Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Phew, I'm not English - Naughtie's DNA journey shows it's still alright to be anti-English on the Today Programme


I just heard some baffling comments from James Naughtie, the Scottish presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. He was talking with a geneticist who has analysed his DNA to see where he is 'from' genetically. The banter with fellow presenter, John Humphrys (a Welshman) was good-humoured, but it revealed to me how making jokes about Englishness, or the English by a non-English person, is seemingly totally acceptable, while even good-humoured mocking of this kind about black people, or Jewish people, or Chinese, for example, would rightly be deemed outrageous by most people.

If I recall correctly, Naughtie said, on hearing that his ancestors left England for Scotland some 500 years ago - "that's long enough". Humphrys can be heard shouting "he's English".

He then quipped to his Welsh presenting colleague: "at least I'm not Welsh".

He also said, perplexingly, "at least I'm not a black goat from Brittany" [ie implicating that Humphrys was], to which JH said something like, "steady on, I'll have to get the Commission For Racial Equality on"...

Can you imagine if you replaced the word "Welsh, or English", with African or Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Irish or Chinese...? I know I'm conflating ethnicity with religion here, but you get my drift. If it would be wrong, for instance, for a Jewish presenter to joke about his relief at not being a Muslim, or for a white person to express relief about not having genetic links to Africa, then it should not be acceptable for Jim Naughtie to make the kind of statements he did this morning.

This was followed, bizarrely, by an interview with a social anthropoligist, who has written a book about what defines 'Englishness". The interview was basically a run-down of the English stereotype, including the fact that to be English, you must suffer 'alienation' and use the word "typical" whenever faced with a problem.  
Can you imagine English and Irish presenters of a Scottish-based radio programme joking about their relief at not being Scottish, before interviewing a social anthropologist about Scottish cultural stereotyes?  No, nor can I.

With Scottish nationalism on the rise and a sense that people on this island are increasingly defining themselves in narrow terms, we must guard against idle banter about ethnic identity which can set the cultural backdrop for much more sinister forces.  I don't like stereotypes, and feel uncomfortable with outward shows of nationalism and triumphalism - perhaps it's because I was born in England...


  1. Is it OK to make jokes about people with pc sticks up their arses?

    Which is worse, making stereotypical jokes about the English or cancer patients dying in England because they are denied drugs that would prolong their lives, that are freely available on the Scottish Health Service (there is no "the" NHS anymore) paid for by the patients in England, dying for the lack of those same drugs?

    How about parents in England worried sick because their kids are going to study in Scotland and, being from England, are going to be the only ones out of the whole EU paying full tuition fees and thus saddled with debt for the rest of their lives? How about the Students Loans Company being based in Scotland, insultingly?

    How about the rest of the iniquities dumped on the English by Labour's devolution project in a virtual apartheid manner?

    How about Welshman and former Labour Deputy Prime Minister writing "There is no such nationality as English?" or the Scot and former Labour Minister, the late Robin Cook saying on BBC Radio "England is not a nation it is just a collection of regions"?

    We only have this sort of thing because British MPs of all parties, refuse the English even a referendum on an English Parliament. Their refusal is because they know the English would vote for one, putting them all out of a job overnight, just as they are pointless in Scotland now.

    Anglophobia is in the British DNA and the deadliest enemies of the English are the British, wherever they were born.

    Screw the UK and to hell with the British.

  2. James Matthews4 June 2011 at 09:43

    Glad to see that someone reacted to the piece as I did. but, to reinforce a stereotype I just sighed and thought "typical" (because it is, Anglo bashing is routine and passers largely unnoticed)

  3. Like their Scottish co-worker Kirsty Wark who is also making a good living in England.
    She "can only breath properly when she gets back over the boarder to Scotland" It must never occur to them to stay in Scotland and earn their living there it would save them so much pain.

  4. I'm pretty pissed off with this kind of attitude as well but unlike the stereotypical Englishman I do something about it when the English are being racially attacked and insulted. When HMV incited racism against the English with their ABE t-shirts I complained and had them removed (racial motivated attacks against the English in Scotland are much more likely during football tournaments). When the BBC insult the English I complain. When the BBC claimed English history as British in their country profiles of former colonies I complained and got them corrected. I opposed the EU empire that wants to wipe England off the map by joining UKIP. I joined the Campaign for an English Parliament to fight for equal rights for the English. I heckled a meeting of the British cabinet in Birmingham calling for home rule for England and got thrown out and escorted off the premises.

    The British are an occupying force in England, it's time they were evicted. England is the last colony of the British Empire. The Big Britishers can insult me all they want, I am English and proud and I'll oppose British imperialism in England until my dying breath.

  5. I too get annoyed when chip on shoulder Welsh and Scots pass such comments but I know most Welsh aren't like that. I would like to say that most certainly 99.9% of the English aren't and that the great Stephen Gash was actually born in Canada!


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