M asaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

Belonging: Myth of England as the ´Mother Country´, Hybridity and Generations

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2.7Belonging: Myth of England as the ´Mother Country´, Hybridity and Generations

Belonging is a recurring theme of the diaspora in general and one of the crucial themes in the Caribbean literature after the Second World War due to the myth of England as the 'mother country', a myth which was instilled in the Caribbean on many institutional levels (and stems from the glory days of the British Empire) and whose exposed lie meant anxiety and disillusion for those who decided to move to Britain and who saw it as a move to a geographically different territory which would, nevertheless, feel as ´home´ as well. Such process of migration and impossibility of return for some caused certain rootlessness, especially in the first generation, while embracing a diverse cultural heritage extended to a certain hybridity and transnationalism which is more typical of subsequent generations that benefited from the possibility of easier re-connection with the ancestral land in a globalized era. Hybridity or cultural syncretism is a relatively new concept and views identity as more "decentred, ambivalent, contradictory, provisional, contextual and de-essentialized" (Bolaffi et al. 142) which is concurrent with the deconstruction of binary oppositions.

The second generation of Britons of West Indian origin will also be touched upon. Some view second generation as existing between two cultures (Bolaffi et al. 301). As such, the second generation also endured some hostility but in a context of more 'entitled' belonging since they were born and bred in Britain. As a reaction to this, second generation managed to redefine representation and the notion of what it means to be British which Stuart Hall calls 'cultural diaspora-ization' because "there can, therefore, be no simple 'return' or 'recovery' of the ancestral past which is not re-experienced through the categories of the present . . . " ("New Ethnicities" 108).

2.8 British National Identity, European and Caribbean Identities

National identity is one of the many identities one person can have and it is a valued part of an individual's identity even though its value has been diminishing under the influence of globalization. National identity is closely linked to the political community. As a result of the abovementioned complexities, national identity's core characteristics had to change after the Second World War. Due to the major changes after World Wars I and II (that are connected to globalization and the need for global cooperation on many levels), European states have been successful in forging a continental identity, hoping for a stronger position in the world and a more efficient economic cooperation. Britain has been historically adamant about not defining itself as a European state, however, the recognition of significance of Europe is generally agreed upon (Parekh 56).

Miller (1995) defines national identity by five core features which distinguish it from other collective identities:

a shared belief that members 'belong together'; a perception that this association stems from a long history of living together which it is envisaged will continue into the future; a recognition that the community is 'active' and takes decisions; an acknowledgement that 'it is connected to a particular territory'; and the existence of a 'common public culture' which marks it off from other communities. (qtd. in Pilkington 175)

While Britain experienced its waves of hostility towards newcomers after the Second World War, it is important to note that the British have never been culturally homogeneous, or, in Stuart Hall´s definition, cultural communities “are without exception ethnically hybrid - the product of conquests, absorptions of one people by another" (qtd. in Pilkington 178).

The post-war period has not been marked by migration only as significant economic changes were taking place. The shrinkage of the geographical and political power contributed to the general feeling of threat which could be internal or external. Territorial and political integrity seemed vulnerable and all this led to confusion, disorientation and direction-lessness (Parekh 65). The traditional sources of national identity and pride (the empire, social cohesion, stable democratic institutions, industrial leadership of the world, superiority to the rest of Europe and political unity) were no longer wholly applicable (Parekh 66).

National identity crisis happened when Britain's economy was in decline, coupled with low industrial productivity and unfavourable balance payment. Politically, Britain was pressured to join the European Community and all of these factors created a very real identity crisis (Parekh 66).

In 1963, the British politician Enoch Powell tried to define the national identity, and among the characteristics he mentioned was that Britain was essentially an individualist society, a country with an "ethnic and prepolitical unity" whose geography and history enabled Britain to develop into an island that was distinctively singular and unattached also because Britain had "her face to the oceans, her back to Europe" (ibid., 67). Phrases like "Island Race' or 'Bulldog Breed' depict the representation of a nation in terms which are simultaneously biological and cultural (Gilroy, There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack 44).

