I have a confession to make to my fellow pro-independence campaigners, for which I am very sorry, and that is this: I often say ‘British’ when I mean ‘English’, and ‘English’ when I mean ‘British’.
I don’t doubt that actually many of you have picked that up – my husband occasionally corrects me on the point – but it’s a habit I’m striving to relearn. But it raises the question ‘why?’
Why do I confuse the two terms?
I know what it comes across as (which is why I’ve been trying to stop it) – it comes across as that proud English chit assuming that ‘England’ is an interchangeable term for any land in the British Empire, and that as a true citizen of that noble country I have the right to build myself a castle anywhere I set my flag!
I can promise you that, in my case at least, that isn’t the reason**.
I think it comes down to something much more basic and forgivable. I think it comes down to identity.
You see, I’m English for sure, but I’m also British. I was brought up English and British, and I have lived my life English and British. I’m from England, I’m from the UK. My passport is British but it says I’m born in England. Just like so many of the ‘No’ campaign say they don’t want to separate because their identity is British, my identity is British.
I understand that British and English are different things – of course they are. To be English makes you British, but my husband is British too (don’t tell him I said that) and is firmly north of the border, heart and soul. They are clearly not the same, but my identity isn’t different things – it’s not split. I’m me, and that me is both ‘English’ and ‘British’.
Part of the privilege of being English (and I don’t deny that we are privileged, nor that that privilege is unjustly given) is that we don’t have to differentiate those identities, and separate out what they represent. In fact, most of what we are given affirms that the identities are inextricably linked and intertwined. Our media paints a picture of Englishness and Britishness being so close as to be the same, and there’s little to contradict it in South English culture. For me, it was only when faced with people equally British but undeniably un-English that I started to question where the line actually is. I never had to before.
All that to say, when I encounter something ‘British’, I may retrieve ‘English’ (or vice versa) as the correct term. I’m not done renewing my mind yet.
This isn’t an excuse. I believe it’s the duty of the privileged to compromise in order to build up the disadvantaged, and that’s why I’m overhauling my lexicon. But I hope it goes some way to explaining why we English often mix up the terms, and might even make you reconsider the words you use and why.
*Photo credit: Sarah Groves. Image cropped. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adnamssouthwold/5637302947/
**Well, not usually