The Loss Of British Culture

There are a number of approaches taken by the anti-immigration movement to demonstrate that mass immigration is a bad thing. One is economic: it stands to reason (dunnit) that the more people in the country, the more thinly spread are the economic benefits. Naturally, this doesn’t actually stand to reason. If it did, Ireland and Portugal would be celebrating the mass exodus caused by their economic troubles. But I’ll leave others to argue the economic benefits of immigration.

The more pernicious arguments revolve around the cultural effects of immigration. While I’ve always suspected that “culture” in this context is simply a coded reference for race, I’m always prepared to hear people justify the viewpoint that we somehow “lose” or “weaken” our culture by accepting immigrants who bring other cultural ideas with them. Whenever I’m confronted with these claims, I always ask the same question: exactly what has Britain lost from its culture by accepting immigrants? Despite asking repeatedly, I’ve not been given a single example that makes sense. Perhaps the least-nonsensical replies I’ve had are along the lines of “Come on – you surely don’t believe immigration hasn’t harmed our culture do you?” to which I answer, “Yes, I really believe immigration hasn’t harmed our culture”.

In truly religious style, the anti-immigration camp always expect others to prove a negative. It would surely be easy to demonstrate that British culture has lost something: a single example would suffice. Perhaps some people remember Cockney street urchins reading the works of Dickens or quoting Shakespeare at every opportunity? Maybe, the influx of Pakistanis, Czechs and Jamaicans somehow put an end to these things? Could it be that Yardie gangsters or Islamist militants harassed and intimidated British youth until they no longer dared played the music of Benjamin Britten in public? Do Polish thugs jump on anybody who recites the poetry of Wilfred Owen? Not that I’ve noticed.

I’m given general hints like “We’ve lost London. We don’t want to lose the rest of the country”. However, last time I checked (about half an hour ago) London was still here. Although (and I think this is what they’re getting at) there are certainly more brown faces visible, and a wider variety of languages can be heard spoken in the streets, than in the past.

It’s true that, using coercion, cultures can be warped and damaged. The Yiddish culture (and language) of my great grandparents is almost extinct, courtesy of the Holocaust. Kurdish culture has been suppressed in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, as they try to destroy the Kurdish sense of nationhood. But no such coercion has happened, or could possibly happen to British culture in Britain. Sure, the Indians came here, bringing their foreign cultural values. Like cricket. And chicken tikka masala (now declared Britain’s unofficial national dish). And a taste for mathematics.

In the absence of coercion, cultures are additive. People pick the best that they encounter, and blend with what they already know. As a music lover, the strengthening effects of cultural mixing are immediately obvious to me. I would argue London has been the most musically creative city on the planet for the past couple of decades. The music made here is definitively our own, and is exported globally. London creates not just musical talent but entire new genres; the latest of many London creations is dubstep, and this has already been exported around the globe (forgive me if I’ve missed a new genre or two since dubstep – it takes a while for us older ones to notice these things). London is lucky enough to have immigration from, and thus links with, some of the deepest musical cultures on the planet – particularly West Africa and its offshoot in Jamaica.

White working class culture has long welcomed and absorbed foreign musical influences, perhaps starting with the black American troops who brought swing with them during WWII, followed by soul music in the 1960s and reggae in the 70s. Once Britain had absorbed a critical mass of immigrants, British music became truly turbo-charged, and began to flow outwards rather than simply absorb and repeat influences we heard elsewhere. The 1970s generation that tried to sound Jamaican by playing reggae was succeeded by generations that took reggae, hip-hop, house and techno, and created something new and amazing with them. Before dubstep, London made British soul, jungle, drum and bass, garage and grime. How many other cities on Earth could claim to have added so much to world music culture?

There was no tradition of British popular music prior to mass immigration, and that’s why racists can’t find any examples of anything that’s been lost. If you want to remember what European popular music sounds like without the help of immigrants, just tune into Eurovision. It’s not a spoof; that really is the best that most European countries can come up with.

Beyond music, the same points apply. We still have our fish and chips, but we also have our curry goat, lamb vindaloo and shawarmas. My local fish and chip shop is staffed by Poles, and the customers come from all over the world. Oh, and fish and chips were probably introduced by Jewish immigrants anyway.

