It’s been a particularly polarizing week for the world in the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. A monarch who presided over the highs and lows of two different centuries, it comes as little to no surprise that Elizabeth II’s death would send cataclysmic shockwaves across both the real world and the myriad of virtual ones that make up social media. Typically, when a celebrity of this magnitude passes you have the usual outpouring of condolences and tributes; with everyone and their nan commemorating the life of a person who in many ways was larger than life. There’s also been a sizeable portion of public opinion that is highlighting the historical colonialism atrocities that the British monarchy had a direct hand in.
For former colonies and diasporic communities, the queen was the figurehead of the death, destruction and genocide that was wrought in the pursuit of world domination and cultural supremacy. Indeed, it could be argued that the very foundation that the monarchy exists on today, is the result of centuries of theft and pillage; that once thriving economies were stripped bare and crippled by the iron fist of colonialism.
If that were not enough, the systemic effects of colonialism on cultures and societies across the world were far more insidious and have had far-reaching consequences that are apparent even today. When the British Empire colonized a country, they ensured that the very fabric of that country and its mechanisms were shaped and moulded to directly benefit themselves and themselves alone. Everything from infrastructure to education to law and order was distorted to ensure absolute dominion. They moulded the minds of entire generations; discouraging any expression of free thought and free will. The opportunities that were open to individuals from colonized nations drastically paled in comparison to that of our colonizers and we became second-class citizens in our own countries; relegated to clerk work and subservient positions at best.
What little power they gave us was by and large to sow the seeds of discord; dividing and communalizing entire sections of our populations to ensure we could never organize and fight back. What were once thriving multiplicities of culture and diversity became homogenized and distinct identities that could ‘never co-exist’. In their effort to assert their own racial dominance, they imposed identities and differences on indigenous populations that had otherwise never been a cause for conflict. Millions and millions of people across the world died or suffered at the hands of this diabolical form of ‘mandated othering’. Communities that were once as close as kin gradually and sometimes even overnight became sworn enemies; fighting each other while the empire continued to take what was theirs.
Cultural practices and traditions that had existed for centuries were eroded and replaced by their own anglicized versions. Everything from the clothes we wore, to the books we read to the art we created to the language we spoke, was labelled ‘primitive’ and ‘uncivilized’ and cast aside in favour of their own impositions. Their puritanical morals seeped their way into what was once a starkly liberal society (even when compared with society today) which led to extra layers of supression for individuals who lived their lives beyond the binary.
The effects and consequences of all of this and more can be seen in post-colonial nations across the world, affecting each one in ways that are both distinct, yet, horrifically familiar. The remnants of colonialism do not merely exist in the dilapidated hallways and rooms of a fallen empire that willingly chose evil in the pursuit of absolute power. It lives in the minds, and bodies of countless generations whose forefathers spent their lives in the darkness of imperialism; engulfed by reminders of their subjugation. It manifests in countless wars and conflicts over land, race, ethnicity, and religion. It has seeped into the fabric of schools, universities, and workplaces that see people as nothing more than drones; choosing to ignore the humanity and the agency of each individual. It still thrives in the form of arcane and draconian laws that ignore any semblance of liberty and individual freedoms.
As bitter of a pill as it is to swallow to those who look back at history with rose-tinted glasses, from the moment Queen Elizabeth II took on the mantle, her identity, like those who came before her, became inextricably linked with the politics, the actions and the evils of the British Empire as a whole.
While the world has come a long way since then, the glorification of the British monarchy still serves as a painful reminder of a not-so-distant past and a present that is steeped in the aftermath of centuries of subjugation. While there will likely never be reparations for the atrocities that were perpetuated, the very least we can do is to strive to eradicate the vestiges of imperialism from our societies and to hold those who continue to profit or live lives of privilege accountable, even when ‘etiquette’ calls for restraint. Etiquette never takes precedence over justice.
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