I’m not given to patriotic outpourings. I have difficulty saying I’m ‘proud’ to be British – I’m too aware of our colonial history to feel that in any simple way it is a matter of pride. But I’ve always resented the appropriation of patriotism by the racists of the National Front, the BNP and EDL, and whilst flags and royal weddings and the like don’t move me terribly I do feel lucky to live here, and I love my homeland.
I wasn’t expecting to find anything about the Olympics that would move me, any more than that wedding did. I was wrong. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony celebrated my Britain, my home, in all its glorious diversity, in a way I hadn’t for a moment expected. It was a delight – I was laughing with pleasure, and with tears in my eyes. And last night I was moved by our own Jess’s triumph in the heptathlon – a Sheffield lass, after our own Arctic Monkeys had greeted the nation with a cry of ‘Y’alreight?’ – and by . ‘s triumph in the 10000m
And so the whole thing, which I’d expected to be a massive bore, has turned out to be instead a massive, bonkers celebration of this marvellous, mixed up country, where the multiculturalism which a Tory idiot and the Daily Mail derided has brought us medals beyond all expectations, where the successes of a Yorkshire girl with a Jamaican dad, and a Somali refugee have been celebrated across all the boundaries that sometimes divide us.
Last night Mo was asked if he’d rather be running for Somalia. His answer is powerful in its simplicity and confidence: “Look mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud. I’m very proud.”
That’s not a pride that requires disparaging or disqualifying anyone, it’s not a pride that is based on being white or being able to trace centuries of ancestors on British soil. It’s not about believing that we as a nation have always been heroic or just, or that our policies at home or abroad are right now.
I’m proud that over centuries we’ve kept our doors open to people who’ve needed to find refuge here, from French Huguenots to Russian and European Jews, to victims of more recent conflicts and oppression. That’s the Britain I love, and celebrate – whilst at the same time wishing we were more welcoming, less mean-spirited (see my series of posts for Refugee Week, and if you would, sponsor me to run for Refugee Action in a few weeks time!). Our diversity is our strength, and I love and celebrate that too.
Danny Boyle’s vision for the opening ceremony was summed up in Tim Berners-Lee‘s gift of the internet to the world, a gift, as he said, that is for everyone. That celebration of ‘the creativity, exuberance and, above all, the generosity of the British people’ had ‘a golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of a better world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nation that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. We can build Jerusalem. And it will be for everyone.’
Idealistic, naive – perhaps. But that’s my country. And I’m proud.
- How Mo Farah rejected the “plastic Brit” charge (newstatesman.com)
- London 2012: Danny Boyle’s story of Britain was a celebration of freedom | Shami Chakrabarti (guardian.co.uk)