Saturday, April 07, 2007

What the hell is Britishness anyway?

According to the BBC the "president of the National Union of Teachers has said ministers fuel racism by ordering schools to teach "British values". London assistant head teacher Baljeet Ghale told the union's annual conference Britain did not have a monopoly on free speech and tolerance. The move only fuelled the "shadow of racism" behind some notions of Britishness".

It's nice to see the NUT taking on the shallow political tripe that is the citizenship classes. Valueless for the children, demoralising for the teachers and brim full of vapid wind it seems to have escaped the government's notice that it is not in a position to be teaching the rest of us ethics, values, human rights and an understanding of "our shared history". An understanding that is more than problematic because our history is one of conflicting interests.

The idea that there *are* such things as "core Britih values" and that schools have to teach them is weird - particualrly as this was a knee jerk response to the 7/7 bombings. Since when has the history of the British Empire indicated a distaste for bombing the innocent or using violence to achieve illegitimate political ends?

These lessons, which should more correctly be described as state run "political education" are designed to get us thinking in the way they want us to think and are not about questioning what democracy, human rights or freedom of speech might entail - just that "we" have them, and others do not. How can the government instruct us in our "legal and human rights and responsibilities" whilst showing no inclination to observing these itself?

Baljeet Ghale stated that "I certainly don't pass Tebbit's cricket test but none of my affiliations make me a less valuable person or less committed to being part of this society, but they do make me a global citizen."

7 comments:

blacklondonder said...

The idea that there *are* such things as "core Britih values" and that schools have to teach them is weird -

By NO MEANS is it "weird": in terms of core "British" values, surely racism and xenophobia comes high at the top of any potential list, as brilliantly spotlighted by Baljeet Ghale. If I have any criticism at all in terms of her speech, it's only that she didn't go far enough in dissecting/disinfecting the "little englander/deutschlander" mentality inherent in the government's suggestions.

Jim Jay said...

I don't agree. There is a long history of racism, of course, but there is also a history of anti-racism.

If you take anti-Irish sentiment for instance it's fairly true to say that the mainstream opinion in England has been anti-Irish over the last three hundred years - but even with this - when the Chartists were on the scene not only did they come out firmly for irish independence many of their leaders actually were Irish, elected by a predominantly mainland movement.

My point is to say that there is no single British culture. Even when Britain was 99% white there was still diversity and conflicting interests.

But, like you, I was very pleased to see Baljeet Ghale had made these remarks which was a point well made.

blacklondonder said...

I don't agree. There is a long history of racism, of course, but there is also a history of anti-racism.

That's absurd. The HIGHLY marginalized strand of anti-racism did not prevent the centuries-long genocide of slavery: racist attitudes/norms have been hegemonic WHENEVER whites have held power vis-a-vis minority ethnic communities. Same goes for LGBT vs "straights". Homophilia has existed beside homophobia throughout British history. So which was normative? Which impacted the lives of the LGBT communities more? Which is more characteristic of "British" values?

Homophobia, CLEARLY. It is ONLY when minority communities take leaderships positions that the cancer of prejudice/discrimation will truly be addressed/excised. Baljeet Ghale is a SHINING example -- long may she continue to speak truth to white power!

Jim Jay said...

It isn't absurd. The ship workers who refused to make war ships for the confederates during the american civil war or the agitation from the working class against slavery that pushed parliament to "abolish" a trade they'd been happily indulging in before were crucial and significant movements - not to be written out of history so easily.

I thought this phrase "It is ONLY when minority communities take leaderships positions that the cancer of prejudice/discrimation will truly be addressed/excised" was interesting adn could be read in a number of ways - but i don't want to misrepresent your views.

It could sound like your saying that as long as *some* black people achieve positions within capitalism then racism will no longer be a problem. I think that's incorrect - but you may not be intending to imply that.

blacklondonder said...

I'm not writing anything out of history. History states that for CENTURIES Blacks were genocided both literally but also culturally and linguistically by whites. Efforts by other whites to end the slave 'trade', however welcome, were sadly belated and met stubborn resistance. And are you telling me those white unionists and working-class who campaigned against slavery were racially enlightened in terms of the modern consensus? Then many of their descendants had a DAMN funny way of showing it post-Windrush (Stephen Lawrence murder, London dockers marching in support of E. Powell etc, etc).

It could sound like your saying that as long as *some* black people achieve positions within capitalism then racism will no longer be a problem.

By no means am I saying that: I spoke of minorities per se (not Blacks alone) taking POWER per se from white heterosexual etc males that have clearly proved in terms of the historical record that they are not fit to hold it. Capitalism is merely ONE of the oppressive strategies they have constructed to oppress, albeit a highly important one in terms of the present day.

Paul said...

Great. So it's all about not letting 'whites' have power? Nice stuff. Very anti-racist. Let's all divide ourselves up into ghettoes and have a pop at each other.

It would be nice to be able to move away from the old rhetoric and think more deeply about this stuff, but we're obviously a way from that.

Personally I'm not too keen on 'Britishness', but I do think that having core national values is vital. The alternative is ghettoisation and mutual suspicion. This country, for all its faults, has a good record of anti-racism in the past few decades. Ask someone non-white who lives in France what the difference is, and you'll get a pretty clear answer.

For my part, I think Ghale's argument is seriously flawed. Leave aside all the windy rhetoric about being a 'global citizen' and what is left is actually very divisive. She suggests that Britishness and whiteness are the same thing: that in order to be truly British you need to be white. There's only one other organisation in the country that thinks like that. It's called the BNP.

Banging on about slavery is trite. We need to create a country in which everyone who lives here is as British as everyone else, whatever their colour or background. Instead of arguing about who is the most racist, or what happened in 1807, we should be encouraging mutual respect and shared values. If talking about 'Britishness' helps debate those shared values, then fine, let's do it.

I would remind you that 92% of our population is still made up of white British people. 'Multiculturalism' is fragile, if it even exists outside the inner cities. The logic of Ghale's argument is that 92% of us are 'British' and the rest are not. That's stupid, and dangerous.

Here's a more just alternative: we are all British, together, and whatever our history we can join up to create our future. Denying discussions about our shared national values to people from ethnic minorities is to assume that they are 'not like us. It is to deny them a full place in this country and in its future. That's the real racism, and it makes me sick.

I'm a white British man. My wife is a British Asian, whose parents came from India. We are both as 'British' as each other, and anyone who says otherwise, from right or left, can frankly get stuffed. Let's stop patronising people from ethnic minorities and presuming to speak on their behalf.

Paul said...

By the way - is Blacklondoner saying that people from ethnic minorities never discriminate and are never racist? Is he suggesting that black and Asian people are always more just? He's certainly clear that 'white heterosexuals' are not fit to hold power.

If this isn't racist tripe, I'm not sure what it.