Gluing in the torn-out pages from the British monarchy saga
Cinderella. Snow White. The Little Mermaid. Another fairytale that arguably should be included among the ranks of such classics is the story of the British royal family. From the decadent weddings and humongous castles, to that quintessential royal benevolence, the Windsors live a real-life fairytale. To a degree, the shimmering ideals are true: worldwide, nearly 3,000 charities are supported by the royal family, and a part of the late Queen Elizabeth’s legacy is the £1.4 billion she raised for public good during her tenure. To much of the younger generation, her death is the passing of Britain’s cherished grandma.
But this fairytale image is actually a carefully constructed narrative that conceals a much darker history. Upon the queen’s passing, the word “Kohinoor” began trending on Indian Twitter, as echoed by memes circulated within the large Indian-American population at American. The Kohinoor is a jewel currently resting on the Queen Mother’s crown, and it was seized from a ten year old Indian king during the colonial era. The Indian government has asked for the jewel to be restituted twice before, once immediately after their independence and again after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Many Indians are calling once again for the Kohinoor to be returned in response to King Charles recently taking the throne.
But the price we pay for Britain’s colonial past is more than just one stone. The British monarchy’s impacts on our present reality are vast and deeply entrenched, and in more ways than not, difficult to quantify or even fathom. But this inability hinders us from holding a powerful institution accountable for its history in the same way we are able to for other establishments.
In the TIME article “The British Monarchy Helped Mortgage Our Collective Future,” Priya Satia, a professor of International History at Stanford University, explains, “As the most important among the corporate partners that made up the eighteenth-century British state, along with formidable aristocrats, financiers, contractors, charter companies, and the Bank of England, [the monarchy] established, invested in, and protected slave trading and colonialism.” Satia adds that during the colonial era, the British monarchy played a key role in projecting a romanticized image of continuity and “hereditary rather than looted wealth” to legitimize the “brutal social relations of colonial and industrial capitalism.” And the remnants of this image, and colonialism, continue in numerous visible ways, even today.
Eight islands in the Carribean, which were at one point major sources of slave labor and at another British colonies, still have the British monarch as their head of state. Barbados only became a parliamentary republic last year, and ceremonial addresses from royal family members at events like these reveal the fragility of the royally incomplete storyline of the British monarchy. King Charles and Prince William have both made acknowledgements of the legacy of slavery in Ghana, Barbados, Rwanda, and Jamaica. But given the significant role that the royal family as an institution played in perpetuating inequality and marginalization, even a formal apology would not suffice for the destruction caused.
The geopolitical setting we have of a Commonwealth spanning fifty-four countries, with continued prejudice and cultural ramifications wherever the British set foot exemplifies the necessity in our modern times to finally face the ubiquitous effects of Britain’s colonial history. Shows like The Crown have perpetuated our infatuation with the royal family, but our attention is urgently needed in addressing the monarchy as an institution instead of a family. We have to see past figures like Queen Elizabeth because the story is bigger than her, or any of us.
As a school with a demographic consisting mainly of people of color, we have closer ties than other communities to a seemingly distant colonial world. Much of our student body’s Asian majority has seen first hand the subtle but pervasive ramifications of the British Raj, like hearing our parents’ British vocabulary or the continued social issue of caste, both of which began during British rule. Several of us have grandparents who even predate the independence of former British colonies. While we cannot erase or rewrite the pages of history that make us uncomfortable or ashamed, we can do our part just by having the difficult conversations that force us to face our past. The power to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself lies in our ability to hold the influential institutions around us, and ourselves, accountable.