With the queen’s death, Britain must let go of its imperial delusions

By | September 11, 2022

Hari Kunzru writes:

The queen bridged the colonial and post-colonial eras. But for those of us who have a complicated relationship to Britain’s imperial past, the continuity represented by Elizabeth was not an unmitigated good. My father’s side of our family was made up of staunch Indian nationalists who worked for the end of imperial rule in 1947. Like many other people around the world whose families fought the British Empire, I reject its mythology of benevolence and enlightenment, and find the royal demand for deference repugnant.

Elizabeth was queen when British officers tortured Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising. She was queen when troops fired on civilians in Northern Ireland. She spent a lifetime smiling and waving at cheering native people around the world, a sort of living ghost of a system of rapacious and bloodthirsty extraction. Throughout that lifetime, the British media enthusiastically reported on royal tours of the newly independent countries of the Commonwealth, dwelling on exotic dances for the white queen and cargo cults devoted to her consort.

My hope is that as the screen of Elizabeth falls away, Britons may find it easier to recognize the unhealthiness of a dependency on imperial nostalgia for self-esteem. Despite his pledge to continue his mother’s legacy, the new King Charles III will struggle to be such a blank screen for the projections of his people.

He is widely disliked because of his treatment of his wife Diana. Unlike his mother, he is known to be a man of opinions. His “black spider” memos, handwritten letters and notes given to government ministers on topics from agriculture to architecture, have led to concerns that, as a ruler, he will be tempted to overstep the strict constitutional bounds of the monarchy and dabble in politics. He ascends the throne in an age of unprecedented media scrutiny, and his private life has been fodder for decades of public gossip. And he, unlike his mother, does not represent unbroken continuity with Empire. [Continue reading…]

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