It saddens me that, if the swivel-eyed anti-immigration loons hold sway, London may give up our hard-won cultural prize to other places. It’s tragic that Daily Mail readers and UKIP voters, in total ignorance of what constitutes modern British culture, may destroy our unique creativity, without ever noticing or caring. Those people who care least  for what British culture represents are the ones claiming to be defending it from “threats”.

All we’ve “lost” is the right to walk down the street without seeing a brown face. I’m happy to surrender that “right” in exchange for living in the most culturally exciting city on Earth. The day people from all over the world stop wanting to live in London is the day it’s no longer worth living here.

What actually defines British culture? We are an outward-looking nation, which is why the British Empire became what it was: not only a tool of global robbery and brutality, but also a giant, borderless superstate that allowed British people, Africans and Indians to travel, mix and learn from each other. British culture is multicultural, and has been for centuries. No other nation in Europe has the ability to embrace and learn from other cultures like the British, which is why this small island with less than 1% of the global population can so consistently punch above its weight. The only thing that could seriously threaten our culture would be to close our borders. That would bring to an end a story that began when the first British ship set out to explore the world.

39 thoughts on “The Loss Of British Culture”

  1. Interesting article. But when you assert that Britain has always been multicultural, you need to define what you mean by multicultural. There is an enormous difference between wearing traditional clothing and practising honour-killings.

    Read my blog entitled Bloody Foreigners for a different perspective. joethebaron.blogspot.UK

    1. I use “multicultural” in its broadest sense – our society draws from multiple cultural roots, and continually absorbs and generates new cultures. I see multiculturalism as the way our society operates, not as something politicians invented.

        1. You can’t about “multiculturalism as we understand it” unless you know what we understand by multiculturalism. Because if one thing is clear, it is that there is a huge range of things that people can call “multiculturalism” depending on whether they want to support it or not. I’m not saying we would agree if we WERE working to the same definition, but if people are talking about two different things and don’t know what those things are, whether they agree or not is pretty meaningless.

          1. I dont care what colour they are –our country has become terribly overcrowded. Instead of being emotional let’s be practical. There is no room for anymore newcomers. We can’t house nor educate those already here. Schools, hospitals,housing are at breaking point.
            Shut up do-gooders. Lets call a halt NOW!

          2. Normally when countries don’t have enough housing, they build more. Unless you’re moany, whingy Britain. Then you blame the people rather than the housing

    2. Pretty sure that honour killings have not become part of British culture.

      This is kind of the point; we can absorb the good without feeling any obligation to absorb the bad. So when people talk about “creeping Sharia” because someone built a mosque near them, for example, it’s a hysterical reaction.

      It seems that a lot of the argument that we are “losing our culture” is dependent on the idea of a slippery slope by which people will be forced to adopt the more aberrant parts of a culture purely because we like their food or music.

  2. There was no tradition of British popular music prior to mass immigration
    Music Hall? Folk Music? Not that I’m suggesting either of those was pushed out by immigration; rather, they died as a result of technological progress and societal shifts.

    Other than that tiny quibble, spot on.

    1. Music Hall was a relatively recent and fleeting thing. And as I understand, it was relatively little to do with music – more like an early version of Britain’s Got Talent. As for British folk music – I guess all ancient societies have that in some form, but the fact that it has left no modern footprint (other than classical, which has never been “popular” music) is testament to its lack of sophistication.

      If we did have a genuine, strong folk tradition, it would have been preserved in our modern music. Instead, our current popular music comes largely from African and Latin folk traditions.

      1. As much as I love african and latin folk traditions, you are missing the influence american country & western music had on rock and roll, and both have direct roots in British and Irish folk music. What we listen to now is a fusion – and we’re much richer for it – but it’s a fusion of us as well as incomers.

        I’d also hazard a guess that music hall followed directly from the tradition of wandering entertainers which you can trace back to Chaucer (and of course went on for centuries before that).

        1. I agree regarding country & western; also regarding Celtic/Irish music, but I doubt C&W can trace back much in terms of non-Celtic British roots. Interestingly C&W has a following in sub-Saharan Africa.

          I agree that everything is a fusion, but I’d still argue that European music as a whole has had very little influence. The exceptions to that rule are Celtic, Jewish and Gypsy music, and the latter two originate outside Europe.

          This diagram is an attempt by somebody to show a musical family tree. While it misses a lot, and may have inaccuracies, it shows the limited impact of traditional European music on what we listen to today.

