prime nationality, we feel very deeply attacked.

This happened only this week. The UK is currently preparing forms for the 2021 census; A survey of the whole population done every ten years. The controversy this time is the ethnicity question. In the current draft if you are white your ethnicity can be Welsh, Irish, English, Scottish, British or other. However if you are not white the only option is British or other. This was brought into the media spotlight by Kizzy Crawford, a wonderful Welsh singer-songwriter, who was upset that she had no access to a tick box to state Welsh ethnicity, whilst white people could. She wrote a passionate piece in a newspaper describing how she felt alone as a child as a lonely non-white child at her school and it was her Welsh identity that gave her strength. We dismiss people’s identities at our peril.

Kizzy Crawford – Adlewyrchu Arnaf I (Reflecting on Me)