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Opinion – Why I have deeply mixed feelings on the Queen’s death

On the one hand, Queen Elizabeth II was a constant presence in my life, a figurehead with which my understanding of British identity and history was shaped. On the other, her monarchy represents a colonial era of exploitation and human atrocity that shouldn’t be ignored.

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8th, 2022.

No matter what decade you were born, the monarchy and Queen Elizabeth II have always been divisive. Throughout her life, Elizabeth’s face represented both diplomatic good and classist evil, depending on who you asked.

She served as rebellious inspiration for bands such as The Smiths and the Sex Pistols, who viewed her as a representation of outdated moral ideals and English colonialism. Her wealth, racial biases, stiff royal regime, dismissal of disability, and disregard for historical injustices has steadily felt more archaic and out of place as the years have gone on.

For others, she was a comforting constant over seventy years of public service, existing as a reliable backbone of British representation through turbulent political change. For many English people she was a starting point to our historical education and influenced how we understood national identity at a young age. She is the only royal figurehead most of us have ever known.

These two opposing realities leave me feeling a mix of emotion.

As a British citizen I remember many moments from my childhood that were shaped by the royal family. In 2002 I created a personalised Golden Jubilee mug at primary school and saw the boat parades in London ten years later. Elizabeth’s face has been on every bank note I’ve ever used, on every stamp, and has beamed at me from television sets my whole life. To say that I’m not even a little affected by her passing would be disingenuous.

By equal measure, though, I have largely become an anti-royalist. The monarchy represents a time of British colonial rule and heavy-handed, brutal exploitation. It is a relic of an era that no longer suits the modern world, especially as the wealth divide grows and international attitudes toward the United Kingdom understandably sour amidst Brexit and our general sense of self-entitlement. Do I need mention Prince Andrew?

It’s a feeling that has gained momentum with younger people over the years, too.

Glancing at Twitter today it is filled with memes, jokes, and satire, despite the grave tone of politicians and news broadcasters. The contrast between genuine public opinion and mainstream media coverage is as stark as ever, cementing Elizabeth’s reign as contentious – even in death.

Why is she viewed so positively by much of the public?

Those who support the royal family are hugely invested, for the most part.

For the Platinum Jubilee a few months prior I remember seeing flags in every local pub, nonstop coverage all over television, packed out crowds at Buckingham Palace, and full size cut outs of royal members in family gardens. Hell, even Craig David was singing his lungs out at the celebratory concert.

Tune into BBC News at any point this weekend and you’ll be bombarded with clips of people crying and reiterating how the Queen was ‘fantastic’. Every news reporter is dressed in black pushing the idea that this is a sad time and that we should all feel incredibly bad for an elderly woman we have no personal relationship with.

Royalists argue that the monarchy brings dignity to the British regime, that it’s necessary for diplomatic relations and to generate tourism. Research into royal expenditure claims the family brings in over £700 million annually, making the monarchy a lucrative international brand. This extends to royalist shows like The Crown on Netflix and merchandise sales.

Keep in mind too that the Queen (or the King, now, I guess?) must still appoint each new Prime Minister and continues to make annual speeches addressing the nation. It’s argued that these services provide morale and unite citizens despite their political preferences.

The Queen’s prestige and status is still held with high regard. Knighthoods and royal recognition remain an honour for most and we’re all familiar with the famous centenary birthday card signed and sent from Elizabeth herself.

Royalists will feel that the Queen represented hard work, long-term public service, and British excellence to a tee. It’s an opinion I’ve been surrounded by all my life and the urge to fall into a similar way of thinking can be tempting, even in the face of the monarchy’s oppressive, authoritarian past.

Why would one feel negatively toward the Queen?

As mentioned, the royal family can often come across self-serving, lavishing in wealth that was not earned.

Tax payer money is used to fund the monarchy’s many outgoings along a lengthy lineage, subsidising garden parties, trips, and refurbishments. In 2021, the family cost taxpayers over £100 million, an increase on the previous year. Her extended relatives are gifted lavish lifestyles, jetting across the world with Jeffrey Epstein and being bailed out of any personal responsibility.

The royals themselves are guilty of infidelity, scandal, racist undertones, and hiding disabled relatives from the public. Remember Philip’s frequent remarks that were both culturally insensitive and racially offensive?

For those outside of the United Kingdom, it’s easy to view the monarchy as a bizarre authoritarian demonstration of empirical rule, a reminder that Britain took over the world by sheer force and brutal disregard.

Colonialism alone stole nearly one quarter of the planet’s entire resources and the royals have a history of bloodshed and oppression for both other nations and their own people. Should we really be honouring the royals as the pinnacle of British excellence when so much of their accumulated status and wealth was built on the suffering of others?

Many comments on Twitter today reflect this feeling.

What I personally find most frustrating about royal discourse is the lack of representation for this opposing opinion, especially through mainstream news outlets. I have not seen a single article, comment, or televised feature that even mentions this problematic past, nor questions the validity of a monarchy in 2022.

There has been upmost praise, countless words of thanks, apparent devastation from our most senior politicians. If you were getting all your information exclusively from the BBC, you’d likely think the entire world had fallen to its knees, black ties at the ready as grief overwhelms.

Some people feel this way, sure. I can’t blame them for supporting a figurehead that has been ingrained into our national identity for seven decades. What is flustering is the lack of proper conversation around the moral integrity of this system.

We should be hearing more from those whose ancestry was irreversibly altered by the English monarchy. How do they feel? What will ordinary folks who can’t pay their energy bills think when they see the crown jewels bestowed on the white head of our next great King? Why is it assumed by every news outlet that we must instinctively care so much?

In one sense, this is the end of an era for Britain, a closing moment for a British public accustomed to seeing a familiar face on the public stage. In another, it’s an opportunity to reassess whether we should be entertaining all this stuffy traditionalism for the sake of ‘honour’ and ‘heritage’.

The British press and our public conversations should not ignore these glaring problems with our royal family. In many ways it is not fit for modern living. Until we acknowledge this properly, we are disserving the millions who’ve suffered at the hands of British rule.