          1. Great diagram, but I think you are reading it wrong. We listen to a wide range of music, most of it a cross-over of different influences. Look at the top selling music of all time, and look at the top selling music right now. There’s plenty of european folk influence there. Thankfully, most of it has melted together 😉

      2. Folk clubs still exist all over England providing the kind of music that has roots in this country. Also Folk Rock became popular in the 60’s and its influence is still around today with such brilliant examples as Richard Thompson, who incidentally lives in the US.
        Our great rock bands of the 60’s were largely influenced by the American blues singers who were mainly of African decent but not immigrants into the UK.

      3. Music changed greatly over the past hundred years, after remaining comparatively static before then. It is not really accurate to say that Britain had no popular culture before immigration, for a few reasons.

        Popular culture as we know it mushroomed as a result of mass media – radio, sound recording, etc. – so that in many ways immigration was coincidental – our culture was going to be “contaminated” whether people came to this country or not. You see this most obviously with the Internet; now someone in a bedroom in Sussex can be inspired by obscure underground music from Japan, Bolivia and New York without ever having to meet anyone from those places. However, in practice people are more likely to be inspired by cultures that exist around them.

        Music hall, incidentally, was effectively killed off by radio, because there is an entirely different skill set involved. It’s not just that it required people to come up with new material more frequently; the expectations of audiences changed as well. Similarly, British popular culture before recorded sound relied on live performance; people bought and learned sheet music and played it on the house piano. It’s quite hard to imagine how different our culture became as a result of this. Music was almost by necessity a communal thing, and also very malleable, since a performance would be dependent on the ability and the creativity of the individual performer.

        The point here is that British popular culture – just like all the other kinds – changed massively in a short space of time because of major developments in technology. It is really hard to pinpoint a time when this, rather than immigration, was not the most important factor.

        In fact, in a perverse way, I would say that immigration has more effect on our culture NOW than it did 20-30 years ago, because now that everyone has access to a near-infinite amount of culture from all over the globe via YouTube et al, the people we know are our guide, telling us which bits of the infinite to explore. Of course, this is not limited to immigrants, but compared to other times in our recent history, the company we keep has a more profound effect on the choices we make than it did when, for example, we were ultimately reliant on our local record shop’s selection or our local DJ’s setlist to decide what music would be accessible to us.

        As for traditional British culture: people are keeping it alive. There are village fetes and Morris dances and such going on all over the country, and while they may be accused of being “ironic” by those who don’t really understand the word, I think they are treated in much the spirit that they always were. It may be impossible to recapture their old function – as a meeting place for a community – because of the changes in society that have occurred since the Industrial Revolution. It may be presumptuous but I’m prepared to bet that teenagers in 1500 were as bored at the local barn dance as they are now. What we have now is choice, and while it’s unfortunate that some traditions find themselves fighting for audience, that is universal, not just the reserve of British culture.

        It all feels like a moot point though. Because as the article states, when someone says that British culture is being destroyed by immigration, you do suspect that by “culture” they mean “white people”. At the risk of seeming elitist or prejudiced, I see little evidence from the Facebook pages of EDL members or UKIP members that they are particularly involved in British culture. To them, culture is the footie and The X-Factor and not much else. I’d say “not that there’s anything wrong with that”, but there is, a lot wrong with that. Someone whose consumption of culture is entirely passive and one-way has absolutely no right to complain. They come off like the MTV generation, now demanding to know why expensive adverts for albums aren’t aired to people who won’t pay for those albums because they think that mass culture owes them a favour.

        The point being that culture is made by those who actively participate in it. You do not get the culture that you want by staying at home and watching or listening to whatever radio or television is offering you today. Unfortunately that is what the “British culture” brigade seem to want – a culture that remains static but continually gives them new things with no input from them whatsoever.

        1. I don’t understand this reference to ‘British culture’. What exactly is it other than a pseudo-reference to anything which is not English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish? Reggae is a Jamaican cultural creation and dubstep seems more related to African-Caribbean culture than any ‘British’ homogenous cultural product. I do not deny or object to this being appropriated and greatly admire the musical influence enjoyed because of African-Caribbean influence but I think we need to accord the credit where it is due, unless of course it is now universally accepted that immigration has actually benefited even the ignorant racists who refuse to accept that being ‘British’ is as much about yams, rice n’ peas and ganja as it is about Morris Dancing, bowler hats and the Royal family.
          To me it is also about tablas, shalwar kameez and the muezzin, pyrogis, kebabs and hindi, but I suspect that many here are far from ready for that.

