Britain’s move to end further integration with the EU, and go it alone, is a testament to the powerful sense of national identity still felt by the English people.
Isolation from the Continent may have been an advantage during the Industrial Revolution. The British got a real head start and became the world’s greatest maritime power.
A Canadian “war baby,” born in 1943, I remember my grandfather showing me a map of the world in which a huge area was pink; this indicated the British Empire. Canadians were part of something much greater than our own nation.
Within a few years this empire was transformed into the Commonwealth. Life here in British Columbia tended to be egalitarian; people arrived from all over the world and were well accepted.
However a few weeks back, when reading about the recent attacks on Polish people who’d found work in England, the word “Polack” popped into my mind. I don’t know anyone from Poland, and certainly have nothing against them. Somehow though, this disparaging term is part of my vocabulary, along with insulting names for the French, the Spanish and many others.
Bigotry is not in my nature, but the words are part of my long term memory. Do the attitudes they imply come from the imperial world view which dominated Canada in earlier years?
My paternal grandfather, the one who first showed me the map of the world, was Welsh. His first name was also William; apparently the family named him after their Conqueror. However my ancestry also includes the Scottish/Norwegian and the Anglo-Saxon/Danish lines; the history of the English people plays itself out in my veins.
As a Canadian of mature years though, I’m no fan of the growing racism in the old country. The British Empire is ancient history, and it’s time for the English to remember their roots are in the Continent; they are not indigenous to the British Isles.