Afua Hirsch’s article explicitly describes the everlasting damage created in the name of colonialism (This is a Britain that has lost its Queen – and the luxury of denial about its past, 13 September). I saw first-hand the ongoing horrors and cruelty of this in the 25 years that I worked for the international trade union movement in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific islands.
Land was taken over to grow food for the west so it got used to having cheap pineapples and mangoes all year round. Rubber and palm oil plantations in Malaysia destroyed soil and reduced the amount of land for domestic farming. Mines ruined people’s lives and created civil disturbance in Papua New Guinea – the list is endless.
This globalised world of international trade controlled by the mega-rich and multinationals has created another form of slavery. Workers are paid a pittance to work in inhumane conditions, while families struggle to keep their children alive. We cruelly let these countries pay the price for climate change disasters and deny them affordable Covid vaccinations.
For all the good things that Queen Elizabeth II did for us, did she really create a “modern world” where all people – not just white people – can live in a world of justice, fairness and equality? I think not.
Afua Hirsch writes eloquently of the silencing of voices that would remind us of the violence of empire. There is a silence, too, over the present-day reality of the place of the British monarchy in the wider world. Much is made in the wall-to-wall coverage of the late Queen’s life of her devotion to the Commonwealth, but I have yet to hear it clearly explained that of the 56 member nations of the Commonwealth, the British monarch is currently head of state of just 15, and that this number is sure to diminish further. Perhaps this is deemed to be too uncomfortable a truth.
Afua Hirsch’s excellent article was a reminder how fortunate I was to grow up in Canada. While Afua was indoctrinated into a life of “deference and admiration” to the monarch, I was free to turn my back as the cavalcade led by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip swept by our home in St John’s, Newfoundland, in the late 1950s. No police swooped. No neighbours and friends cold-shouldered me and my Canadian/Scottish parents respected my beliefs. But I won’t be doing that on Monday in central London. Who wants to be wrestled to the ground, or worse, by a grieving, censorious crowd and by the police, government-sanctioned to stamp out all protest?
Afua Hirsh writes that the trauma of colonisation isn’t recalled with a single voice. It often isn’t recalled at all. I feel I live in a country where there is a culture of wilful ignorance of Britain’s colonial past. I am German by birth. The contrast in how the two countries deal with their cruel, racist histories could not be starker. In my family we talked about Nazi Germany and the roles family members played. That openness is essential to help relate history books to lived experience and how we are all part of our country’s history. We cannot undo history. But we can stop being wilfully ignorant of it.