The assertion of identity

June 25, 2008

An interesting question came up in some one to one discussions yesterday in Bangor. Namely when does patriotism become prejudice? I prefer the word identity anyway as patriotism has too many jingoistic associations. People need to be something (identity) and they are the outcome of multiple emergent processes in which their history is an intimate part, but is it right to assert that identity?

Many of the my generation in Wales will have heard stories of their Grandparents being beaten for speaking Welsh in school as a part of systematic attempt to eliminate language. An experience shared in various forms by Indigenous people world wide. I have friends in South Africa whose Grandparents were sent to concentration camps. Given that a characteristic of Empire (imperial in the case of Rome and England, commercial in the case of the US) is to impose its culture on others, how far is it right to reassert that identity, when to do so inevitably involves some challenges to the previously or current dominant power? If you are English (to take the example that came up yesterday) then you are not personally responsible for such actions, but your position in the flow of time is at least in part in consequence of them. Most people I know give as good as they get, with humour but others seem very precious about it.

My own view is that assertion of identity, with humour is valid but others think that this is a new form of racism. It’s an interesting question and somewhat ironic that the tables have to a degree been turned. Its not an easy issue though, like all questions of line drawing. I am reminded of an old joke however.

Q: Why is it that Catholics and Jews are the only people who make jokes about their religion?

A: They know they are right so it doesn’t worry them

Humour I think is key, its a sign of self confidence, a willingness not to ignore the past, but to embrace it and move forwards

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