Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cross of Red

So England face Ecuador on Sunday in the first of hopefully quite a few games in the knockout rounds of the World Cup. And perhaps we'll continue to see the red and white flags flying on cars and shops and homes that have become part of the landscape of London for some little while to come.

Over the time that I've lived in England, it's become more acceptable to fly the Cross of St George, the flag with the red cross on a field of white. Like the Confederate battle flag, it had become associated with racism, xenophobia and white trash. But the England flag, unlike the stars and bars has undergone something of a redemption. It's become transformed into recognised symbol benign national pride largely because the very people it was supposedly alienating have embraced it.

To be sure, the white working classes that weren't indoctrinated by Marxism have never really put it aside, and it's also true that the thuggist British National Party used it as a symbol of an "indigenous only" England. And since it indeed was a Crusader cross, some use it in symbolic battle against a rising tide of radical islamism.

But maybe it's because of this history that British (English?) Asians, Africans and West Indians have embraced it.

It's nigh on impossible, it seems, to become English. My husband could become American, if he so chose. I could even move to Texas and become Texan (George Bush did it). I could take a British passport, but I could never truly become English. And for a long time, it seemed that even 2nd and 3rd generation people of colour couldn't become English either. So, many non-natives identified as British - something that's been seen as a little bit more about nationality than ethnicity.

But Britishness is losing its identity, largely down to the whinging of the Scots and to some extent the Welsh. I know Scottish folk who vehemently deny their Britishness as if being Scottish was somehow especially exclusive and overrode geography and the fact that they were born on the island of Great Britain in these British Isles.

The English are awakening to the fact that their British compatriots are denying their Britishness because it's seen as too English - and are embracing Englishness. But as the British identity fades, immigrant populations are left with few options for expressing their love and pride in the country where they live and perhaps where they were born. And so they cleave to Englishness, too. Since being English is partly about ethnicity - the way to express your love of England is to wave the flag during football internationals. I'm an immigrant, too, and I fly the St George's cross in support of my host country and my team.

The guardianistas and chattering classes still don't like the sight of a St George's cross fluttering magestically in the breeze, but there's little they can say about its racist overtones when people of all colors, creeds and nationalities are flying it in a sense of inclusive pride.


Germany, the World Cup hosts, are seeing a resurgence in flag waving and national pride, too as a result of the German side playing well in all three matches of the group stage. Their recent history on this score is a little uglier than most - so perhaps it's a welcome relief for their populations. Still, I hope those flags come down soon after they lose and lose big to Sweden on Saturday.
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1 comment:

Vol-in-Law said...

In our locality the most fanatical wavers of the St George's flag, I think moreso even than the indigenous white working class, are the Tamil Hindus. A local shop has a golden staute of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of luck, with St George's England flags sprouting from his back - he looks fantastic. I don't think the Muslims are too keen on the flag, and the West Indians were wearing Trinidad & Tobago t-shirts when England played T&T, but the Tamils, like the Vol Abroad (and a little unlike the Northern Ireland-supporting ViL), seem 100% loyal. ;)