21 dicembre 2011

British national identity and immigration (english version)

In this month after the riots, in UK, many have spoken about what happened, yet mainly without saying really much: indeed, no interpretations have been suggested. The habit of writing other nations' history has been applied now to internal affairs and serious attempts of reconstructions or analysis have been disregarded.
But a foreigner could notice the reaction of public opinion: which includes BBC's point of view as well as laymen's one.

On TV Cameron reacts to the disturbances lining up with the group of the good: he empathizes with families and with those whose shops and properties (pay attention at this word, so crucial for insular way of thinking) were destroyed and keeps the criminals at a distance.

He answers to his voters (who don't belong to any hooded gang for sure). Maybe true British (who say "us" in contrast to "you") are just that 65% adults (www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm) who voted in 2010... But the other 35%?

BBC Radio (custodian of the national identity) broadcasts everyday Outlook: series of extraordinary biographies of ordinary people. At least once a week there is an Indian/Iraqi child, narrowly escaped the horrors of wars and regimes who, with perseverance, has succeded in rebuilding his life (usually in the UK) thanks to a lucky but deserved new possibility to have a good education (usually in the UK). Such stories often end with the child starting a family (real backbone even here, as shown by Elton John's recent parenthood) and, at last, running his/her "own business". Why are these stories always told that way? How must you live your life to be accepted by Cameron and the BBC?

In a well-known experiment of social psychology (Tajfel 1971 www.experiment-resources.com/social-judgment-theory-experiment.html), a class was shown with real paintings by Kandinsky and Klee and every student was asked to give their preference. Tajfel split the class in two, telling the students that on one side there were Klee's fans and on the other, Kandiskij's. The truth was that the two halves were composed randomly. The outcome was a feeling of togetherness within each group and a feeling of differentiation from the other: each student immediately thought to himself/herself as a "Kandiskyian" or "Kleeian". Such categorization became apparent when Tajfel asked them in which way they wanted to share some assets (which consisted in tokens, given the lab setting), i.e. whether by chosing a scheme such as: "to us Kandiskyian 10 token - to you kleeian 10" or "to us 7 - to
you 0" etc... The most common choice was the second. Therefore that study showed: how spontaneus it is, where differences are real or just supposed, to shut yourself in your own group and dismiss the one you do not belong to; also that to think in terms of Us/Them  is a natural tendency: it raised simply on the basis of different (and fake) artistic tastes.

Keeping that in our mind, we are not surprised if there is a part of British society which finds itself "out" and scorned (in an invisible and subtle way) by the majority which is "in". In Italy there are divisions between loads of castes (a mass of small lobbies and professional associations) and no-native are, in proportion, very few.
England is different. Outsiders are many and national identity, as an old but still relevant idea, is based on loads of British sacred symbols: the Queen, Admiral Nelson, all military victories, Science, democratic institutions, the pride of those who export civilisation, the so-called glorious colonialism and so on. You are a citizen when you have become "English inside". When all those symbols have become your own, when you are proud of being "British": and it does not matter if you just drive a taxi all day long and you parents are Pakistani.

The very password here is assimilation. There is nothing, in the UK, like the italian nationwide diffuse integration. It must be said that millions have arrived in the island since the 50s. But today there is something more. In Italy, even Veneto (the region with Venice), where the racist regionalist party called Lega was born, the land of the economic boom of the 90s, finally accepted rumanian immigrants on the condition that "they just worked". Feeble italian national identity does not aim at
assimilating anyone; it does not aim at transforming, teaching, converting: it not even could. Therefore it does not divide, at least at the official, institutional level, between Us and Them (and we have seen that, at the latest important Local Elections in Milan, all paranoyd and xenophobic ideas promoted by Lega did not work among citizens). Italian identity is not proud of throwing out, of relegating those who are not "in" (check out Cameron's speech). It is easy for us to think that million rumanians in the North, once learnt the language, are already well-adjusted. But in the island, millions of Carribeans, Indians, Pakistanis (belonging to the third, fourth generation) had to choose to be British. They had to step from their "Us" to that other "Us", the majority culturally British.
While some of them saw this as a good and feasible choice; others saw it was not, hence they did not make it.