“Queen Elizabeth served as a symbol of stability and consistency, of traditional, conservative values in a world spiraling further into populism and war and all kinds of mayhem and chaos.”
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96 after over 70 years on the throne surfaced the many complicated feelings surrounding not only herself but also the institution of the British monarchy.
For those Gen X and younger, the Queen seemed the eternal mother/grandmother, looking like a caricature in her eye-achingly bright coats and hats.
For those whose only contact with British culture consists of the Teletubbies, Peppa Pig, and the Harry Potter movies, she was just a public figure, one among many celebrities in the digital world.
She was mild and nonthreatening. She never had a hair out of place or said a word in bad taste, nor did anything improper or inappropriate.
She was the essence of tradition, respectability, and propriety—in one word, boring.
Yet at her death, while many around the world, who only know her from media, mourned with her actual subjects, commenters pointed out that she was a symbol of her country’s legacy of imperialism and complicit in the maintenance and perpetuation of its ideals.
The British Empire, at its height just after World War I, claimed a quarter of the earth’s surface (including territories and countries under formal protection agreements).
The violence done over centuries in the name of the King or Queen killed and hurt countless people.
Treasures were plundered and resources (among them trafficked people) were pillaged to enrich the invaders. Some of the loot filled the British Museum’s shelves and set the Koh-in-Noor front and center on the royal crown.
But as anti-colonial voices grew stronger, the former colonies gradually gained their independence from Britain.
Elizabeth II, while benefiting from the advantages of colonization by virtue of her birth and position, saw the end of the British Raj and dismantling of much of the empire during her father George VI’s reign.
Hers saw the establishment of the Commonwealth of Nations (a 56-member community mostly comprising former British territories) and the final setting of the sun on the former empire when Hong Kong was ceded back to China in 1997.
Many hold her responsible for human rights violations committed by the British during her reign.
They also decry the fact that she never made an apology for the excesses of British imperialism.
In contrast, to bring up just one example, Pope Francis went to Canada last July on a ‘Pilgrimage of Penance’ to apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in erasing the culture and language of indigenous people via Canada’s residential school system.
On the other hand, some point out that although she was the monarch and had her face on stamps and currency, Elizabeth did not govern and can therefore claim to not be directly responsible for any of this.
She was not Prime Minister and made no decisions regarding the administration of the country. This type of argument outrages those who are marginalized and oppressed in the wake of British neocolonialism.
All can agree that Elizabeth II was an expensive figurehead upholding the millennia-old British tradition of having a monarch.
She served as a symbol of stability and consistency, of traditional, conservative values in a world spiraling further into populism and war and all kinds of mayhem and chaos.
Yet for those taking the postcolonial view, she also stood for all the sins and atrocities of an empire stemming from a white supremacist value system.
Essayist Rebecca Solnit wrote on social media last Sept. 10 that “the death of the queen has become an occasion to revisit the intertwined histories of colonialism and slavery. Who the queen was as a person and whether she was herself a prisoner of circumstance are irrelevant; if you embody several centuries of royal history, it’s the inequalities, invasions, and subjugations as well as the pomp and circumstance.
“The anticolonial discourse right now is about that embodiment of ‘tradition,’ and what that tradition actually consisted of…”
It is a complicated legacy that she leaves behind, and one that leaders today should learn from.
Because even though she lived a practically blameless life, never shirking from doing her duty, she is still being criticized after her death.
For each mourner, there are more who say, this should spell the end of the monarchy as an institution.
Perhaps then, when the Royal Family become just the Mountbatten-Windsors and just another British family, there will be closure and some degree of justice.
If there are those who do not mourn for a queen who behaved pristinely, with nary a misstep in the way she conducted herself in public, how much more deserving, then, of excoriation and outrage are leaders who are evil and unjust, or even plain incompetent, lazy, and greedy?
Filipinos should set higher standards for those who govern over them, because they deserve better, and in the end, their choices are the legacies they leave to their children.
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