The death of Queen Elizabeth requires deep reflection. She was matriarch to her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and other family members. She was monarch of Britain for 70 years. Most people in Britain, across the British Commonwealth and across the rest of the world, never have known a time without her being the head of her nation.
Morally sensitive people should express condolences to her family and nation. Their loss warrants that respect and sympathy.
At the same time, morally sensitive people should express concern about people across the world who have suffered harm due to British colonialism, imperialism and military incursions. Indigenous people in Africa, Australia, India, Palestine, Cyprus, New Zealand, the Caribbean, North America and across the Asian Pacific region were colonized by the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth inherited the legacy and consequences of that centuries-long behavior and oversaw those consequences during her 70-year reign.
Queen Elizabeth reigned while apartheid was violently maintained in South Africa and while Britain supported white settlers who murdered indigenous Africans at will.
Queen Elizabeth reigned as Britain supported Zionist regimes in Israel that committed war crimes and acts of genocide against Palestinians.
Queen Elizabeth reigned as Britain supported U.S. military adventurism in Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq (twice) and Nicaragua and carried on a 20-year neocolonial war in Afghanistan.
Queen Elizabeth reigned over Britain as her nation led, took part in and otherwise worked to subvert independence movements by indigenous people of color across the world.
Commitment to regal demeanor and observance of British notions of ceremony did not require Queen Elizabeth to be complicit in white supremacy, land theft and state-sponsored genocide against indigenous people across several continents. She would not have been a less worthy matriarch to her family or a less effective monarch by supporting liberation movements.
“We know more about what she thought about horses and dogs than what she thought about justice for people in what had been British colonies.”
Instead, Queen Elizabeth remained silent while her nation viciously attacked people who struggled against poverty, cruelty, discrimination and violence in the places colonized by Britain. We know more about what she thought about horses and dogs than what she thought about justice for people in what had been British colonies.
Queen Elizabeth did not lead calls for reparations and restoration of land to indigenous people in South Africa. She could have returned diamonds taken from South Africa that were used to create her crown.
She did not foster unity between Muslims and Hindus in India; nor did she use her prestige to promote harmony between India and Pakistan. She did not use her influence to help people in Kashmir.
She did not lead calls for the United States to stop trying to create neocolonial outposts in Southeast Asia.
She did not call on Israel to restore land taken from Palestinians.
She did not call on the British people to reject xenophobic attacks on migrating people.
U.S. media outlets and their commentators have not mentioned these things. Instead, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and Fox programing valorizes Queen Elizabeth and refuses to mention her calculated indifference to willful harms done by Britain in her name.
We should not be surprised. U.S. media outlets always have been devoted to empire. They always have been sycophants for colonialism, imperialism and military adventurism. U.S. news outlets always have been cheerleaders for white supremacy, white privilege and wealth privilege.
“Viewers are presented footage from royal weddings, coronations and funerals, but not footage of longstanding British complicity in genocide across the 70 years of Elizabeth’s reign.”
Hence, viewers are presented footage from royal weddings, coronations and funerals, but not footage of longstanding British complicity in genocide across the 70 years of Elizabeth’s reign.
Hence, journalists spend more time and effort describing how Prince William and Prince Harry get along than how Britain has addressed justice for millions of people in the places it formerly colonized. The personal relationship between two grandsons of Queen Elizabeth does not deserve more attention than the plight and suffering of millions of men, women and children in the societies that were British colonies for almost half the tenure of her reign.
Queen Elizabeth could have made a just difference in our world during her 70-year reign. People suffered across the world because she did not do so.
We should not forget or excuse her abdication of moral agency for racial and economic justice. We should not be distracted by British devotion to monarchy and royal funeral pageantry so that we disregard state-sponsored murders, robberies and other crimes.
As historian Maya Jasanoff wrote in a recent New York Times guest column, we should mourn the queen, not her legacy.
Prophetic people should be forthright about Queen Elizabeth’s legacy of calculated indifference to British injustice during her tenure and the suffering caused by it. We can respectfully extend condolences to her family and the British people and demand justice for victims of British neocolonialism and imperialism at the same time.
Shame on us if we won’t.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
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