Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Thursday, 17 March 2011

011- The essence of the English

Another bigwig with too much to say, has justified the act of denying large swathes of people from opting to identify with the demonym of their very own country.

Brian True-May, co-producer of the ITV programme Midsomer Murders, has been suspended for suggesting in the Radio Times that including ethnic minorities in his programme would by default hamper his (already dubious) portrayal of English rural village life:

"We just don't have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It just wouldn't work. Suddenly we might be in Slough… And if you went in to Slough you wouldn't see a white face there. We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way."
Brian True-May (source: BBC News )

There is admittedly, a little part of me which feels that his opinion is valid: in rural areas of England there is typically a higher concentration of White English people than any other ethnic groups...but what of it? The show already presents a dubious portrayal of the rural side of England, and so I find it a little incredulous that he believes that this rural essence would suddenly be lost if a darky were part of the cast.

But then, what exactly is meant by an "ethnic minority"? Contemporary usage of the phrasal noun- or merely "ethnic"- seems to be reserved for those who have a conspicuous ethnic appearance in relation to the majority's generalised appearance. So, if we take True-May's viewpoint then, if a White Scotsman and a Black Nigerian live in this fictional Midsomer, no one would question that the Scotsman in wasn't English, by virtue of having the same skin colour. (That is, until he opens his mouth.)

I spend a good portion of my life rallying against those who believe rigidly in ethnoculture; against those who believe that people's cultural traits are determined by ethnicity alone, and those who believe that free association between ethnically diverse people is either impossible or plain dangerous.

I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Brian True-May, for playing his part in perpetuating this ignorance in people. Suspicion of the other -a concept which Anna Triandafyllidou introduced me to through her work- will only last for as long as people choose to reinforce those ideas on a population. It is nothing more than a cheap method of strengthening the "us" in the face of the conspicuous "them."

Aside from reporting the issue, I would say another side of this is a form of cheap publicity for his program, but for the rest, believing that his programme is the "last bastion of Englishness" repulses every moral fibre in my body. Not because discussion of ethnicity and identity is a thorny issue in and of itself, because it isn't, but rather because he is choosing to deny people who aren't White, the right to identify as English.

"A dog is born in a stable, does it make it horse?" Nope. And neither would it make a human a horse, since well, humans aren't horses. 

This is, incidentally, one of the gripes I have about the gathering of ethnicity statistics for censuses. I feel that people who happen to have family origins from outside of the UK, should not have to be lumped in with the same identity. I mean, why can't people of all ethnicities just tick an "English" box rather than having to maintain this idea that because one's Grandparents are from Pakistan, even though one might have never lived or even stepped foot in Asia, society defines you as 'Asian.' Way to maintain the "us" and "them" mantra, even amongst neighbours!

The essence of cosmopolitan, contemporary England is that whether you like it or not, people of different ethnicity can and do share similar cultural traits.

This is England
'Multiculturalism', which is banded about by the right-wing, populist press as a Labour government-prescribed euphemism for the multi-ethnic and occasionally varied-cultural nature of society, is a social situation which has existed long before the significant presence of people who the right like to describe as "non-indigenous." Take the extremely ignorant, yet prevalent belief in a fundamental cultural and linguistic difference between people from northern and southern England. If that isn't an example of "indigenous" multiculturalism, then I don't know what is. Quite simply, Multiculturalism isn't a social experiment, it is a fact of being human.

In the great scheme, I couldn't give two monkeys what the ethnic composition of the Midsomer Murders cast happens to be, after all, I have dedicated few hours my life to watching it. But, I will take issue with anyone who seeks to attempt to limit who can choose to identify as English, or indeed with any national identity in the world.

Quintessential "Englishness" is neither an inherent trait nor existent. Proclaiming the exaggerated exploits of English ruralites to be the "last bastion of Englishness" is a statement ignorant of the fact that rural dwelling is a minority phenomenon (though of course by no means a subordinative one.) Furthermore, those that feel that communities that live in isolation, should be worshipped for preserving traits of old, fail to see the problems which can arise from a stubborn resistance to change. If society could never divorce the image of women as solely being child rearers, then we would be doing humanity a massive injustice by denying over half of the population the right to aspire to other useful occupations such as in the medical profession. How many of us still assume that someone with the title of 'Doctor' is a male?

In the same manner, why is it so hard to imagine a man from Somerset as being of South Asian origin? This phenomenon does exist, and just because people rarely see it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Recently, I had a conversation with a gentleman who began to lay into the English glass ceiling, as opposed to countries like the USA, in so far that he was surprised that so few ethnic minorities in the UK were present in positions of power. Originally from the USA and of Arab ethnicity, he asked of me, "where is your Barack Obama, Condeleeza Rice or Colin Powell?" Personally, I'd switch the last two for Eric Holder and Sonia Sotomayor, purely because of Rice and Powell's terrible foreign policies, but the point still stands.

There are few ethnic minorities in Britain, yet alone in England, who hold genuine positions of influence or power and this demonstrates the glass ceiling that these people face. Sure, the UK has Baroness Warsi (a Minister Without Portfolio), or former Transport Minister Sadiq Khan but these are minor examples of the extremely lucky few who happen to be involved in politics, breaking through the barriers. 

However, being offered puppet, stereotyped positions such as head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission- I have no love for Trevor Phillips- is not even close to being as fundamentally influential as being head of state.

But, of course, the likelihood of having a head of state who is of conspicuous ethnic appearance is minuscule, considering the selective breeding tactics of the British monarchy. I think it is a safe assumption that it will be a long time before any Royal other than Princess Diana will attempt to date outside of the prescribed group.

In closing, it is futile to attempt to determine the essence of any culture or identity from above, for the only way to achieve this is through repression. True-May has proved this: in choosing to claim that the essence of English(ness) is only possible through a population of White people, he has chosen to enforce his limited perception on England onto other people, by admitting that he has purposely excluded conspicuous ethnic minorities from forming part of his show's cast, whilst readily ignoring the reality which exists in spite of him, just outside of his window.

Additionally, there can be no singular essence of a people, for people and ideas are fluid and will naturally form a cultural (or even ethnic) melange, though the extent to which people will be influenced by it and participate in it will of course vary. Rightfully, people should be and are free to determine how they will react to it.

But the key is to recognise the importance of the individual in all of this. Though right-wingers and even left-wingers love to band about the ideas of groups being pitted against groups, it is important for us to address the essence of the individual in everything. We are all unique in our qualities and all have the capacity to adapt to other people in order to establish a harmonious environment and ultimately, harmonious lives.

In the end, this is all that should be the essence of any people.


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