By Janean Sorrell, Sept. 27, 2022
To some, the late Queen Elizabeth II was a symbol of virtue and security, but to others from the places that Britain sieged, carved up and colonized over centuries, the queen and the royal family evoke complex feelings of disgust and embarrassment.
My great-great-grandmother was born into the Five Nations of the Iroquois. When she was only eight years old, she was taken from her family and given to a European family of colonizers — where she was stripped of all family and cultural ties, her name was changed and she was forced to assimilate to the European culture.
When I was young, I did not know the whole story nor the ugly truth of removing indigenous children from their homes. All my mother would tell me was that we were of Iroquois decent. It wasn’t until I got older that I really understood what had happened — colonialism.
Throughout history, every major civilization has participated in some form of colonialism. Just look at the Western Hemisphere. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and other European countries colonized the lands that indigenous people have been living in for centuries.
Colonialism is when one country overpowers another, taking control of the population and forcing the native people to accept the colonizing country’s language, religion, culture and social norms.
Some say the queen only inherited this imperialist system; however, she did play a part in what happened afterwards. Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, when rebellions were gathering strength when colonies around the world demanded their independence from the crown.
The queen refused to let Britain’s prized colonies go. From 1952 to 1963, British forces demolished the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, forcing between 160,000 and 320,000 Kenyans into concentration camps where they were beaten, castrated, raped and tortured.
During Elizabeth’s reign, the crown was still reimbursing slave owners for their loss of “property” up until 2015. Although Britain official abolished slavery in 1833, not a penny was paid to those who were enslaved and brutalized.
South Africa, which was regarded as a British colony up until 1961, imposed racist policies of apartheid over the majority Black and other non-white populations that ended in 1994 when the country became a democracy.
During 1961, the crown destroyed thousands of colonial-era documents that might “embarrass Her Majesty’s government.” Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, issued the order to protect the United Kingdom’s reputation and help shield the government from potential litigation.
The queen was also given a personal exemption from having her private estates searched for stolen or looted artifacts.
In 1968, the queen was exempted from laws that made it illegal to refuse to employ an individual on the grounds of their race or ethnicity. The queen’s chief financial manager said, “it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint colored immigrants or foreigners,” to clerical roles in the royal household, but they were permitted to work as domestic servants. ,” to clerical roles in the royal household but they were permitted to work as domestic servants.
Last year, The Guardian uncovered documents in regard to Queen’s consent — an obscure parliamentary mechanism in which the government grants parliament permission to debate laws that affect the queen and her private interest. One document revealed that the crown lobbied the government to change a proposed transparency law, thus allowing her to hide her private wealth from the public.
The queen often stayed silent — at least publicly — on many topics ranging from the suffering from people in Africa and South Asia to the treatment of Meghan Markle and Princess Diana. What is unsaid speaks volume.
I often think about my great-great-grandmother. There are times when I get sad thinking about the terror she must have felt going into a strange home with strange customs, but then I am amazed that she survived. She was strong, she endured and persevered. I am living proof of that. I come from a family of warriors.
Feature image by Sharon Wu
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