I had lived in Wales all my life before I came to Exeter, and, honestly, it was more of a culture shock than I had expected. If I had a pound for every time a sheep joke was made at my expense, I really wouldn’t have to worry about student debt. I can handle juvenile, stereotypical jokes, and I even play along with a few, but what’s really beginning to wear thin in my second term at Exeter is complete ignorance of Welsh culture and politics, as if people didn’t even know it existed.
There’s a sense of novelty when someone can pronounce my name. There’s a constant need to explain that I’m ‘proper welsh’ because I am Welsh-speaking, and that no, Plaid Cymru is not the majority party in Wales, and above all, to try to convince people that my culture and language are worth saving.
My patriotism has only grown in defence of my culture. I’ve been told on several occasions that regional identities don’t exist, that my identification as Welsh is illegitimate and that I’d be better off not speaking Welsh at all. The fact of the matter is Wales is the last colony of England, and their attempts to enforce English values on us, with the rhetoric of civilisation and betterment, have largely extinguished Welsh culture. Wales is struggling everyday to save it. Complete disregard of this struggle leads me to become an angry Welsh woman since coming to England and, to be completely honest, I’m proud of it.
Many people label me British. I don’t refer to myself as British, because I see Britishness as a guise to Anglicise parts of the U.K. It’s a pseudonym for Englishness with little or no representation of minority cultures. Politeness, tea drinking and love for the monarchy are quintessentially English qualities – the fact that they’re universally recognised as British is insulting. Where is the recognition for other cultures? For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is very little representation and this is shown through the ‘national’ anthem. The English anthem and the British anthem are one and the same. No matter the nationality of the Olympic winner ‘God Save the Queen’ will play and erase their regional identity from the world stage. Before a big rugby game, the passion with which Welsh supporters sing ‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ is a thing of beauty – why can’t we celebrate this passion and celebrate regional cultures through our anthems, as is their purpose?
britishness is a pseudonym for Englishness with little or no representation of minority cultures
Tony Perkins MP recently proposed that England should adopt its own anthem for use at sub-UK events. Allowing different anthems would encourage cultural diversity. I hold this in the highest esteem, call it the defence mechanism of a dying language if you will. The idea of a homogenous British nation is dead and buried, and the rise of nationalism needs addressing as call for breaking up the UK have already reared their heads (e.g. the Scottish Referendum). National anthems are small show of nationalism from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales which allow us to exist within Britain without being silenced and stifled.
I have been greeted with nothing short of intolerance from many students in Exeter, and this stems from the rejection of sub-British cultures. Furthermore, the British anthem serves to erase English claims of a separate culture. Having a different anthem surely gives them a sense of individuality beyond the sense of British Englishness. By all means, choose a new British anthem or allow England to choose its own. Choose an anthem, but don’t presume to choose someone’s nationality for them.
I end this with a plea. Allow my culture, and Scottish and Northern Irish identities, to be expressed through their own anthems. Don’t subjugate our cultures through the enforcement of English values on us, and don’t kid yourself that we are in any way represented by ideas of Britishness. Give up on the idea of homogeneity and allow for individuality. Allow Britishness to become an amalgam of all the wonderful things that make up the UK, not just the English. I won’t sing ‘God save the Queen’ because, for me, it stands for repression. End this now, and allow our beautiful regional anthems to be sung loudly and proudly across stadiums and race tracks around the world.