THE BRITISH FAIRY TALE
… there was a green and pleasant land, populated by contented and peace-loving gentle folks. They danced round maypoles, tilled the land and lived in harmony. That is, until a ship called the Windrush landed carrying interlopers and suddenly they were infiltrated. Out of the belly of this great ship emerged a long procession of immigrants, who came to take their jobs, their wives and scrounge the benefits that the gentle Brits had solely contributed to.
Well that’s the fairy tale, the reality is vastly different.
The problem with fairy tales is that they take on a life of their own, and people can start to believe in the myth, and ignore reality. And sadly, the myth that diversity is a recent or negative phenomenon, has taken root. Who is and who isn’t ‘really’ British seems to be a question inhabiting so many forums, causing divisions to grow between different communities, and allows the idea that there is an ‘us’ and that there is the ‘other’ to fester. But just who is us? And who is the other?
Even the most cursory glance at a history book, (and by book I mean watching Horrible Histories) will show that the ‘other’ has been here a very long time. Whether through Invaders: remember the Romans, the Vikings, the Angles, Saxons, hmm? Or through economic migration like the Flemish weavers and German steelmakers in Elizabeth I’s reign. Some arrivals were people fleeing persecution, Jews and Huguenots are just a couple of examples, or ‘chattels’ of the Empire we brought a lot of people back with us! We have always had a diverse society.
Diversity has shaped us, our traditions, our businesses, our language, our successes and our culture. But it’s not widely acknowledged. Like all fairy stories there’s a darker side to each tale. ‘Beware the woods children there might be wolves’. Substitute witches and wolves for immigrants and asylum seekers, or gays or lesbians and diversity becomes a dangerous and recent phenomenon, a stranger in the dark, an external force to be resisted. Modern day media ‘folklore’ fosters these divisions , suspicions take root through the constant drip, drip, drip-feeding of certain red tops. My, my Grandma, what big lies you have!
Link Up UK wants to challenge these negative perceptions. Why do we need to do this? Make no mistake, Britain is an amazing country, and we are way ahead of many other countries in terms of tolerance and integration. But there are still problems, still crimes committed against people on the grounds of their faith, their race, their sexuality, their age and even their disability. And whilst great work has been done to legislate against discrimination, we have yet to change the negative attitudes that still prevail. Be honest who wants to simply be tolerated?
It won’t be an easy task, We will need to seek out distinct audiences. We’ll need to persuade people who are worried how diversity affects Britain economically or culturally of the fact that it’s always been here. We’ll also need to demonstrate to minorities that they have a place in our communities, a stake in being ‘British’. We need to make sure that we are targeting the right audience, in the right way. Too often these discussions take place either in political or academic circles only, or in the press when issues can be sensationalised. We are going to be talking directly to the public, using the internet and social media, using interactive tools and. games to engage the public in a discussion about Britishness, a subject that is both controversial, and one that affects us all.
During the Olympics and the Paralympics, the whole country got behind supporting Team GB, and celebrated their achievements, irrespective of the faith, ethnicity or disabilities of the athletes. And now is the time to build on that legacy. That’s the mission of the Great British Community, to combat prejudice and racism and overcome divisions in society. To celebrate all the contributions that have been made by our vibrant population, celebrating the contributions made by people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, faiths, genders, sexualities and disabilities. To reflect British society as it is today.
Link Up (UK) want to challenge these perceptions. We want to be the woodcutter in this particular forest of lies and mistruths. We want to make a clearing and we need your help to do it. We want you to help us write a new story, a true story about our diverse nation and how much diversity truly has benefitted us.
by Michelle Lawrence
This article was written for the Fabian Womens Network