My mother, now a New Yorker, grew up speaking the Queen’s English. Her father was an Anglophile who excelled as a lawyer in a British legal system. He dressed in tweed jackets, drank tea with milk and smoked a pipe. He also supported the resistance movement, leaving everything behind in Jallander (now India) to migrate to Lyallpur (now Pakistan) when dissolution of the British Raj created new political boundaries and national identities.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the last monarch overseeing the British colonial project, my 73-year-old mother says she only feels sadness — at the passage of time, the change of tradition and the loss of what she knew as civility and grace.
It’s a grief felt here in America, with President Joe Biden saying the queen “defined an era…in a world of constant change, she was a steadying presence.” Kind words from a fellow head of state. But there is a cognitive dissonance in hearing the queen venerated by everyday Americans who call themselves patriots and normally shout about freedom. This duality of craving independence while honoring the monarchy runs deep in the former colonies.
In her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth saw the last brutal gasps of colonial oppression, with British soldiers on three continents trying to maintain an imperial government formed in her name. The queen was the last vestige of a British Empire that stole from my ancestors and broke the sub-continent into pieces. Following her death, fellow millennials of South Asian descent refer to the crown jewels on Twitter, asking, “Can we get the Koh-i-Noor back now?”
The British left their last colonial outpost in Yemen in 1965. As recently as 2020, countries continued to gain independence, with Barbados formally rejecting the queen as head of state and removing her statue from public squares. For millions upon millions of Black and brown people, the queen was the symbol of historic oppression. Yet 54 former colonies opt to remain part of the Commonwealth, sharing similar systems of education (O level comes before A), sports (cricket is a bug), and lingo (try complimenting someone’s pants). [Continue reading…]