“You’re White, and You Speak English”

It’s a peculiar experience, one recently shared by my American colleague Monica, and probably most if not all the estimated 250,000 of us who live in this green and – usually – pleasant land.

Someone starts speaking about “foreigners”. Along they blunder, talking the usual crap about jobs, taxes, etc. I don’t know about my fellow Americans, but I usually leave the speaker to rabbit on awhile, until eventually I say something like: “Oi! Have you forgotten who you’re talking to?”

The usual response is something like “Oh, I didn’t mean you.”

Translation? “You’re white, and you speak English.”

When I don’t find this disheartening or indeed depressing, I think it’s quite funny. Of course, it isn’t just my pallor which makes me somehow part of “us” rather than the scary hordes of “them”. In many cases it’s probably because the speaker has known me for years.

By the way, this doesn’t happen to me so much these days. I’m not sure whether it’s because my employers of the last few years are more enlightened, but whatever the reason, I’m glad to see the back of it. Over the last few years, of course, my accent has become more and more muddied, given the half dozen guesses of “Irish”, at least one for Bristol, and, most recently and most bizarre of all, Polish.

Meanwhile, here in GreenandPleasantLand, we’ve seen the rise of the UK Independence Party, aka “UKIP” or, as I tend to think of them, the party of “oh my god there are FOREIGNERS living next door/down the street/in my town/county/nation”.

Honestly, guys: get a grip. Your leader has a Huguenot surname. This, if you look at English history, makes him very British indeed.

Scratch any Brit, and you’ll find an ancestry as varied as French, Viking (aka various flavours of Scandinavian), Norman (Frenchified Viking), Roman (Italian, or indeed much of the then-known world including places as far away as Egypt), African, Asian (the British Raj began in the 1850s), Polish (Britain’s allies in WWII, many fought and died for this land), German (aka Anglo Saxon), and so on.

As someone who is both an immigrant and a British citizen, and the granddaughter of Romanian immigrants who became American citizens, well, I don’t get it. Ok, I understand the basic “them v us” thinking. But it’s just that: a thought.

When I swore to be loyal to the Queen, and respect the law of this land, I meant it. I knew – to the extent that someone can know anything so vast and nebulous – that this was and is the land that I intend to spend the rest of my life in. I love America, and always will, but Britain is full of people and places which are dear to me. Moreover, America’s apparent lurch toward the right in both politics and religion worries me.

Please, fellow Brits, don’t lurch along with the States. Just stay your magnificent, amazing, and apathetic selves. In these days of fascination with the programme “Who Do You Think You Are?”, and family trees, please, embrace your inner foreigners.

Because odds are that they’re there, if you just trace back far enough.

About Sheila N

Enough about me. Art by Tom Brown.
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