In England, April marks the annual celebration of St. George’s Day.
The celebrations on 23rd April have been a yearly tradition for centuries, symbolising the epitome of English pride for many. It celebrates St. George, the patron saint of England, who – according to legend – killed a dragon and saved a princess.
St. George’s Day is a widespread celebration across England, marked up and down the country. Adorning the St. George’s cross, flying the English flag high and coming together to celebrate the nation is a big deal for many English citizens, with customs that continue into the 21st century.
Yet St. George’s Day is changing.
In 21st century England, the English flag divides opinion. Being proud to be English draws widespread criticism online. English patriotism has gone from being the norm to causing generational conflicts throughout the country, with its position among the younger generation especially distinctive.
A 2018 study by the BBC encapsulates this conflict, and the newfound controversy over English pride. The statistics are fascinating, and prove a number of divisions within the English population.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of over-65s say they are proud to be English, in contrast to under half (45%) of 18 to 24-year-olds. The prevalence of English identity increases the further you get from London, where around a third (35%) of Londoners do not feel English at all.
85% of the survey’s white respondents feel strongly English, yet that number falls by almost half among the BAME community, where 45% feel the same way. 90% of Leave voters said that they feel strongly English, while a quarter of Remain voters don’t feel English at all.
There’s a clear divide based on where you’re from, how old you are and what ethnicity you are, and that’s just what the statistics shows. The sentiment of English unity only survives in the past, and 21st century Britain has grown away from being proud to be English.
English pride has never caused more controversy than it does today, but why?
One answer points to the multiculturalism in Britain today. England has never been more diverse, with a multitude of cultures and ethnicities represented across London alone.
Young people are prouder of their roots and regional identity, with the past atrocities of imperialism playing a significant role in that. We are far more likely to identify with the origin of our parents, our culture and our traditions, rather than one that encourages English patriotism and nationalism.
That leads on to the second and most important reason that English pride is problematic: extremism.
In 2009, the English Defence League (EDL) was formed in opposition to the growing number of Muslims in the UK. The EDL are infamous for their far-right, extremist, Islamophobic views, and have caused huge uproar for their racist views.
Among all their controversial actions, the EDL logo features the St. George’s cross emblazoned across it- a symbol which has since been associated with the organisation and its views. That is where the problem arises.
Thanks to racist political and extremist ideology, the English cross and flag don’t represent national pride anymore; rather, the negative connotations that now arise from the symbolism. Where in some countries, it is common to have a flag flying high to show pride and patriotism, seeing the St. George’s cross on the streets of England now implies otherwise.
The English image has been ruined by extremism, removing any opportunity to show you are a proud English citizen. You cannot fly an English flag without being accused of being a racist, a truth seemingly accepted by many. Being proud to be English is a trait that is frowned upon, forever associated with the disgusting image of extremism.
So, what can we do to change?
The responsibility relies in the government and relevant authorities to stamp out this extremism, and re-educate those perpetrators. There is a fine balance between freedom of speech and radical ideology, but to further distinguish them, action must be taken to eradicate extremism in Britain for good.
English pride remains a difficult issue, but as long as these extremist groups are allowed to continue, the divide won’t be resolved. Sure, times are changing, and young people are generally less inclined to display affection for being English, but we must work on replacing what can be changed.
Being proud to be English shouldn’t be condemned nor criticised, but it’s easy to see why. So, I ask you again- are you proud to be English? If the answer is no, who can blame you.