‘Propaganda’ of Queen as ‘dedicated, elderly grandmother’ ‘blunts’ truth of ‘racist empire’: WaPo column

By | September 10, 2022

Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah felt as though the death of Queen Elizabeth II was the perfect opportunity to examine the alleged “ugly truths” about the monarch and British Empire.

On Saturday, the day Charles III took part in formal ceremonies establishing his kingship after the death of his mother, Attiah penned a column, titled, “We must speak the ugly truths about Queen Elizabeth and Britain’s empire.” It condemned the “propaganda, fantasy, and ignorance” that have portrayed the Queen as a “symbol of decorum and stability” during her reign.

The piece began remarking on the fact that the Queen’s death has caused “a global battle royale over a central question: How do we speak honestly about the loyal servants to Britain’s powerful and historically brutal empire?” 

Attiah claimed that, for her, it was about dispelling the notion that Elizabeth deserved honor and respect. The columnist wrote, “You speak the truth loudly, firmly and without hesitation. Use a microphone if you need to say it louder for those in the back.”

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She argued the supposed “truth” was completely opposite of how the mourning British masses are viewing Elizabeth II’s death. “In the wake of the queen’s death, propaganda, fantasy and ignorance are being pitted against Britain’s historical record and the lived experience of Africans, Asians, Middle Easterners, the Irish and others.”

She described that “propaganda” as the notion that “the queen is a symbol of decorum and stability in the post-World War II world.” However, “to people of places that Britain invaded, carved up and colonized over centuries, the 96-year-old grandmother — and the rest of the royal family — evoke complex feelings, to say the least,” the columnist asserted.

Before diving into it, Attiah disparaged people she knew personally who spoke fondly of the Royal Family. “And I’ll never forget cringing as my father’s Ghanaian schoolmate, during a visit we made to her home in Accra, showed us pictures of her tourist trip to Buckingham Palace. ‘They ruled us,’ she said. ‘So, we are British!’”

She turned her readers’ attention to those who are ashamed of the Queen. “But for many, the British — by extension the queen — remain guilty for the nation’s historical crimes.”

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Attiah tried to rationalize the behavior of the one Carnegie Mellon professor, Uju Anya, who recently became infamous for tweeting that she hoped Elizabeth II died while suffering “excruciating” pain. 

She wrote, “Those are harsh and hateful words toward the queen, but they shouldn’t be surprising — not to anyone who has truly grappled with the generational agony of families, such as Anya’s, that have suffered massacre and displacement at the hands of the British.”

The columnist then took aim at “Defenders of the queen,” who, she said, “suggest she was something of a ‘liberator,’ since decolonization occurred during her reign, and that the people thus ‘liberated’ should be grateful.”

“Yet, even then, Britain under Elizabeth did not just let its prized colonies go. From 1952 to 1963, British forces crushed the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, forcing between 160,000 and 320,000 Kenyans into concentration camps,” Attiah responded.

She claimed Elizabeth II bore guilt merely because she embraced being a symbol of the British crown. “But symbols matter. Elizabeth willingly took on the role of representing British power and wealth. She willingly adorned herself with jewels plundered from former colonies.”

“Her image is on the currencies of many former colonies; by stewarding the British Commonwealth, she willingly took on the symbolic, patronizing role of ‘white mother’ to the darker peoples’ of the former empire,” Attiah added. 

The columnist subsequently argued from a more personal perspective, writing, “My mother, born in pre-independence Nigeria, recalls having to celebrate ‘Empire Day,’ marching in stadiums and singing ‘God Save the Queen.’ Several years after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Britain sided with the Nigerian forces to crush the Biafran secession efforts.”

As a result, she noted that “Some 1 million people of the Ibo ethnic tribe were killed or starved to death. My grandfather, who was one of the chief financial officers of Biafra, was forced to flee the country with my mother and siblings.”

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Attiah knocked the soft imagery that’s been attributed to Elizabeth II in recent years, writing, “The public relations imagery of a dedicated, elderly grandmother devoted to her corgis, and the Hollywood-ification of the royal family, serves all too well to blunt questions about empire.”

In conclusion the columnist wrote, “Hagiography of Queen Elizabeth and the fading British Empire obscures the truth not only about Britain but also about our current world order, which is built on that history.” She added, “we must get back to work — to dismantle the present-day vestiges of the racist, colonial empire she so dutifully represented.”