Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Time to Mourn; A Time to Dance

We have now come to the END of the longest televised funeral in human history. I waited a respectable amount of time to start in on what I have observed, but now that the body is in the ground (or the crypt or whatever), is time for me to put on my Busy Black spectacles and get to writing. Because I got a LOT to say!

This summer, I was probably too distracted to take any real notice of the Queen's Jubilee other than what was reported on Twitter and on the news. I read a lot of interesting takes on the events, a lot of tabloid speculation about relations among the family, and I saw a frail elderly lady in her 90s do her best not to tell folks to go home because she was bloody tired. As always, the British put on a good show and did a lot of whispering out loud, so my initial intent was to write about my thoughts on the Jubilee as an American observer. However, now that the Queen has passed on, I think that it will make more sense to share those as part of an overall observation of the monarchy and its meaning.

For all intents and purposes, the stoic era of British monarchy as we knew it, died with Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month. A lot of us Americans, who really aren't interested in any of the remaining European monarchs, are more curious than eager about the new King. Speaking for myself, I can't imagine a less compelling person than King Charles, except for maybe his son William. The most interesting thing either of them has done was to get married. Well until last week when King Charles had a tantrum over getting ink on his hand. I'm thinking that somebody got demoted to walking the Royal Corgis or worse.

I kid, but his outburst reminded me of a scene in The Madness of King George (1994) where it was implied that the servants to the monarch are a rather disposable lot. As in here today, gone tomorrow because no one really cares who gets the privilege of refilling the royal ink wells (and we've advanced to the point where a nice Mont Blanc is more practical). The King has been more mindful of the cameras, but too much, in my opinion. However, I am not British, so my predictions and opinions are just noise. That doesn't mean that I wish any ill will to him. I just think that after 70 years with a Queen, having a King feels super retro and so very 20th Century.

There is a lot more I could say about Charles in particular as the new monarch, and perhaps a lot of that will depend on whether I am proved wrong in the coming weeks and months. But in my humble opinion, nobody is really feeling him but for the fact that they have to accept him, at least in the short term, as a placeholder for what may come in the future. I could be wrong, since he did survive two bouts of COVID. He's no spring chicken, and his father did live 99 years. Charles probably has at least 10 to 15 years in him, despite the shortcomings of the National Health Service...

But look, long life to him and all that other stuff he'll vow to do at his coronation.

Of course, I have a lot of thoughts on the Queen, and at the risk of annoying some of the folks who expect for me to show some respect, Imma have to show you the door. Because this entire notion that she was above criticism or that she didn't represent some pretty reprehensible aspects of imperialism and colonialism is, as y'all say, bollocks. Now is the absolute appropriate time to assess the legacy of your Queen. Not that I expect for any of you to listen, empathize, or change. But the truth needs to be spoken.

I personally admired the idea of a Queen. As a woman in a world where female leadership is often regarded as unstable and untrustworthy, it has been rather remarkable to live during an era when a woman sat atop one of the most powerful empires on the planet. I found that impressive to the extent that everything done in the name of that empire was done on her behalf. This is a point I need to emphasize later because folks want to front like she was just the face on their currency. Nah, she WAS the living embodiment of everything your country represented. I should also note that when I became aware of that fact, Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher was the UK's first woman to serve as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, in this country, we were talking about Nancy Reagan's clothes and her psychic friends. Thus, as I was beginning to view the world from a rather early feminist vantage point, it was kinda badass to look across the pond at two women defying the notion that we were just arm trophies in stately gowns.

Side note: I also must point out that Queen Elizabeth's last official act was to greet and give her consent to the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss. Tradition of course, but way more than just regal symbolism since we now know she was actually dying. But what an important moment, for the dying Queen to welcome her third woman as PM. Ever aware of her lighting and always hitting her mark.

In time, I learned that Margaret Thatcher was a rather horrible person and that the Queen was a really over-bearing meddlesome mother. Those assessments are intentionally exaggerated, but the point is that sometimes strong women work in service to the patriarchy. Thatcher was a Tory, and that will always mean that she stood up for a government and traditions that I find objectionable. For her part, the Queen literally sat down with a catalog and ordered an unsuspecting well-bred virgin bride to sacrifice to her awkward eldest son.

Critiquing the Queen is not the same as dancing on her freshly dug grave. It is fair to marvel at the changes that occurred during her reign and give her credit for keeping the same job for 70 years. As we all learned from watching The Queen (2006), she kept true to the vow to dedicate her entire life in service to her people, and that meant she simply needed to smile and wave, no matter what was going on around her. As three of her children got married to the wrong people, she kept smiling. When her son was caught on tape wishing he was a tampon, and another son got accused of being a pedophile, she kept smiling. When her ex-daughter-in-law died in a fiery crash, and she was forced to show some emotion, after a rough couple of days of bad press QE2 was forgiven for being too distant and she went back to just smiling. When she traveled to visit her realms, and took meetings with the heads of state, she kept smiling as the natives entertained and amused her. Not sure what she ever did other than gaze on them approvingly, but she kept up the visits because that ensured that their resources continued to enrich her Empire. 

