by Amanda Higgin
Xanda and I have met up in my home town for lunch, since she’s passing by on her travels. It’s a typical, fairly rural town full of commuters and old people, without much left to tell you that it used to be the second largest city in the country after London. I don’t know why, maybe some mayoral event, but the town centre has been decorated with flags showing the red and white St George’s cross. Xanda points this out to me.
‘It’s a shame that the English flag makes me uncomfortable; in so many minds, English patriotism has become synonymous with racism. The only real positive association I can think of with the red and white design is the England football kit. Poor, Palestinian St George. He wouldn’t approve in the slightest.’
I nod, ‘Christ Church JCR recently voted to fly the England flag during the World Cup. But there was a lot of opposition to even that, because of “imperialistic associations” and people worried it would feel oppressive to marginalised groups. I understand the concern, but it’s a self-perpetuating loop gradually depriving us of a national heritage.’
Xanda looks at me sideways as we take seats on the stone steps of the town hall, ‘“a self perpetuating loop gradually depriving us of a national heritage”?’
‘You know what I mean! The English flag ought to be a symbol of our national pride. If we stop using it to celebrate even big sporting events, then it stops representing anything except racism. Use it or lose it.’
‘But we have a symbol of our national pride: it’s the Union flag. Think about it, all the monarchy memorabilia, all the ornamental tea boxes, all the cringeworthy baseball caps, they all use red, white and blue. Choosing to use the English flag instead of the Union flag is an explicit decision to exclude the other nations. If that’s for a sports team that is just English players, then sure. But otherwise, it’s exclusive.’
‘I take your point,’ I answer slowly, watching the simple red crosses hung from the shop fronts as they ripple in the breeze. ‘Hang on, but if you use the English flag instead of the Union flag you’re only specifically excluding Scotland, Wales and Ireland. That shouldn’t be considered generally racist, and definitely not imperialistic. If we’re worried about imperialism, it should be the Union flag we’re avoiding. It was “Rule Britannia!”, after all.’
‘Maybe it shouldn’t be, from basic logic. I suppose I’m rationalising from observable results: people get nervous around the English flag. The reason for that is because it normally turns up in threatening circumstances. The reason it’s used in those circumstances is because it is exclusive: the EDL is not the United Kingdom Defence League.’
‘If we’re just talking about experience, then I can’t refute you. But does that have to mean we can’t rehabilitate the St George’s cross?’
‘Oh, I’m not denying it in theory. Why don’t you start a trend?’ Xanda asks, gesturing to my outfit.
‘I don’t feel like it,’ I shrug, ‘I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was racist.’