Yesterday, I read an article posted in Unbound’s fantastic new literary journal, Boundless – Where’s Your Accent From? Britain’s White Others by Agnieszka Dale and A.M. Bakalar. The article was valuable, well written and informative. But lowering. I felt a currently familiar sense of despair. My screen life is filled with examples of how badly we humans are managing in a diverse and changing world.
Today’s fist-pumping glee about the return of the blue passport cover seemed an absurd addition to the failures covered in the many contemporary discussions and treatise on intolerance, the spike in white-power violence, the hate-crimes and stifling prejudices affecting the LGBTQ community. It felt absurd, like someone adding a flouncy, carnival hat pin to the top of a roadside snowman, stubborn in the cold, though grimed with car exhaust and sliding slowly, bitterly, into the freezing gutter.
All that sentimental glee because something that existed for a few decades is coming back – a colour, become a symbol. How feeble.
Patriotism seems to me an infantile emotion. The clue is in the name, the state father worshipped by the citizen child. Pride and value not inherent but conferred by a constantly demanding parent. Nationalism is equally baffling. Now that globalisation, cavalierly introduced as a logical extension of the needs of capitalism, has changed everything, even the idea of a nation seems crude and unhelpful. On the one hand, global capitalism has brought people up against each other with no mitigation or care for whatever frictions might occur. On the other, the internet has connected people, amplified voices across boundaries, creating a nationless voice of anger that is able to confront imperialism, white privilege and abuse of privilege, the hegemonic prejudices enacted both passively and deliberately by complacent ruling bodies, the rapacious damage caused in the furtherance of corporations. Empire, racism, climate change, the plight of refugees are all entities that exist trans-nationally.
I am baffled by some people’s attachment to their whiteness, their birthplace. I am baffled by their clannish need to be with people who are like them. What comfort is it? All I see is feebleness, anxiety, a sense of peril and danger in a big world that can seem to be held at bay by pretending that everyone is like them. Do people not see how weak it makes them? Perhaps we should focus, with due respect for the danger that racists can pose, on that weakness a little more? Prejudice is so revealing.
I have read many articles recently that articulate, with varying degrees of understandable anger, the inadequacy of making statements about ones own lack of racism (or other prejudice) in a society that implicitly benefits me because of my race or sexual orientation or other marker of mainstream privilege. I embrace that lesson, because it is true. And I remain persistently furious at our failure to universally grasp the simple truth of diversity. It is a torturous act of will to attempt an exclusion of this truth. The world is varied. The people on it shift and change through different geographies like the weather, a skin of moving variety that can never be contained by something as feebly conceptual as a national boundary.
Perhaps we need to learn from the weather. We might belong, at any given moment, to a nation of people under the same weather as us. Thus, we are always connected, with shared purpose and care for our home territory, to the people near to us. But the reach of our people changes; like the weather, our nation’s boundary changes. It makes sense, socially and biologically, for us to bond with our neighbours, to extend our families, to head outwards into a tribe. But by letting the weather define our tribe, it will never become bounded and will never become a device for exclusion.
This evening, I sit in the tribe of soft rain and cloudy darkness. I don’t know how far my tribe reaches, it slides into other tribes before I can define it. Probably over the Downs, or perhaps in the Channel. But all of us can, at any given moment, without knowing its limits, define our tribe. Yes, it is an impractical or fanciful idea – but humour me and call it poetic. It is a small break from the wrecking-ball glee of the sentimental Little Englanders and the bullies who carry their fear like a cudgel in their clenched, pink fists.
Let us change, like the weather.
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