Patriotism – Proud to be British???
I am British.
So why do I feel so torn about my heritage, so conflicted?
Am I not proud to be British? To be the descendant of people from a tiny island who went forth to conquer the world and create the greatest Empire the world has ever seen?
At one time the British Empire ruled most of the globe. Our Kings and Queens ruled over the USA, Canada, Indonesia, The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and the Falklands.
We were the supreme world power.
Yet, was this a good thing?
Was this anything to do with my kin?
I think not.
My people did not rule or create an empire. Neither did we benefit.
The empire was created by the establishment – the aristocracy and wealthy traders. They raised armies and navies and went forth to invade, capture and plunder. They set up companies to use indigenous people as cheap labour in order to harvest, mine and manufacture the goods that made them richer.
The wealth poured back from the empire but it did not find its way to the likes of us. We were every bit as abused as those indigenous people abroad.
My people were the poor working people. We were the ones pressganged into the navy, used as cannon fodder in the conquering armies, exploited at home in mines, factories and shipyards.
We lived in poverty and slums while the establishment built great mansions, with fancy carriages, banquets, balls, fine clothes and servants.
The empire was not of our doing, neither was it of benefit to the likes of us. Its foundation was based on racism, arrogance and superiority. It spawned slavery, greed, exploitation and division. It was based on might, force, violence and cruelty. It subjugated and controlled.
Am I supposed to feel proud about this?
No. I refuse.
I refuse to own this empire or take delight in its accomplishments.
But I am proud to be British.
I am proud of the working people who stood up against this establishment and fought for justice and freedom, for rights and fair conditions.
I am proud of the ones who fought for the right to vote, for fair government, fair pay, fair work conditions.
None of it was easily forthcoming.
It took time for men like me to be given the vote. It took even longer for women to be afforded the same.
It took blood and guts.
We formed unions, struck and starved, marched and were massacred, just so that we could be afforded fair pay and good work conditions. We fought for a better, fairer society and it had to be wrested by struggle and loss of life from the hands of the establishment.
So I am proud of those brave women and men and the sacrifices they made. I’m proud to be descended from them.
I look around at this society we have fought for. It is still not as good as it should be. There is still injustice and gross inequality, exploitation and slavery. I look at the wealthy becoming wealthier while people like me slave on zero-hours contracts for poverty wages.
There is still much that needs addressing.
So when it comes to patriotism I think it’s a con-trick.
I’m not going to wave my flag for the Queen or celebrate battles and empire.
I will stand up for the Diggers, for the Chartists and the victims of Peterloo.
They make me proud to be British.