The main title for this piece comes from a book of the same namesake by Kojo Koram.
Plantations and pub gardens; afternoon tea, cakes, caps, graduation gowns and colonial statues; white supremacist symbols upon symbols. An (in)visible web of arcane history blurring the lines between chants for anti-racism in schools and schools of white thought celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the ‘Best of British’. No politician, no lawyer, no academic could keep up with such walking contradictions, even the Tories and their wine and cheese soirées or a university vice chancellor mired in scandal! These entanglements even make the Prime Minister look modest.
Who wants consistency in anti-racist commitments when you can have fantasy? Who wants to talk of motifs to enslavers when you can munch on crumpets? Who wants punishment collars when there’s a national holiday and a pint in the sunshine? Pull away the veil and what are we left with? A country that boasts about multiculturalism and anti-racism in one breath, and the seemingly unconnected Platinum Jubilee in the next. Tell a story with the bite of Ozymindias, and even the most staunch anti-racists will be sitting down for a nice sherry come the Jubilee. What these narratives do, is “spectacularise” individuals and that is the power of storytelling. It turns human beings into gods and this is mass media marketing to the very extreme. Her name is Elizabeth Queen of Queens, look upon this mighty charade and despair.
Following anti-colonial resistance in the Caribbean to royal visits, current Jubilee celebrations on the British side of the Atlantic appear insensitive (these visits are simply a catalyst, not an exclusive … they were always problematic). However, as I wonder the Northampton streets I grew up on, admiration for The Crown does not seem to waiver amid local and chain businesses, seemingly having learned nothing from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. The same institutions who posted solidarity statements that summer … colonisations of the mind remains ever-present (wa Thiong’o, 1986) in Northampton’s pubs, shops, theatres, and other institutions. While the Queen’s neck grows crooked under stolen loot, hypocrites swarm to the announcement of a national holiday. What short memories human beings have.
During a pandemic that has had a devastating impact on business (especially independent businesses), one cannot blame them taking every chance they get to recuperate losses. Yet, to do so with empire and colonialism still kicking is just not cricket. Neoliberalism, better known as neoliberal capitalism trumps all with a back-handed flag-waving jingoistic holiday while more activists will run to Buckingham Palace this summer when they get called for their gong. Arising … superficially validated by the same empire project that sustains “equal access to unjust systems” (Manzoor-Khan, 2019: 81). They need a gong over the head! I can feel this to be another long summer, full of actions that undermine pushes for lasting change. Admittedly, I am not beyond critique, but claiming to be anti-racist while peddling support for the Queen’s Jubilee is the baseline for what not to do.
With civil unrest in the Caribbean and anti-racism debates on this side of the Atlantic still growing strong, the level of cognitive dissonance must be astronomical to peddle anti-racism while celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee. It appears many people and their dogs have jumped on the imperial carriage to celebrate someone whose very existence undermines the best of Britain. In the same year the Colston Four were acquitted by a public jury for dispatching the Bristolian enslaver into the river, we celebrate someone in much the same symbol of pillage and plunder. Deplorable does not begin to describe it.
While I see people saying that the Queen did not benefit from colonialism in her lifetime, I remind you colonialism isn’t over. Moreover, historic events like the Mau Mau Uprisings (1952-1960) and the Suez Crisis (1956) are well within her reign, further to violent fights for independence within Caribbean Black Power movements. The British Monarchy is a constitutional monarchy, so the Queen has little power as an individual, yet the institution is no less violent than policing, prisons, the Church and others. For all Britain’s flag-waving, we know very little British history. While I do not claim to know all, I remain curious. Though, curiosity to see what lurks in the closet many would rather not know. As I frequent my favourite local venues, my spirit weeps at the sight of union jacks and St George’s flags (a symbol of violence I associate with racism and white supremacy).
The red and white … amid this nationalist fever in the regalia of Brexit, it is a reminder I am unwelcome in the country I have always called home. The acceptance of racist symbols is common in our mainstream, but worse when you see it condoned by your friends. While popularised by Lord Macpherson in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, the term institutional racism in practice goes back centuries. Queen Elizabeth I introduced the Royal Proclomation in 1603 which could be cited as the second act of institutionalised racism on British soil, demanding “Blackamores” be expelled from her kingdom (Fryer, 1984: 12). This was precedented by the 1193 expulsion of the Jews, where Simon DeMontfort (from whom the DeMontfort University gets its name) expelled the Jews from Leicester City (DeMontfort Students’ Union, 2021).
