I'm a British Jewish Homo sapiens. But I'm as English as the next man

I'm not ideally British. And, that being the case, I think I'll pass on being Jewish too,
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The Independent Online

Let me see if I've got this right. I'm not "English", because "to be English, as the term is in practice used, is to be white". The fact that I am white - not proudly or patriotically white, just white - doesn't make this any better. I'm not, ideally, British either, because of that denomination's "insuperable barrier", its "systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations". And that being the case, I think I'll pass on being Jewish too, since the racial connotations of Jewishness (our own and other people's) are too considerable for any single individual Jew to bear.

Let me see if I've got this right. I'm not "English", because "to be English, as the term is in practice used, is to be white". The fact that I am white - not proudly or patriotically white, just white - doesn't make this any better. I'm not, ideally, British either, because of that denomination's "insuperable barrier", its "systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations". And that being the case, I think I'll pass on being Jewish too, since the racial connotations of Jewishness (our own and other people's) are too considerable for any single individual Jew to bear.

So what does that leave? Human being? Won't work; racially coded, in so far as it excludes the animal kingdom as presently constituted and any future community of aliens who may wish to live among us. Homo sapiens? Forget it. Gender-coded and unacceptable to the learning-impaired, though they of course won't realise that. Man? Don't make me laugh. Worm, then? Hello, I am a Jewish British Worm myself, what's your nationality?

If it's all right with you, I think I'll stick with English. I was born in England, as were my parents, two or three of of my grandparents and at least one great-grandparent. When Henry V appeals to "you good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England", I always think he is addressing me. And when he speaks of "gentlemen in England, now a-bed" who will think themselves accursed they were not there upon Saint Crispin's day, I still fancy he is addressing me. Because, though I wasn't in fact there, I'd like to have been. Not to get hurt, not to be among those English whose bodies filled the breaches in the wall, but to enjoy the poetry. Cultural you see; I like the language.

And where does that leave me, as a Jewish British person, when it comes to the famous cricketing test of national allegiance? Do I support the English eleven or the Israeli? Ah, how often have I agonised over that dilemma in my dreams. Lord's, the cricket World Cup final, the scores tied, one ball remaining, and Dov Sharefsky skies it to the long on boundary, where I am fielding. "Catch it, catch it!" If I catch, England are world champions. If I drop, Israel make cricketing history - the first team ever to have come through an entire tournament without making a single appeal to the umpires. Jews don't like asking.

I look into the dying sun and cup my hands. Now all the youth of England are on fire - 25,000 of them, each one racially encoded, urging me on.

Before my eyes passes a bedraggled procession of my suffering people, all in long coats and carrying books. In fact the only Jew I've known who wears long coats and carries books is me. But visions don't have to be literal. Tears blind me. Do I catch, or do I drop? Bathed in sweat, I wake sobbing.

Does that make me a multiculturalist? I am uneasy with the concept of multiculturalism. Say "ethnic diversity" and I am as enthusiastic as everyone else. The more the merrier and the more diverse the better. But is that quite "culture" we are addressing? When I went to university to read Henry V, I was making a conscious choice to study English literature. Not Russian literature, though I read some of that as well, and not Jewish literature either.

To me, English literature was a very specific thing, in part a history of a particular people's mind. Although I steeped myself in it and came to love it immoderately, in some respects it was, and still remains, alien to me. I like that. I like coming at it, so to speak, side on. I don't want it to change to accommodate me. I'm not sure, either, that I want me to change to accommodate myself to it. There is more in it for both of us, I think, to go on making play of our differences.

It is often argued that English culture is the rich thing it is because of the contributions made by those from outside, from elsewhere, from the margins. I agree with this, as how could I not, but you cannot have a margin unless you have a page. Nor can you contribute to a void.

The Polish-born novelist Joseph Conrad chose to write in English (though his second language was, in fact, French) and thereby put something not English forever into English culture. But it was an idea of Englishness, even an idealisation of Englishness, a devotion to what he understood to be its moral and psychological complexion, no less than its linguistic resources, that induced him to write in English in the first place.

In this "community of communities" it would be invidious if only the English were not allowed to enjoy what makes them distinct. Distinct, not unchanging, for it is true that unchangingness is death; but not so diverse, either, as to have no shape, for a culture that has no shape is a clearing house not a culture.

As for the encoded racism, pass me the sick bag, Alice. However much there is still to fear from white supremacists and neo-Nazis, I dread the footfall of the sniffer-out of racism more.We will die of this if we are not careful, the tyranny of the witch-hunters, censoring our every thought, reducing us to drones, in the words of the South African novelist Christopher Hope, writing bitterly this week about the brave new non-racist South Africa, banning even laughter.

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