Margaret Thatcher was not entirely opposed to Powell's interpretation. But while Powell would repatriate ethnic minorities or treat them as second-class citizens, she believed they should be assimilated, biologically and culturally, into the nation. She, too, saw Britain as a part of Europe due to common historical ties of Christianity, common history of the Roman Empire, common ancestors such as Celts, Saxons, Normans and Danes, language, literature, arts, architecture and music; yet she did not see Britain as a European country and as such, close institutional ties with Europe were to be avoided (Parekh 67).

Tony Blair came up with a moderate version of Thatcherism. He, too, stressed individualism but also social justice which, values-wise, brings Britain closer to Europe. Britain has had a long tradition of hospitality and as such should be able to successfully integrate its immigrants (ibid., 68).

Perhaps it will not come as a surprise that the following PM Gordon Brown put Britishness on the top of his agenda. According to him, the values that form the British national consciousness are tolerance, fairness and enterprise. Multiculturalism is hailed as a successful component of the British society today, yet the commitment to it is questionable and nationalist and assimilation supporters more than often backlash (ibid., 69).

The Parekh report (2000) was organized in order to analyze the current state of Britain and propose ways and measures on how to deal with racial disadvantage and how to enable Britain to become a truly "vibrant multicultural society" (Pilkington 265).

The Parekh report concluded that six tasks must be tackled urgently and among them was the need to “rethink the national story and national identity” and recognize Britain as composed of 'majority' and 'minority' communities which are diverse and changing, the need to maintain shared values and social cohesion, too address and remove all forms of racism, the need to reduce economic inequalities and build a pluralist human rights culture (ibid., 265).

The hybrid character of the British nation has been based on different social constructs throughout history since the 'Other' is in essence a shifting category - the British expulsed throughout history "former French allies, Jews, Lombards, Hansards, Flemings, Calvinists, Catholics, Spanish agents, continental revolutionaries, Jews (again), Germans, Romanies, Bolsheviks, black Commonwealth citizens, illegal, overstayers . . . " and such antagonism was fuelled by fears of eroding national security, religious uniformity, economy, ideological rigidity, cultural distinctiveness or racial purity (R. Cohen 87). From this perspective it seems that as long as Britain remains antagonistic towards diversity, the common enemy 'Other' will keep appearing in various disguise. However, Britain seems to be willing to celebrate diversity on many levels which does not concur with eradication of prejudice although the change accomplished is profound. A nation is essentially an "imagined community" since all the participants can never know every single national but such community is based on the solidarity and fraternity of group belonging (Anderson 7) and if Britons imagine themselves as a part of diverse community which does not lack solidarity, the British national identity will, once again, shift its core characteristics and so will the solidarity bonds cementing the collective consciousness. The ethnic redefinition of the black diaspora or the attempt to redefine black Britishness is based on the diversity of British identity - "to be British and something else" (Clifford 287) which is eased by the prevailing presence of transnationalism, as opposed to nationalism, in the diasporic communities.

Despite tumultuous European history, Europe has tried to come together as one community. Despite the cultural and linguistic heterogeneity, the "shared consciousness" of belonging is built upon "capitalism, social welfare, liberal democracy, respect for human rights, freedom, the rule of law, prosperity and progress" (Guibernau 115-6).

Caribbean identities had been constructed on the basis of cultural syncretism. Caribbean people of all kinds and classes find it difficult to position themselves in a cultural identity since that involves negotiation of many complex aspects of it (S. Hall, "Negotiating Caribbean Identities" 30). Despite the preference for constructivism rather than essentialism, identity's recognition is a reciprocal process since the recognition comes from outside (ibid., 30). As such, the negotiation of Caribbean identities of first and other generations in Britain took interesting turns since identity is not to be found in the past but to be constructed in the future: the struggles for recognition of black British presence had different forms, for example the still discriminated against second generation found its salvation in reggae music and rastafarianism (ibid., 37).

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