To fulfil my worrying growing addiction to reality TV (now I’m only snobby about property development shows, gardening programmes and Big Brother – basically any other gubbins goes after a day in the office), this evening I watched 100% English, a programme in which eight participants gave a DNA sample in order to ascertain their genetic geographical roots.
All the selected participants held strong convictions about national identity and what being English means. All of them were white, born and raised in England, and convinced that their genetic makeup would prove they were quintessentially English in origin.
Frankly, I’m not surprised that most of them turned out to be, in the words of one participant, “a bit of a mongrel”, but what really shocked me was most of their attitudes – first of all a militant conviction that in their veins must course “pure” anglo blood, secondly somewhat dubious remarks about race and national identity, and thirdly (most bizarre of all in my mind) passionate pride in the country in which they happened to be born.
I say bizarre, because I have never felt proud to be English, I don’t identify with England, and I have never understood what it means to be patriotic.
The only aspect of England that I actually like is its diversity, and maybe for the first time, since living in London, I am starting to feel that maybe it isn’t such a bad place after all. Obviously London is hardly representative of the rest of the country (when I go back home to Huddersfield sometimes I struggle to believe it’s the same country) – but the idea of a huge swirling melting pot of cultures, cuisines, languages, skin colours, art, music, traditions, religions, life itself… greatly appeals to the nomad in me, even though I know my romantic ideas to be illusions in themselves.
Personally I would be thoroughly disappointed if my DNA makeup were anything other than genetically diverse, but knowing my luck I’d probably come out as 98% northern European or something boring like that.
Unlike the “ethnic English campaigner” who threatened to sue the programme on learning about her possible Romany origins, I felt reassured by the comments of the 18-year old army recruit who had just discovered that his DNA originated from at least a quarter of the globe.
“For racists to find out that part of them may be what they have discriminated against for years, well that would certainly throw them off their game” he said.
As he looked at the miniature globe before him, you could see his sense of his own global horizons visibly expanding on camera.