“Why live in this country if you don’t like the British flag or the Queen? I am sure millions would donate money for your trip to a country that would love your bitterness.”
“Please have some respect. I’m not going to come to a Muslim country and start writing an article slating the Muslim religion or their practices.”
“Shut up and thank God you are free in the UK, you selfish, spiteful and heinous being. You’re demonstrating the lack of integration and appreciation in the UK that so many complain about”.
These are just some of the messages I received after writing an article about the platinum jubilee. I didn’t call for a violent coup or an all-out war against Queen and country, I simply had the gall to suggest that media-fuelled waves of patriotism had a government-serving agenda, and spending £28 million of taxpayers’ money during a cost-of-living crisis was tone-deaf.
Of all the articles The Independent published over the bank holiday weekend, many offered a more critical take, from calls to abolish the royal family to those uncomfortable with its history of imperialism.
But while they all attracted negative comments, only some attracted comments asking writers to move to another country or be more grateful to Britain. Not all of them were accused of disloyalty and a lack of integration. Those were saved for writers of colour.
When I started wearing the hijab at 15, I went from being a half-white British kid with a bit of a tan and a foreign-sounding surname to being something alien: an outsider, a threat. What I understood of my identity, my Britishness, was shattered by the people around me who treated me differently once I looked less like their narrow definitions. So when I received messages this week telling me that I had failed to integrate in this country, that I was being ungrateful and should “go back to where I came from”, I’m ashamed to say they hit a nerve.
I wanted to hash out a heated reply informing them that more than half-a-decade teaching in the nation’s secondary schools looked pretty well “integrated” to me, thank you very much. But I shouldn’t need to prove my Britishness to anyone. Nobody asks white people who oppose the government or criticise the royal family to prove their allegiance.
If you think ethnic minority Brits need to prove their Britishness, then you don’t see them as truly British. And if you uphold free speech, then why do white male comedians get to make hateful jokes about minorities, but a hijabi woman doesn’t get to feel unpatriotic about a multi-million pound knees-up while people are starving?
As long as we maintain the status quo, as long as we don’t dare question the systems and institutions that govern our lives, then we are embraced. If we rally around the flag and pledge allegiance to the Queen, if we embody the capitalist mantra and make a success of ourselves financially, then we are celebrated. If we become a home secretary or chancellor enacting Tory policies, then our race will never be questioned. We’ll be celebrated as exceptional examples of our kind.
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When Stormzy called upon Theresa May’s government to take the Grenfell fire more seriously, he was met with accusations of ingratitude towards the country that has “given him and his mother so much”. What about when Jamie Oliver protested outside Downing Street, was he used as an example of all Essex natives’ failure to integrate?
People of colour are expected to be in a constant state of “giving back”, as though we owe the country for the colonisation of our grandparents’ homes that landed many of us here in the first place. We are demanded to prove how much we have contributed to the nation, how exceptional we are.
But I’d be just as British if I invented the cure for cancer as I would be if I had never worked a day in my life. I’d be just as British if I worked a hundred years in dedication to the public as I would be if I had never contributed a penny in taxes. I don’t need to prove my gratitude or loyalty to a flawed land. I get to criticise and oppose and hate it as much as anyone else gets to love it and take pride in it.
Because for better or for worse, it is mine too.