          1. Let me correct you there: the Royal Family haven’t been particularly British, and certainly never been English, for 1000 years. Unless, of course, you accept that Britain has always been multicultural. In which case, we agree.

      4. I would respectfully suggest that George Formby’s worldwide popularity and influence on artists such as George Harrison – a member of his appreciation
        society and the Beetles’ music hall tunes such as ‘When I’m 64′, Yellow Submarine’ and Queen’s ‘Keep Good Company’ would contradict every single article of your statement.

  3. I agree with it all except that folk hasn’t left a lasting cultural impression. It has – fused with many musical styles from other cultures. But yeah, great article!

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! I wouldn’t say that folk hasn’t left a lasting impression, but that modern folk is infused with all sorts of influences, and may not trace much of its roots back to traditional British music

  4. I think in this day and age in the Western world culture is irrelevant. Because we are a mix of different ways of living and values nobody now has set culture.

    1. Agreed. It’s just that I’m a geek and always want to know where stuff came from. And it’s a fun way to annoy BNP members

      1. Folk music was never really pure: the musicians and singers moved about a fair bit, and there is US folk music that sounds like British folk, and with a bit of development and mixage with jazz and Doo-wop, that became rock and roll. There’s no one tradition you could trace it to.

        I’d say that music hall was more like 70s Variety than anything, though dirtier, in every way. English folk especially took inspiration from whatever was around at the time, including Music Hall. I’d say that groups like The Fall are carrying on with this tradition.

  5. Thanks. Just finished meeting with a team of lawyers in Pretoria. The most junior, a young Afrikaaner, has a great ambition. To go to London, albeit to include the Emirates to see his beloved Arsenal.
    The most senior regaled me with great warmth of his time working in London.
    I am here to give evidence against a guy who has sought to avoid paying a large debt. He is British. Worse still for me a fellow Scot. I don’t consider stealing part of British culture but hey ho.

    1. Football is for sure a major part of British culture. I’ve been to several African countries and the biggest “tribal” rivalries I encounter are between Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool fans.

  6. It’s perhaps worth recalling that “multiculturalism” in Britain has a pretty long history (not all of it pretty). The Romans occupied the country for about 300 years, mixing with the Ancient Britons. When they left, the Angles and Saxons moved in, followed (mainly in Eastern England, for obvious geographical reasons) by the Vikings, who settled, and became farmers. In 1066 the Normans invaded, and the nobility were French in orientation, while the peasants were mainly Anglo-Saxon. These two cultures gradually merged. My own family probably came to this country about 250-300 years ago seeking political asylum (they were French Huguenots, who were persecuted by Louis XIV and Cardinal Richlieu). All of these have enhanced the culture of the country over time, and the likelihood is that current immigrants will do likewise.

    In short, those who appear to be most concerned with “preserving British culture and history” appear to have little or no idea how it was formed.

    1. The Whitechapel synagogue my grandfather attended as a child was once a church for Huguenot immigrants. It’s now a mosque 🙂

      1. Apologies: I realised later that my “potted history” was far from comprehensive! In particular, it leaves out Jewish migration through history, Irish migration (partly caused by English policies in Ireland), black migration, particularly in ports (Liverpool has had a black population for centuries), and the effect of colonialism. However, I hope it made the point! I like your example!

  7. And let’s not forget the language we all use – a West Germanic language introduced into these islands in the 5th century by immigrants from continental Europe with major lexical borrowings from the languages of immigrants from Scandinavia and then from the 11th century a whole load more from immigrants from France. Without immigration we’d all be speaking Welsh. Or would we? Didn’t the Celts originally come to these islands as immigrants? The point about popular music is brilliantly made. The thing that amuses me though is that politicians who claim to believe in the free market don’t really, since, on free market principles, immigration is self regulating. As the labour market in a given country becomes saturated and unemployment rises the marginal economic advantage from moving there will fall to a level where potential immigrants won’t bother. No need for the state to intervene, if you believe in the market economy. And without .immigration where would I get my jerk pork and fried dumplings?

    1. Mmmmm. I’m a big jerk chicken/pork fan. Still, without immigrants there’d still be tinned spaghetti hoops and Findus lasagne.

      You’re right about the market thing. The right are total hypocrites on immigration, as they are on industry subsidies.

  8. Yep, sure, uh huh… You know one reason we have perpetual wars is because of the domino effect of revenge. It never ends.

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