So don't tell us that she was just another Lady Eloise, some powerless figurehead on the fancy packaging. If that's all she was, then make amends by granting all remaining British colonies their independence. Apologize for the very British way of "resolving" international conflicts that were instigated by their colonialism. Return all of the Crown jewels. King Charles doesn't look like the kind of dude who needs a diamond pinky ring...

Furthermore, let's not act as if the media pre-empted a week's worth of global news because the Queen was just some rich old lady with a lot of nice hats. The President of the United States flew to London for her funeral while one of our own colonies got pummeled by a hurricane. He certainly wouldn't be the first American President to forget that we fought two wars against the British and haven't been subjects of the Crown for more than two centuries.  

So why we needed all of this nonstop media attention is beyond me. Why did American news anchors need to wear black as if they were in mourning? Admittedly, I am always fascinated by pomp and pageantry, and I love a good funeral, but even I felt after the third or fourth historic procession and ceremonial tributes that this all went above and beyond the bounds of decency. I mean, why did we need to speculate about what might have been said to Prince Harry before he got to Balmoral because his grandmother was already dead? Why did we need to know that there were intense negotiations behind the scenes over protocol? Why were there body language experts on television analyzing whether the wives were still not speaking to each other? Maybe we should have just given them the space to grieve, because damn!

Perhaps, and this is just my thought, if there had not been all of this wall-to-wall death chamber to burial coverage of the Queen, we wouldn't need to think of any of that other stuff at all. We could have focused on the more mundane issues that often go through people's mind when attending a funeral such as what are they serving at the repast? And will there be liquor?

As someone who knows a thing or two about family dynamics around death, shit gets messy even when folks get along. So if brothers still aren't speaking over a callous question about a baby's skin color and their Daddy ain't of a mind for mediating conflicts because he's too busy worrying if his consort will get the same title as his Mummy--yeah. A royal pile of horse manure.

Which brings me to the point where I alert you to the fact that I have yet to offer any commentary about Meghan Markle because this ain't about her. Some of y'all practically accused the woman of being the one who smothered Her Majesty in her sleep! But I said what I said, that this ain't about Meghan, so you'll have to check back for that piece later.

However, let's circle back to some of the other issues raised by the Queen's death. As soon as the news broke, I posted an announcement on my page and several of my friends posted notes of condolence. Some others took issue with those expressions, as if there had been a meeting where it was decided that no self-respecting Black person should feel anything other than contempt. That definitely made me feel some kind of way because people should be allowed to have different reactions. Even negative ones, such as the comments of Carnegie Mellon professor Uju Anya, as well as the alleged gleeful reactions on Irish Twitter. Death is complicated and there are no universal emotions. 

Which brings us to the title of this piece, because there is a lot of truth to the passage from Ecclesiastes 3 (or if you are more familiar with the song by The Byrds). Not everything is appropriate at any given time. I get that not everyone had love for the Queen, and those are valid sentiments. No one has ever dedicated a week of televised mourning to the millions who died in conflicts instigated under her reign, so to call out that hypocrisy is fair. My quibble is with the timing, because if Anya loses her job, then she would simply become another casualty of this empire. 

Yet, I am mindful that Anya's comments sparked a necessary assessment of the Queen's legacy, one that might not have otherwise taken place. I don't know if she had ever spoken out against the empire in the past (I'm guessing that she had), but her one tweet seemed to unleash a thousand bitten tongues. A lot of British subjects throughout the Commonwealth where the sun still shines tolerated the Queen as a person, but they are rightfully questioning whether that relationship should continue. Several Caribbean nations signaled their intent to become republics, and I don't know what that means to the notion of Commonwealth, but it must be significant if Canada and Australia are considering that as well. 

My own personal feelings are also complex, and I offer no apologies for having a personal admiration for the late Queen while also believing that her empire has run its course. As an American with a lot of conflicting opinions about my own country, I am vocal in advocating against its hypocrisy and see a lot of the same incongruities across the pond. The Queen lived a long and prosperous life because the system she represented was based on the idea that hereditarian monarchy was some kind of divine assignment. People born into privilege often believe that by virtue of their wealth, they deserve more than just the best things. They deserve adoration, to be feared, and to set the standard by which all others are judged. This is literally why the British still "own" colonies. I don't know if the Queen personally felt this way, but a lot of the commentary about her life suggests that had been the point of all this--that we, mere commoners, could never measure up to whatever it was she represented.

Perhaps that is the best argument for letting the monarchy go, because near perfection it is an impossible standard to meet and uphold. King Charles has spent the last 70+ years proving that he's human and fallible just like the rest of us. And what is the point of elevating someone to such an exalted place if they are just as fucked up as we are? Hopefully, the question of what happens next will be answered by the British people--all of them, from the maids-a-milking to the lords-a-leaping and the ladies dancing.

No comments:

Post a Comment