Here’s the royal-tea: Was colonialism that long ago?

It’s always been a trend to romanticize history. We as a society glamorize the past, and toss aside the darker aspect that is irrevocably tied to it.

Take the royal family, an iconic staple of British culture. They’re revered as symbols of glamor and tradition, but following the passing of former Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, an age-old discussion has been rekindled:  

How should we feel about the royal family?

In the former Queen’s worldwide broadcasted 1953 Christmas message, she said, “Thus formed, the Commonwealth bears no resemblance to empires of the past.” 

Well, as lovely as this sentiment may seem, the truth isn’t nearly as black and white.

It’s no secret that Britain’s colonial exploits go back hundreds of years, and are fraught with destruction and racism; Elizabeth II’s reign, beginning on February 6, 1952, is, quite frankly, not the era of peace and goodwill that many mistake it to be.

In the early 60s was the Mau Mau rebellion, during which over 10,000 Kenyan rebels died for independence. Apartheid began in 1948, but didn’t end until the early 90s, meaning Elizabeth II was complacent to the the killings and oppression of Black South Africans for almost 50 years. Across the continent of Africa, the fight for decolonization was strenuous and bloody for the native people — throughout this, the royal family stood idly by

The Kohinoor Crown was mined in India centuries ago and said to be worth up to $400 million, but is still owned by the royal family. As is the Great Star of Africa, thought to be worth about the same, along with the Rosetta Stone and ring of Tipu Sultan. It’s even been said that Britain’s rule over India resulted in trillions stolen.  

So although it’s true that Britain’s worldwide “empire” began declining in the 20th century, what gets disregarded is the distinction between a country being in post-colonization versus being decolonized. Although presently the royal family’s power is limited, free countries still bear the brunt of colonization, no matter how long ago it was. For example, although The Caribbean abolished slavery over a hundred years ago, Caribbean nations have struggled to eradicate poverty and develop their economy — recall that for hundreds of years, the land’s been stripped of its natural resources. 

Perspective is power. While for many in the United Kingdom, the royal family continues to represent unity and traditional values, for others they represent the perpetuation of a loss of life and culture. They embody, — and, as we’ve seen, — were active participants in colonialism.

Although I could go on about the less-than-stellar exploits of Elizabeth II, the point here isn’t to berate a woman who’s passed on, nor is it to pin the entirety of colonialism on a (fairly) recent monarch with limited abilities.

Through a certain lens, atrocities of the past can seem like they occured too long ago to remain relevant, but they have a place in today’s discussions. If countries are still struggling to decolonize, then we must carry the burden of teaching and talking about their histories, instead of simply focusing on the aspects that we deem easier to digest. 

Chinese philosopher Confucius is quoted as saying: “Study the past if you would define the future.” Sadly, history is often not romantic. The best we can do is try to learn from each facet. Arm yourself with perspective, and be better because of it.