Grief and Grievances: Queen Elizabeth II’s Complicated Legacy

by Poimen Agnila || Photo Credit: Wio News

Queen Elizabeth II—the longest-serving monarch in the history of the British royal family, a symbol of aristocratic elegance, and the subject of countless internet memes about being quite the resilient geriatric—is a figure whose impact on modern history and pop culture is nothing short of universal. However, this international renown is also why her death has garnered its fair share of attention and, by default, controversy. So do not fret if you find yourself conflicted about whether to grieve Her Majesty or nurse grievances instead.

While she has devoted much of her life to engaging in humanitarian efforts (raising over $2 billion for more than 600 charities), strengthening global cooperation as Head of the Commonwealth, and serving the United Kingdom to the fullest of her abilities, the legacy the Queen left behind has been tarnished with claims of racism and colonialism. Mourning posts and heartfelt tributes clash with more cynical takes as the late monarch’s death sparks a growing social media debate on whether her memory should be celebrated or criticized. One can argue that it would be impossible for a reign as extensive and far-reaching as the Queen’s to not have its rocky bumps along the way; a few whoopsies here and there are absolutely normal. However, the nail that seals the coffin is the fact that these rumors are not completely groundless.

When the Queen ascended the throne in 1952 following the death of her father, King George VI, Britain was still battling freedom movements in Kenya and Egypt. Five years prior, India had just gained their independence and was granted partition from Pakistan. Less than a decade later, Sudan and Ghana broke free from Britain’s grasp and pursued an autonomous form of governance. The British administration took part in Kenya’s bloody Mau Mau uprising, carried out unimaginable acts of abuse towards Africans held in detainment camps, and became complacent in the perpetuation of racism and violence in the parts of the world they colonized. The freedom these countries have come to know isn’t just an epic tale of patriotism and bravery, but one that was endowed at the cost of millions of indigenous people’s lives.

So much of the world is skeptical about grieving the late Queen because she was never truly held accountable for the atrocities committed by her country under her rule. Although the Crown’s influence on political decisions had begun to dwindle during her ascension to the throne, it is still worth noting that her global prominence alone would have given her the platform she needed to address the reign of terror her country had instigated. The thing is, of course, she didn’t. She was an unassailable figure of duty and power, but that does not change the fact that she isn’t completely blameless in the previous century’s struggle against neocolonialism. A well-kept public image and a multitude of successful diplomatic endeavors cannot make up for the countless acts of racial violence being swept under the rug nor excuse history being rewritten time and time again.

For many now and for many more in the future, her legacy will always be one shrouded in a somber string of what-ifs and could-have-beens.

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