The death of Queen Elizabeth – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – has inevitably drawn both negative and positive comment around the world.
Queen Elizabeth II was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. Her death reminded me of the words of Maya Angelou: “The story cannot remain unlived in its grief, but if braved, it need not be lived again.”
But the chorus of tributes won’t detract from the fact that her death also opened a Pandora’s box of the brutal historical legacy of British colonial rule.
An inescapable inconvenient truth is that some of this was committed during her reign.
Yet she also managed to be revered by people within the Commonwealth, which at the time of her death had been reduced to just 15 of the 32 countries it once comprised.
It is only when the position, power and privilege are taken away as a result of the family into which she was born that we can begin to understand who she was as a person.
Over the decades that she’s been in the public spotlight, we’ve seen her good-natured sense of humor and gentle demeanor. She’s been a daughter, wife, sister, mother, grandmother, aunt, great-grandmother, friend.
But as the world ponders her legacy, all of her positive attributes will not entirely detract from some of the atrocious acts committed in her name in territories conquered by British soldiers.
Serenity is not easily reconciled with the awareness of suffering
The armies sent out in their name killed innocent people, destroyed lives and plundered the wealth and fortune of millions in their colonies to serve British interests.
In their seven decades in power, the Crown and its family have been enriched.
She was a well educated and knowledgeable woman with a great understanding of history and geopolitics.
So her equanimity and indifference to what was happening in many of the countries over which she had considerable influence came across as somewhat uncomfortable. Serenity is not easily reconciled with the awareness of suffering.
The way the legacy of the British Empire has affected many countries and indigenous peoples around the world, including Ireland, is why outbursts of anger have erupted – particularly among younger generations.
While older generations reluctantly accepted their fate or their opportunities at the hands of British rule, the younger generation, having witnessed the suffering of their parents and grandparents, has found an opportunity to vent their anger.
Uncomfortable questions are now being asked openly. This is understandable, since her accession to the throne would have brought much hope for the emancipation of women’s rights and perhaps a turnaround in the ruthlessness of some of those who acted on her behalf.
Unfortunately, the status quo and legacy of her father, King George VI, remained. And it looks like King Charles III. move on.
One wonders, was she attached to the establishment like everyone before her, or was she the establishment?
Has she ever questioned that?
Troubling issues surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s treatment and their interracial relationship also remain unresolved.
The world is now aware that the establishment – whether an individual or a college – makes all the decisions that govern the royal family, which in turn affects their subjects.
This was something Princess Diana had spoken out about in interviews before her death.
The question of who exactly makes the decisions has arisen again in the dispute over Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, who is considered a commoner.
The fact that she is also a woman of mixed race and that her children have been subjected to racial abuse at the hands of the British media is also relevant.
The trickle-down effects of how non-white subjects of the British Empire were treated can also be seen in the Windrush scandal.
Many people of Caribbean descent who were brought to Britain to work and provide basic services were suddenly deported from the only country they called home.
Given such contexts, it’s not that difficult to understand the violent reactions: especially if you’re from a country that was at the brink of British imperial violence. For example, Britain’s acts of violence in Kenya between 1952 and 1960 have been expertly researched by historians such as Caroline Elkins. These included the use of internment camps, systematic torture, sexual abuse and forced castration.
The British government admitted this in 2012.
The scars left by the British Empire and the damage it has done cannot be covered up.
There is a depressingly long list of countries that suffered the brutality of an empire that was not just occasionally violent, but placed extreme violence at the heart of its operations.
While the Queen may not have addressed all the injustices of the British Empire (and I would argue that was not her role, as this is highly political and politics is not for the monarch), she has not always been afraid to look at British history straight in the eye.
When the opportunity presented itself, as happened in Ireland in 2011, she tried to make amends.
She has lived through some ugly moments from Britain’s past, recognized them and is trying to build bridges for the future.
I was amazed by some of the comments, sentiments shared about her legacy, but right or wrong, no matter what opinion people have, she was a woman in a man’s world.
She remains a much-loved world leader and a queen held in the highest regard.
It’s also true that we may never know what struggles she fought behind the scenes.
There are also hard lessons to be learned and recognized, and that is an obligation.
But we must also remember that she was a person whose death will be mourned by millions.
May she rest in peace.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/queen-elizabeth-was-an-exceptional-woman-but-her-death-shines-a-light-on-britains-brutal-colonial-history-42002492.html Queen Elizabeth was an extraordinary woman, but her death sheds light on Britain’s brutal colonial history