How Ethnic-Minority Britons Are Remembering Queen Elizabeth II

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Nearly one million people descended on London on Monday to bid a final farewell to Queen Elizabeth II, among them heads of state and representatives from nearly 200 governments as well as visitors from across Britain and around the world. The international nature of the gathering was a testament to the Queen’s immense global soft power, the likes of which is unlikely to be rivaled by any of her successors. But it’s also fitting of the country over which she reigned. The Britain that Queen Elizabeth II leaves behind is considerably more ethnically and religiously diverse than the one that she inherited 70 years ago.
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Over the course of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, Britain’s population grew by nearly a third from roughly 50 million in 1950 to 67 million today—an increase spurred, at least in part, by increased immigration. As of last year, people born outside of the country made up 14.5% of the population, compared to just 8% in 2004.

That diversity was on full display during the period of National Mourning that followed the Queen’s death. Britons of all ages and backgrounds, not to mention a fair few tourists, could be seen paying their respects to the monarch outside Buckingham Palace and waiting hours in the miles-long queue to see her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall. While Queen Elizabeth II’s passing presented a rare moment of national unity to many Britons, for the country’s ethnic minority communities, it also invited an opportunity for reflection and reckoning over the Queen’s legacy, Britain’s colonial history, and what the monarchy represents to them. Just 38% of non-white U.K. citizens wanted the country to remain a monarchy, according to a May poll, compared to 68% of all Britons surveyed.

For Britons of ethnic-minority backgrounds—whose communities span vastly different cultures and faiths—there is no one singular answer. For some, Queen Elizabeth II remains a beloved symbol of national unity; a British institution unto herself. For others, her 70-year legacy is impossible to disentangle from the broader monarchy—its history and its present, its good and its bad.

Walking around London in recent days, it was easy to bump into those more closely aligned with the former. Raksha Sinhal, a woman of South Asian heritage from Surrey, in Southeast England, tells TIME that she came to Westminster to watch the Queen’s funeral procession because she wanted to pay tribute to “an amazing woman.” The country’s colonial past notwithstanding, “I think the Queen is separate from that,” says Sinhal. “Yes there was history there. There was colonialism. But I think she made a difference and changed that.”

Read More: How Queen Elizabeth II Showed Why Britain Still Has a Monarchy

Yusra Salih, 30, and her family attended the funeral procession with a large mosaic of the Queen comprising thousands of photos from the Queen’s life, including those of the monarch visiting her native Sudan. “We are very fond of the royal family,” says Salih. Despite its unsavory colonial history in Sudan, “There are no hard feelings at all. We are Muslims, we are Arabs, we are Black, we are Africans. We are a whole mixture of things, but we feel like our voice is getting heard.”

Support for Queen Elizabeth II was also expressed within Britain’s multi-faith communities, many of which held special services and tributes in her honor in the days leading up to her state funeral. One such event, which was organized by the British Pakistani Christian Community group in London’s St. James’s Park on Sunday, attracted dozens of people to participate in the sermons, hymns, and prayers. “She looked after everyone,” says Kamran Sohail, one of the organizers who traveled to London from Liverpool for the funeral. “She never minded about which race, which color, which religion … She is really a mother of nations.”

According to Rakib Ehsan, a social policy analyst based in Luton, England, part of the Queen’s appeal for many in the U.K.’s ethnic-minority communities stems from her reputation for bridging divides between Britons of different backgrounds and faiths, including those not belonging to the Anglican church she led. Queen Elizabeth II became the first British monarch to visit a mosque in the U.K. during the 2002 celebrations marking her 50th year on the throne. She made her first visit a Hindu temple in the country that same year. (Muslims and Hindus make up 4.4% and 1.3% of the British population, respectively.) “Her message of emphasizing family values, the comfort that comes from community, devotion to faith and how faith can be a source of resilience and optimism—that’s not something that will only appeal to Christians,” says Ehsan, adding that “while we should be honest about the brutality of British colonialism, we have to also acknowledge that the Queen actually considerable repair work as a ceremonial figurehead.”

Read More: After Queen Elizabeth II’s Death, Many Indians Are Demanding the Return of the Kohinoor Diamond

While the Queen’s death and legacy has been unifying for many Britons, for others it has only highlighted the divisions that remain in the country. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a London-based political activist and author of This Is Why I Resist, tells TIME that while she mourns Queen Elizabeth II as a person, she does not mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth II the monarch. She believes the Queen did little over the course of her 70-year reign to speak out against systemic racial inequalities in the country, both past and present. “I expect more from those with the kind of power she had and I didn’t see it,” says Mos-Shogbamimu. “I don’t see it in the monarchy as an institution either.”

King Charles III could yet decide to go further than his mother did, both in redressing Britain’s colonial past as well as building even more bridges with the country’s ethnic minority communities. As Prince of Wales, Charles spoke out against the “indelible stain” left by the transatlantic slave trade, which at the time was regarded as a significant step towards Britain officially acknowledging its role in that period, though it fell short of an outright apology. Since ascending to the throne, Charles III has also pledged to protect the diversity of Britain and its “community of communities.”

Mos-Shogbamimu said that while previous monarchs have closely adhered to their constitutionally-mandated neutrality, King Charles III can and should go further. “We do not need him to pay lip service,” she says. “For whatever time he has in his reign, he has to do a lot of things that are radically different from what his mother did, which was to be silent. Silence is complicity.”

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