Sitting in a tepid university lecture today, the professor raised a few heads and lit a few bulbs by asking us ‘What it means to be English?’ Not the merits of being English or British but rather the parameters and checks that you must tick off to be considered ‘English’. The discussion was tame and hesitant at first because it was a touchy subject. The heavily multicultural and European room began to debate what it really means to be English?
The first reasonable conclusion and idea came that everyone works in threes. This is the idea that if your family has resided in England for three generations then anyone born into that third generation is now English. Good idea but there still remains the idea of culture.
Does being born in England and tracing ones centurial roots back a hundred or so years deem you to be English? Or is there something else? Does the colour of your skin mean anything? The language you speak? The culture you follow?
For many, being English means that you follow the English culture. Which, if you live in the colourful land of London, may seem very difficult to assimilate? Some describe English culture as cricket watching, tea drinking, scone eating and protestant living. But is that truly English?
I, for instance, trace my heritage back to Bangladesh. Both my parents are from the South Asian country and if delve even deeper I have been told I have roots in Burma and maybe even China. But I was born in Whitechapel – in the heart of The Royal London Hospital. I have a British passport, an English home, went to an English school and will pay taxes to the British government. That is unless the SNP get their way. But I am always being told that I am not English. So, does that mean that I will never be English because I have brown skin and can speak a second language other than English? Because believe me, England is my home. When I travel back to Bangladesh it is alien to me. It doesn’t provide the comfort that this nation, this government and this defense gives me. I don’t feel Bangladeshi, I feel English.
The point is, what you define as ‘English’ is not set in stone. You don’t have to trace your roots to find out. You don’t have to have white skin. You don’t have to have a British passport. Personally, if you love England, if you’ve lived here for a long time, if you see it as your home, if you accept, respect and work in tandem with the English culture and religion then you should deem yourself English. Sadly, my definition is neither gospel nor set in stone. It seems then that this question and debate will roar on into the night like three lions. That is of course until sea levels rise and engulf England in its entirety.