England: Bluebells, Kebab Shops and Immigration

‘I am the tall kingdom over your shoulder
That you would neither cajole nor ignore.
Conquest is a lie. I grow older
Conceding your half-independant shore
Within whose borders now my legacy
Culminates inexorably.’  Seamus Heaney, The Act of Union

Priding itself on the artistic and scientific skill of its people, England is deemed to be not only a land favoured by nature, but also a thriving cultural hive from which the creations of Jane Austin, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, William Blake, Christopher Wren and John Lennon have emerged. An understated humour epitomised by the uncensored intellectual satire of Russell Brand flows through towns and cities, yet behind quaint afternoon tea and yoga classes, beyond even the moist green grass of this- as Shakespeare defined it – ‘other Eden, demi-paradise’, lies a country in the shadows, seemingly hungry for violence and hell-bent on proving Darwin right.

Survival of the fittest is everything- so the saying goes and so we witnessed as indigenous North Americans were wiped out by smallpox and underdeveloped weaponry following the English invasion. Aborigines were to share a similar fate and in 1789 an imported bout of smallpox was to kill 90% of the Darug people and of the 400 indigenous languages spoken prior to British colonization, 330 would die with their people. Today most Aborigines speak the language of their colonizers and only 70 indigenous languages remain, making up 0.7% of languages spoken in Australia. North Americans and Australians were of course not the only victims facing down the barrel of British Colonial power, China was to lose its nation to opium addiction as the British smuggled opium to the East in reaction to China’s self-sufficiency and banning of western goods and under the British Raj, India too was to lose its trading power to the British as only British government members were permitted control over salt production.

Much has changed since the days of the Old World and now Britain boasts a broadly open-minded ethnically diverse populace. Walk down any street in London and you may well bump into orthodox jews, Indian-born families, Russian businesswomen, mixed-raced children or European and Asian tourists; step onto any tube and you may well hear 12 different languages uttered across the carriage at any one time; walk through any shopping centre and you may well pass Italian boutiques, Middle Eastern kebab shops, Greek delicatessens and French perfumeries- modern England is indeed a picture of cosmopolitanism.

However, as the BNP and UKIP gain power, border controls tighten and a host of sniffer dogs greet new visitors at London airports, it seems our racial tolerance is waning. A byproduct of the British Empire, the English language has become as universal as its empire once was and knowledge of English is essential to gaining a foot up in an international market. Native English speakers however, remain characteristically monolinguistic and while we may distance ourselves from foreigners or immigrants with broken English, the world is frantically trying to learn our language to survive. British tea culture also leaves a rather bittersweet aftertaste of colonization and as the country still enjoys one of the highest GDPs across the globe, it seems the United Kingdom is still somewhat brimming with the former spoils of war- spoils it is increasingly refusing to share with foreign nationals as immigration laws grow stricter.

Ought we not share our wealth and culture with the countries from which we stole them, or should we protect our nation from overcrowding at all costs? Are British border controls growing too strict?  Are immigration laws breeding racism and disharmony, or is the United Kingdom still a pillar of racial tolerance? Are communities in Britain as integrated with one another as they are culturally diverse? Has England atoned enough for its past authoritarian crimes, or is the necessity to speak English Language a mark of the nation’s continuing monopoly on international markets? Should foreign language education be improved as a mark of repentance for the enforcement of the English language on British colonies and to promote future intercultural understanding?

 ‘What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.’― George Orwell

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11 thoughts on “England: Bluebells, Kebab Shops and Immigration

  1. Interesting ideas, but what power does the BNP have? Practically nil. It has no MP’s or MEP’s and maybe one or two councillors at local level, but that’s it. The BNP is a busted flush. Be worried about UKIP and Britain First – they are the ones to watch. As for immigration, that has gradually tightened, yes, but our system is in a mess. I mean that because it has massive backlogs, regularly loses people it needs to keep an eye on and deports people it shouldn’t. There are too many tales of woe. We need to get immigration policy and practice sorted.

  2. I ‘liked’ this article, but I found it to be something of a curate’s egg, with (very fine) pictures of London and a bluebell wood. The arguments surrounding immigration are superficially demonstrated in London, but much more acutely felt in the midland and northern towns, and one of many debates in which these islands are increasingly depicted as London and the green bits. The cool island on the top left has long been a target for migrant populations – there is no such thing, after all, as an ‘Englishman’ – and this worked until communications improved and the world started to shrink. Now the real issues surround overcrowding and the apparent reluctance of the political class to see it as other than a statistical exercise until it comes up and bites them in the foot.

    The language? Look out, Mandarin is coming! Money? Yes, the City still reigns supreme but the goal-posts are shifting as Arab and Eastern millions flow through the coffers. I see us as passing through a transitional phase in which the multi-national corporations and international brigandry will play an increasing part. And the fundamental (hate that word!) question for me is Britain’s flexibility. Is it able to bend enough to match the changing times?

    My fear is simply that the country’s thinly disguised feudal system is too archaic and antiquated to run with the wind in the way, say, that Elizabeth’s pirates could when they plundered the high seas. The establishment is too established, the rigid class system too deeply entrenched. Britain lacks the fleetness of foot of the Indians, the organisation and order of the Germans, the industry of the Chinese. We no longer make anything in Britain, we just sell insurance policies.

  3. I like your ode to England, and I’ve always been fascinated with the weirdness of the british (from Ulysses to Monty Python), unfortunately I haven’t got the chance to see the land with my own eyes so often, but I went to York and London a couple of years ago and loved the politeness of the english people. I share a link to a clip that represents much of what I appreciate: hospitality, intellectual people, Will Self and important debates.

  4. I lived most of my life in the US and now live in Cornwall. My grandparents were immigrants to the US. It seems to me that every wave of immigration is met with an equal wave of fear. A generation later, that fear looks at best silly and misguided, and often plain ol’ racist. Yes, every wave of immigration brings problems, It’s not easy adapting to a new land, a new culture, a new language. (My great-grandmother never did really learn English, and her grandchildren could barely speak with her.) And it’s not easy for the existing residents to get used to a new culture and language on their doorstep. But every wave of immigration also brings tremendous gifts if the host country is wise enough to embrace the newcomers. The more welcoming the country, the more people will integrate and enrich the culture. And often the economy.

  5. A fairly monumental subject to tackle (too great in my opinion). You touched on a few points, but I would have to agree with the above comment. White Britain went through just the same thing with Caribbean immigrants as we are with those from Asia (albeit in more openly xenophobic way) and look at it now; Caribbean culture is everywhere, we can’t get enough of it. Just take at Notting Hill!
    In my hometown of Bristol, there is a firmly rooted Caribbean community and they are fully embraced and celebrated as being of the city’s identity. It will happen again with the new wave. If only we learned from the past, we could make it a lot smoother process for all involved, but change will always terrify us.

  6. Reblogged this on lovehappinessandpeace and commented:
    I might have written these same thoughts in a different way, but I consider this post simply ‘Magnificent.’ And this is the first time I am using this adjective for a Reblog.
    As far as Racism goes, it is not just any One country. Just days ago, We had news that persons from the North East of India, working in the state of Karnataka, — supposed to be an Educated state too — were beaten up just because they could not speak the local language. And again, it is not just Karnataka.
    A good time to reflect that We All have our Pasts and our Sins, and that We would do well to do things about them.
    High Kudos to Rachel. 🙂

  7. I love this post! Didn’t say so at the time-can’t think why not. The ideas, the images, the expression, your unique perspective–I want more! No pressure. . .;)
    Josna

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