Omar Aziz is a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard and author of the forthcoming memoir brown boy,
The death of Britain’s longest-reigning Queen Elizabeth II has sparked emotion around the world. After all, his rule touched billions of people, including me. I remember watching television with my grandmother as a boy and she pointed out that “Lizabeth” was on the screen. At times I looked to Elizabeth, as did many see her as a grandmother – even when I doubted the wisdom of the monarchy as an institution. There was an undeniable reverence for this queen, especially in her older years. She was a symbol, a person and a crown all at once.
But what was missing in symbolism and spectacle, and which cannot be missing from praise and remembrance, is that the queen held a very grand and distinctive legal office, an office that stretched back in time and greatly committed violence in those who subordinated it. The complex suffering of the descendants of those subjects should not be easily dismissed.
After all, one must grow up and stay away from royal nostalgia and the myths of empire. In later years, I learned that my grandmother, and all of my great-grandfathers, were colonial subjects of Her Majesty’s Empire. I think every brown or black child in Canada learns, after all, what their Irish brothers knew from the crib: that the British monarch was the epitome of oppression. There are other things to learn: that the same empire colonized India and parts of Africa and the Caribbean; exploited and benefited from the worst excesses of the transatlantic slave trade; induced famines in Ireland and Bengal; Compensated slave owners after emancipation; Killed black and brown people in their own cities, enslaved other humans, stole their wealth and jewelry, and claimed to have done so on behalf of enlightened civilization. These crimes were of immense proportion affecting many generations. Where does personal respect end and where does accountability – or honesty – begin? Elizabeth, for all her personal grace, could not redeem a shameful legacy.
Tom Rachman: Shaken and stirred: British struggle with their feelings after losing Queen
Canadian schoolchildren learn about the monarchy as if it were a benign institution. Many of the parents of those same school children were from lands afflicted by the British Empire., Whether Elizabeth was responsible for the crimes of the Crown is secondary. Elizabeth was the Crown, and therefore could not be removed from the office she embodied. He wore the crown, as did his priests. That crown literally consists of diamonds stolen from some of the colonists.
However, with Elizabeth’s death, the grief is not so simple. By all accounts, she was a decent human being. She rose above the harmful family politics all around her. She was also representative of a certain heritage, and while black, brown and Irish people felt a complex knot of emotion after her passing, they could still be forgiven for having endured the trauma inflicted by Elizabeth’s ancestors. Is.
Even this coveted queen, when clutched by the diamond-studded thorns of the royal crown, could not bring herself to apologize for any transgressions of the empire. She could not face any kind of compensation, even purely symbolic, for the spoils of the empire. That was, after all, his office. Perhaps that was his duty – to maintain a connection with the past that could withstand the whirlwind of change in the West. The history he held for some was a symbol of monarchical continuity; For others, a reminder that their ancestors were nearly destroyed. There should be a place in all our hearts to understand the expressions of grief and anger that come from different people on the passing of such an important person.
However, at some point, the grieving ends, and the person moves on, renewed. Perhaps it is time for Canada to have its own national rebirth. Perhaps more Canadians could appear on our coins, and swear by the new Canadian constitution, not the king. Perhaps, one day, a Canadian might even become the head of state. Maybe that person will be indigenous.
Growing up is not about erasing the past, but getting out of it. It is certain that the future does not belong to the crown or its successors. Not in the year 2022. It is of common people of every color from different corners of the world, who were never seen by Elizabethan ancestors, who survived all the violence of the Crown, who survived the genocide of the Empire, and still lived to create a generation that Combines the strength of all cultures, and will, in fact, form its own crown in the process. I grieve for Elizabeth’s passing, but will not shed tears for the Crown, or the cruel, neglected history that shines through in all its diamonds.