Since the recent death of the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II (QE2 or the queen for short), there has been a flurry of positive and negative posts on social media about her and the British monarchy. I am admittedly not deeply informed about British history, including during the seventy plus year reign of QE2. In a broad sense, I know the British monarchy and the royal family wealth have benefited directly from colonial and post colonial capitalism, which was once extremely, and is still somewhat, exploitative and oppressive around much of the globe, such as Africa. Also, a lot of the Irish do not like the government the queen represented, so they did not like her either. Hence, for example, there are a share of Black identifying voices not mourning her death, due to her enabling of oppressive colonizing of them and/or their ancestors. It is arguable, as some have made the case in great detail, how QE2 in her role may not have caused or even did not directly cause such extensive oppression and exploitation. However, it is easier to point out how she allowed or enabled such unfair, inhumane treatment on a mass scale to continue. For many, including myself, enabling harm is viewed to be just as bad as directly causing something harmful.
Personally, I have neither vilified nor glorified QE2. But, I have expressed supportive acceptance of the varying feelings people have shared over her death, which have not all been warm and fuzzy. I’m fine with that. There can be, and naturally is, whether one likes it or not, room for all the range of feelings and emotions over such a world figure. I’m neither a fan nor ardent detractor of her. I do personally wonder about the need for a monarchy to be supported so much by English taxpayers in comparison to how a counterpart monarchy in, say, the Netherlands is more leanly funded by that country’s public. I honestly do not carry much investment in people’s responses about the queen, who embodied a powerful archetype for sure, a crowned female ruler (albeit symbolic only) over a prominent land. She was a living fairy tale character for a lot of people.
I do think there is a slim distinction between the institution of a monarchy and the person filling that role. On extremely rare occasion, people in high places are heroic and undo oppressive power from the inside out. Gorbachev in the former Soviet Union comes quickly to mind here, though he was elected and not in a far more ancient, entrenched position like QE2’s, which has developed so much awe, wonder, and protection around it, several centuries in the making. A part of me admittedly wishes more individuals would sacrifice their and others’ mass power when they are in positions to do so. Alas, it is easier to go along, make incremental changes here and there, if any, and still enable large parts of an institution’s harm to continue over others than to take larger, more radical risks. QE2 was no such daring person, no sacrificial heroine for deep systemic change. She was human, and a fairly conservative one at that, an upholder of layers of tradition valued by many, enabler of classism and racism, also valued by many, sadly.
Those who are more directly affected by an institution’s, such as a government’s, harm, including ancestrally, are going to feel pain from that legacy of harm. That pain can and does often present as raw and ugly, not thought out with rationality. The public discourse occurring seems natural to me, even if rough and downright toxic in places. Well, the way social media works these days, many jump on the opportunity to post extreme and uninformed memes about anything, and most certainly when the topic is political. But, much of that mean-spirited, extreme, polarizing language is a reflection of a larger problem than how QE2 is currently being discussed online, such as the deterioration in more intelligent, civil, and nuanced discourse.
Over time, history will judge the queen however, probably in a nuanced way. She certainly was no tyrant and couldn’t be if she tried, though I don’t believe she spoke out against all tyrants in the world when she could have. She does not seem to carry a wide reputation for being nasty. She was a grande dame in her own way, stoic to a degree we may not ever see again in public figures. I think this is both indicative of some healthy human evolution and also a unique loss.
QE2 had to know that she was stepping into controversy when agreeing to become a monarch, albeit a figurehead one. I’m sure she rolled with the punches as best she could and undoubtedly still is, wherever her life essence may happen to be.