Friday, May 25, 2018

Stop normalizing the British monarchy -- Celebrating the Royal wedding was not as harmless as you might think

Stop normalizing the British monarchy

Celebrating the Royal wedding; not as harmless as you think

Alexi Lubomirski/Kensington Palace
It was a beautiful spring morning in Cologne Germany 1988, Heiner Hochegger the great-nephew of brutal dictator Adolf Hitler; who oversaw the systematic slaughter of millions of Jews, was getting married to his longtime girlfriend model Anna Veselnitskaya who was a Russian Jew. The fairytale wedding was celebrated in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper as an incredible union. Jews around the world jubilantly watched the celebration, which was broadcast on major German and Israeli TV stations. Sounds implausible? Almost ridiculous right? Well it is. Most of the names and events are made up, except Heiner Hochegger. He is actually Hitler’s sister Angela’s grandson and one of 2 living relatives in the bloodline of the German dictator. But far from publicly celebrating any family occasions, or benefitting from the royalties of his great-uncles loot, he has lived in anonymity on New York’s Long Island for decades. He also made a pact with his brother; who is Hitler’s only other surviving relative, not to marry or have any kids, in order to finally end the bloodline of the ruthless dictator. It is a far cry from the pomp and circumstance that took place in the quaint town of Windsor, England over the weekend. Too often, the invocation of Hitler’s name is hyperbolic, aimed at creating shock value. But few historic events warrant the comparison like the atrocities of the British Empire led by the monarchy, which till this day still holds colonies in the Caribbean and elsewhere. But unlike the Hitler family; which now faces extinction, the British monarchy is alive and thriving, thanks to the laundering of its image and whitewashing of history to the point where people in the old colonies (now called commonwealth states) and descendants of slaves; who were robbed of their dignity, humanity, culture and possessions without apology or acknowledgement, now join in the celebration of Royal events.
British policemen stand guard over men from the village of Kariobangi, north-east of Nairobi, while their huts are searched for evidence that they participated in the Mau Mau rebellion Corbis 1953. Estimated death toll in the conflict have been as high as 100,000
Over the weekend, Prince Harry - the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and 6th in line of succession to the British throne, married American movie star Meghan Markle in a star-studded event that attracted celebrities from around the world including Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and his wife Princess Mabereng. On its face, the wedding, which aired on TV stations across the world and made the cover of major newspapers, appeared like just another high profile wedding. Like a Fairy tale as its been described — evoking the classic Disney movie storyline in which a damsel in distress or commoner has the high honor of marrying her “Prince Charming” and they live happily ever after. But beyond the surface, this was no Kardashian Wedding. It was one big homage to British Imperialism. From the old castles and cathedrals likely built by slaves, and the horse drawn carriage that ushered in the couple, to the diamond encrusted crown adorned by the new princess. From the streets lined with subjects who patiently waited overnight just to get a glimpse of royalty to the royal guardsmen conspicuously stationed to keep them at bay. It was a dark reminder that the old kingdom still has the capacity to command the attention of the world it once ruled.
Queen Elizabeth II also Queen of Nigeria at the time, takes part in an investiture for Sir Francis Ibiam, Senior Medical Officer of the Eastern region, outside the House of Assembly in Enugu.
While the lavish display was appalling enough to watch, just as troubling was the enthusiasm with which black and brown people from the old colonies watched and celebrated it. As is often the case with celebrations with troubling origins — like Columbus Day, July 4th and Thanksgiving, the jubilation was met with isolated voices calling out the inappropriateness and instead using the occasion to remind people of the destruction of colonialism that still plagues black and brown societies till this day. What was different about this was the vigor with which those indulging defended their right to celebrate “love” as they saw it. Some even went as far as suggesting that colonialism and slavery were in the past and black and brown people need to look forward instead of continuing to blame colonialism for stagnation. Others dismissed the criticism by attempting to divorce the young prince from the atrocities of his ancestors, invoking the old saying “don’t punish the children for the sins of the father”. They found comfort in the words of Bernice A. King — the daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Junior, who tweeted
Dear Family: It’s okay to watch and be moved by the #RoyalWedding. It doesn’t make you insensitive or less caring about the inhumanity in the world. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten history. Find moments of joy. We need them to continue the work.
Source: Bernice A. King’s Twitter
Several other black thought leaders echoed her sentiments, including my dear friend New York Times bestselling author Awesomely Luvvie, who added “We can walk and chew gum at the same time”.
I agree it is unfair to scold everyday folks; who are constantly asked to bear the brunt of protests and boycotts, for simply tuning in to the spectacle in search of reprieve from the barrage of negative news. But I couldn’t help but wonder which group of people in the world would consider the brazen and unapologetic display of opulence by descendants of those responsible for the slaughter of more than 30 million of their people and looting of trillions of their dollars, reprieve. Certainly not the Jews, for whom not even a generous resettlement offer of a homeland, prosecution of Nazi war criminals and collaborators and over $89 billion in reparations was reprieve enough.
The Bengal Famine of 1943 in which 10–29 Million people starved to death under British rule
Black and brown people! That’s who. A group that has been through slavery, colonization, war, starvation, dictatorship, pillaging of natural resources and artifacts, torture, genocide, political destabilization, election meddling, and instead of apologies and reparations were asked to thank and reimburse colonizers on their departure. A group, which is constantly told to forgive and forget, and think ahead instead of dwelling on the past. A group miseducated to internalize our own oppression. To believe that we just need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and everything will be ok. Taught to think that light skinned is better, smarter and more beautiful, while dark skin is ugly, aggressive, rough around the edges and dangerous. Taught that our traditions and religions are demonic and primitive, while theirs are sacred and sophisticated. Trained to accept white as trustworthy, and black as corrupt. Conditioned to believe that our traditional weddings are just a preamble to the more legitimate “White wedding”.
While it’s easy to demonize the black and brown people who cheered and shared the wedding photos on social media, the fact that we find it hard to connect the atrocities of the British monarchy with its custodians is emblematic of yet another legacy of colonialism — the revision and sanitization of colonial history. The British monarchy has systematically dissociated itself from its atrocities while benefitting from the spoils and covertly continuing many of the same practices. Much like F.W de Klerk who was President of South Africa at the end of Apartheid, Queen Elizabeth II; the grandmother of the groom who looked on from the pews, is now heralded as a liberator. Remembered now for her role in relinquishing political control of the colonies as opposed to her role in ensuring destabilization so as to maintain Britains stranglehold on resources. People who were robbed now find joy in watching elegant royal processions funded by their resources. We find pride in borrowing back stolen artifacts and applaud the kindness of the royal family when they repatriate stolen resources in the form of charity.
British soldiers with looted artifacts in 1897. (British Museum)
A 2016 YouGov poll found that 67% of the British public were either proud of or had no opinion on colonialism and the British empire. So while casually watching the royal wedding on Saturday and celebrating love didn’t erase history or make you insensitive, it wasn’t exactly chewing gum either. It helped the royal family in their quest to whitewash history and normalize the atrocities, which they continue to benefit from. It also reinforced the message they desperately want to send — that they are not to blame for the actions of their ancestors and thus reparations need not be paid and stolen artifacts and treasures need not be returned, setting the stage for history to repeat itself.

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