Apparently, 74 percent of British people believe that you have to be born in Britain to be considered British.

It seems that despite the increasing effects of globalisation and international migration, and the increasingly diverse population of the UK this entails, the public’s criteria for being British is actually getting narrower.

While nationalism exists in many forms and to varying degrees, this surging populist streak seems to be the sad brand of exclusionary patriotism which links culture and heritage only with the so-called “natives” of the country.

I was born in the Maldives, a country where our ancestors hailed from all over the world. India, Sri Lanka, parts of the Middle East, Africa and a whole typhoon of shipwreck survivors, including scores of actual real-life pirates. I myself have been told I’m descended from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s scribe!

While we as a country have a very unique culture, formed over years of inter-ethnic mixing and the resultant traditions and practices, I never accepted Maldivian culture as my entire identity.

Of course, my native culture forms some part of who I am, but so does the culture of my adoptive home: Britain. Even before I came to the UK to study at the age of fourteen, I have always been broadly comfortable with British culture. While most of my peers back home were watching Friends, I was watching Blackadder. I picked up British sayings and slang terms, and very quickly began to learn and love aspects of British culture that went beyond the tea-drinking, scone-eating stereotype. That being said, I do enjoy a nice afternoon cream tea.

People often ask if I experienced a culture shock from moving, alone and so young, to the UK. My answer? Of course not! Why would I, when all I did was come home?

Some of the biggest criticisms of globalisation stem from a fear of the destruction of national and cultural identities. Nationalist political parties like UKIP and the BNP have latched on to these fears, rousing and feeding off the hostility toward ‘Others’ i.e., those who were forged in anything other than their narrow mould of ‘Britishness’.

According to former BNP member Matthew Collins, support for the party came from three distinct blocks of voters: the hardcore racists, those concerned with the loss of British values and most interestingly, the disillusioned white working-class. A recent poll indicates that 46 percent of British voters cite immigrants as the reason behind their economic concerns. With parties linking the loss of heritage and the loss of jobs with the increase in immigrants, it is hardly surprising that such a trend would appear.

There is an argument, however, that globalisation enhances culture and national identities. According to the academic John Tomlinson, the flow of information and ideas allows individuals to express something more than one aspect of their identity. More and more people have the ability to identify and to portray themselves as the multifaceted people that they are. The flow of people, and therefore the flow of culture, around the world have created a far more complex, interesting and inclusive cultural atmosphere in many countries and cities.

Just because you were born in the UK does not mean you identify yourself as British. You may find that you identify more with that louder and brasher country across the pond. Globalisation has allowed us to ‘live’ our identity, or aspects of our identity, where we can: if you are a gay Nigerian with the means to leave the country, you can move to a country where homosexuality is not criminalised. If you’re an atheist in Saudi Arabia, you could conceivably escape the associated stigmatisation and persecution.

This is not to say that the place that you identify as being home should or will be a place that accepts every part of who you are. However, the opportunity to find a surrogate home is greater now more than ever, and you may even be so lucky as to find a little piece of what you left behind in your new home. Chinatown in London and New York is a great example. If you’re like me and the population of your native country is, say, less than a million, this may be harder to achieve. Nonetheless, the beauty of a globalised society and a culturally inclusive community is the chance to inject a part of your identity into the fabric of your new surroundings.

I suppose the reasons why I decided I was British by culture, if not officially, came down to two fundamental aspects.

Number one: the majority of us, at this stage of human history, have been exposed to a significant enough degree of not only cultural but genetic intermixing. To say you have to be born somewhere in order to be of that place did not apply to me, or to the 12 percent of the British population who are foreign-born.

Number two: as I’ve found with myself, your cultural identity is not necessarily the one you’re born to. It is one that  you create for yourself, that your surroundings create for you over time. To claim that your national or cultural identity is changed due to the introduction of new cultures is to imply that culture is a static and immovable aspect of life. It certainly is not. It’s ever-changing within and between people, and it always adapts with the times.

Having grown up in the Maldives and the UK, I have managed to bring a part of my identity to a new home, and to be able to identify myself as nationally Maldivian and culturally British. Cultural identity is not always inextricably linked to the place where we were born. Like me, you could spend most of your life somewhere while feeling like you’re missing a part of yourself, only to discover that another home is waiting for you on the other side of the planet.

 

References:

31st NatCen Social Research British Social Attitudes Survey

Office for National Statistics

Tomlinson, John., Globalisation and Cultural Identity (2003)

Wigmore, Tim., Why Has The BNP Collapsed?, New Statesman (22nd May 2014)