I have a problem with The Americans, and The Chinese too. I also take issue with The Jews, The Arabs and The Russians, The Blacks and The Whites give me the same cause for irritation and I positively hate The English.
Just to be clear, it’s the term I have a problem with. The Arabs, The English with the emphasis on ‘The’. It’s as though being born into one group with the same geographic or ethnic origin means we’re all clones of that demographic. In reality, we humans are a hugely diverse lot. We come in all shapes and sizes, colours and temperaments, and no two are identical, even as twins.
We hear a lot about race and racial prejudice, yet we tend to feed those same prejudices by clumping people together based on country of origin or racial characteristics such as skin colour, facial features or religious beliefs. Even our occupations come in for the same stereotypical labels. The Police being a current example of all being tarred with the same brush. It’s a fact that human beings come in a bewildering variety of physical and mental specimens, but strip us of our skins and it becomes a whole lot harder to tell us apart. Without our physical identifiers, our differences come down to psychological attributes, most of which are learned rather than inherited. When a child is born, they emerge into the world with none of the bias, none of the prejudices that blight our societies.
Whenever we attribute a collective label to people, we discard everything that makes us unique as individuals. It’s quite ridiculous to think that two people born in the same place must somehow be bound to think, act and live the same lives. They can be influenced by the same environment but how they respond to it can be, and often is, totally different.
Strip us of our skins and it becomes a whole lot harder to tell us apart
There’s a school of thought that thinks the human race is fundamentally good and is only corrupted by the societies in which we live. I tend to think there’s an element of Ying and Yang in the make-up of humans, a balance that’s self-regulating but always in a state of flux. We as humans are good and bad and everything in between. Our environment and interactions with each other has a huge influence on which side of the divide we fall. It’s up to each of us to fight our moral battles, to follow our conscience and decide how to live.
It seems to me that the labelling of people in this way is a critical factor in the way we reconcile and deal with grievances. By lumping everyone together under the same label we trigger defensive responses that immediately negate all hope of understanding. Sides of the arguments retreat to their defensive positions and agreement is often impossible to find. It’s particularly true of long standing conflicts between ethnic groups. How can we reach understanding when we lump everyone together with the same mindset, hold everyone responsible for what happened in the past because we see them as one like-minded entity?
In truth, it’s individuals who start conflicts and lead us into wars. It’s individuals with self interests who create animosity, stir unrest and provoke clashes of culture. They bring out the worst in others, influencing any who will listen to their messages of hate and discrimination. They slowly contaminate enough individuals to sway the balance and silence the opposition. History is filled with men and women (mostly men) who have caused death and destruction, heartache and pain for millions. Their legacy is in the labels that lump us together to be judged by history, to promote the idea that we are of one mind and bear a collective blame for the past.
Living for almost thirty years in Australia, ten years in Canada before that, I hear a lot about ‘The English’, some of it quite hostile. It generates that defensive response in me. I was born in England and I’m proud of that fact. I’m proud of my origins, my roots, my upbringing. I love the beauty of Britain, my football team (YNWA), fish and chips, and Yorkshire pud. I love my English family, my heritage of mill workers, farmers, labourers and sailors. That doesn’t mean I’m proud of everything attributed to the English state. Colonial history is full of examples that bring shame to those who plundered the world for their riches.
It’s important to tell these stories and accept the dark episodes of our past and learn from them. But, I’m not ‘The English’. I’m not ‘The Whites’, just as those around me are not The Australians, The Aboriginals, The Blacks. We are all individuals who have our opinions, our faults and prejudices born of our experiences, our environment and our interactions with those we meet along the way. Would I want to be friends with every Englishman? No. I’ve met many a pom I’d wish to avoid. Nor would I want to be mates with every indigenous Australian, every Arab or American. I’m lucky to have met such wonderful people, individuals from all over the world. I’ve Aboriginal friends, Japanese, German and Italian. English, Irish, Scottish. I count Canadians, Americans, Russians and Indians as good, close friends and loved ones. Labels aside, they’re all, like me, individuals, citizens of this very mixed human race.
I’m not The English