The Queen’s gift to her people? Modeling the nation’s best self
In this column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate, Professor Rosemary Haskell writes about the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II. The column has been published by Greensboro News & Record, the Salisbury Post, The Stanly News & Press,
By Rosemary Haskell
The death of Queen Elizabeth II encourages me to consider the interesting subject of Britain, a country I left over 40 years ago.
I wonder again why this woman was so important, and I’ve come to believe it’s because she allowed her subjects to find a way to love their rather troubled country.
The Queen’s public persona of quiet virtue, religious devotion, sense of duty, self-control, and stoic resistance to the lure of fickle public opinion has made her much admired, and now, much mourned.
In his early years, his long reign over the United Kingdom as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and “other kingdoms beyond the seas” took place during the rather rapid dissolution of the former British Empire. This split accelerated in the 1960s, with African countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Kenya leading the way.
The British Commonwealth of Nations, now just the Commonwealth, emerged. Elizabeth was notoriously devoted to this organization, forming strong personal relationships with many leaders of former colonies. Watchers of ‘The Crown’ will know that Elizabeth promoted economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa and that in 1961 she danced with Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah in what was then a rather shocking display proximity in black and white.
But not all of the Queen’s horses and all of the Queen’s men can purify the history of the British Empire and its aftermath. The British Empire was a racist, oppressive and sometimes cruel and violent institution. These unpleasant truths are laid out clearly, most recently in Caroline Elkins’ 2022 book “Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire”.
Indeed, the UK now has its own ‘Black Lives Matter’ experiences, with calls for apologies and reparations, particularly in the Caribbean islands where slaves worked under the British monarchy until 1834, followed of indentured labor and imperial neglect that produced appalling conditions for generations. The “white settler” colonies of Kenya and South Africa were also racist constructs, with the brutal British suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s.
So to love their country, Britons need to think seriously and maturely about their past. Just as Americans grapple with their own histories of racism and oppression and the long shadows of Civil War, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, Britons must “accept” or “heed” their National historical misdeeds.
Some may wonder what this means. I think that means finding in the Queen, since she came to the throne in 1952, the best parts of an ideal national self. In the United Kingdom and across the Old Empire and the New Commonwealth, Elizabeth provided her people with a role of decency and moral endeavour. It was an effort to be better than the reality of the past and present, and to approach the furthest point of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “arc of the moral universe”, which is admittedly long, but which I believe I too “leans towards justice” in the UK and the US
The British and the Americans want to love their country. President Biden’s speech at Independence Hall on September 1 encouraged our patriotism by reminding us of who we can be. “We the people burn within each of us the flame of freedom that was lit here in Independence Hall – a flame that lit our way through abolition, Civil War, suffrage, the Great Depression.”
Thus, he fulfilled a valuable function: not as chief executive, but rather as head of state, as Elizabeth was for her country.
King Charles III, following his mother’s example, must continue to show his own nation his “better self”, characterized by an enhanced humanitarian decency that crosses class and racial lines, both internally and internationally. outside the UK.
How disappointing he doesn’t have help from Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan Markle, whose black American roots seemed poised to help the royal family reflect the multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan society that the Great Britain has become. Britain since 1952. His presence, inspecting the funeral flowers and waving to the Windsor crowd, was welcome. Is it too late to bring the Duke and Duchess back into the royal fold?
Charles can look for additional inspiration in the cabinet of new Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss, where major state offices – Foreign Office, Treasury and Home Office – are not held by any white men.
The new king could also encourage the clear thinking contained in his June 2022 speech to Commonwealth Heads of Government in Kigali, Rwanda, on imperial slavery and “the most painful period in our history”.
If it can do this, then the sins and evils of the national past cannot be erased but at least better understood, more truly recognized and perhaps, at least partially redeemed.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Elon University.