A monarchy in Western democracies in the XXIst century is merely symbolic. Yet, that begs the question: symbolic of what?
The role of the monarch in the British crown is extremely limited in terms of political action and decision-making. However, its influence on its citizens and the rest of the world is undeniable. This idea recently brought concerns to some people who question whether that is a positive influence or not, coming from an institution built on structures of slavery and colonialism. The debate sparked back to life with the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, which evidently was lamented by hundreds of thousands. However, an obligation as such to mourn her death is being questioned. This is especially the case with younger generations, who speak up on social media about what the Queen and the Crown stand for, the cruel past the system refuses to acknowledge and apologize for, and the institutions it was built on.
Criticism towards the British Crown started to intensify after Megan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. Amongst others remarks, some mentioned a racist comment made by an unnamed royal and The Crown’s refusal of speaking out against racist comments made by the British media. The mere fact that Prince Harry and Markle decided to distance themselves from The Crown, considering Markle is the one and only black member of the family, should be indication enough of the cruel and unjust treatment she had to endure in her position. On top of that, papers discovered in 2021 revealed that “colored immigrants or foreigners” were banned by the Queen’s courtiers from serving in clerical roles in the palace until the late 1960’s – although they were allowed to work as domestic servants. When laws enforcing racial and gender equality were introduced in the 1970’s, the Queen was made personally exempt from them. There are at least three accounts of the late Prince Phillip making racist comments, and that is not to mention the fact that barely anyone from the royal family spoke out after George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent fight of the Black Lives Matter movement. The only ones who did were Prince Harry and Megan Markle.
That is only to mention the more recent episodes of controversy, which of course, are the heritage of the foundations of The Crown. Britain was responsible for trafficking millions of people to the Americas in less than 150 years, and as per the definition of structural racism, the consequences of such a horrendous act are still present in the nation’s society and its institutions. Evidently, it is still very much present in the most adored institution of the U.K.
All in all, under Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, there are countless incidents of systemically racist practices, as well as racist behavior by its members. Although there doesn’t seem to be accounts of the Queen herself showing similar attitudes, she was the head of the institution and thus should have at the very least apologized – if not taken further action to ensure racial equality and to fight against discirmination.
It should go against one’s moral instincts to speak ill of a recently deceased person. However, when said person carried with her so much historical baggage, that instinct may come into question. Should society really be collectively mourning, and consequently idolizing, the symbol of an institution that was built on crimes against humanity? Understandably, The Crown alludes to a sentiment of national pride that has been present through generations. However, don’t its unforgiven (and not apologized for) crimes carry a heavier weight?
It is probably debatable whether it is right to use The Queen’s death as an opportunity to speak up about the wrongdoings of The Crown when that could be done at any other moment in time. Yet, there is no doubt that we all have the right to quietly refuse to mourn the death of a symbol associated with atrocities like racism and exploitation. It is most definitely true that British society, and society at large, should take this as an opportunity to reevaluate its priorities. Revering one of the biggest perpetrators of slavery in history is probably not a good step in the fight against racism.
Featured image by: CNN