Every monarch from Elizabeth I to George III subsequently gave their blessing to the human trafficking of Black Africans (Hirsch, 2017: 51), thus before British independent traders broke into enslavement the original beneficiaries were the monarchy. As the ‘royal’ in Royal African Company for example, is more than an honorific, but a namesake. The late Tudors and early Stuarts were up to their necks in the blood of Black people (Olusoga, 2017: 22), as were the Georgians and Victorians. Furthermore, the wealth of the monarchy we see now was largely necessitated by colonial ambition. Heck, Victoria was donned Empress of India and Elizabeth I granted the royal charter to the East India Company (Sanghera, 2021: 12).
In his 1916 book Why Men Fight, Bertrand Russell writes how “All our institutions have their historic basis in Authority.” The Crown sits among them, like bloodsucking parasites who gained most of their wealth from stealing from others including the Global South. Yet, Scotland and Wales and Ireland also have their own reasons to dislike the Crown, including the history of the Prince of Wales title which I talked about in an earlier blog (and were still up in the Caribbean doing their colonial nonsense). You have to hand it to the British state, they have perfected the art of brainwashing … convincing large swathes of the oppressed to support the monarchy while also getting the working-class to vote Conservative.
However, with the Platinum Jubilee looming I am disgusted to see numbers of organisations who were posturing Black Lives Matter statements and black squares in the long summer of 2020 now bootlicking the empire itself. It is a reminder to me that within the British Isles that there is still very little public knowledge on the history of The Crown, both as the original colonisers but also as wielders of violence against working-class communities. Those who perfected social murder. Performance and vanity.
For example, after the Murder of George Floyd in June 2020 the University of Northampton posted a BLM statement (nonetheless weak). This statement came from pressure via Twitter (after eleven days of silence, the University posted a statement). This also came with a blog entry, as it was my last as a sabbatical officer. Now, they are holding events in the image of whiteness, colonialism, and racism for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. This sits adjacent to UON’s “efforts” to decolonise the university (recolonise may be a more fitting term). Concurrently, the University held a week-long thread of events about the climate emergency in November 2021 which was a study in whitewashing fitting under the wider banner of whitewashing COP26. And in April 2022, they were voted among the top 25 universities for tackling inequalities in spite of repeated strike action from staff since 2021 over fair pay, pensions, and race / gender pay gaps as part of UCU industrial action nationwide. Make this make sense!!
As someone that was very active that summer and has been since, I have been tested lately thinking about the many people that claim to be anti-oppression while also supporting the Queen and thus, the institution of the monarchy. Discrimination against Harry and Meghan is also of note amid the Royal Family itself, as well as from British media. If you’re a monarchist by all means stand by your beliefs, but don’t try to be so while claiming to be anti-oppression. Worse, as Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin wrote about UK Honours: “when those who have made their names from challenging the lingering evils of the empire jump at the chance of being superficially validated by it, the hypocrisy is extremely grating.”
So, if you consider yourself remotely pro-human rights, I would consider thinking about your stance on the monarchy … some of the biggest hoarders of wealth and the epitome of whiteness as ownership (Harris, 1993). The pulling down of Edward Colston; the National Trust audit into stately homes and their links to enslavement and colonialism; anti-colonial uprisings in the Caribbean; the Windrush Scandal and decolonising education are all entangled in this web amid the Jubilee’s nationalist (colonialist white supremacist) fever. Whilst it may be considered British to support the Queen, it is just as British to dissent.
The fight against capitalism certainly includes ‘wealth-hoarders’ pertinently inherited wealth (and those who got it through dubious means). To be anti-racist, we must also be anti-capitalist which fundamentally underpins many intersectional movements. For example, anti-capitalism is vital to disability justice, the class struggle, and LGBT+ rights. And while everyday folks have hopped on to this jubilee band-carriage, I would really question if we should. Abolishing the monarchy is just the starting the point.