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The Queen's Death a Good Excuse to Dig Into the Repressive History of the British Empire

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

Could there be any more anti-diversity notion than a Royal Family?  They go beyond skin color. You either have the blood or you don’t to be part of the club.

But who would want to be part of a club that is  anti-inclusion, anti-diversity, and utterly offensive. That’s why as the world watched Queen Elizabeth II’s pompous funeral on Monday, I just kept thinking about the deodorizing effect a modern monarch has after several centuries of evil ruled by violence.

At one point more than a third of the world’s land mass and 700 million people were under the British Empire. You don’t reach that zenith simply by applying the queen’s notion of love and service.Emil GuillermoEmil Guillermo

It takes force and might, and a roaring sense of white supremacy. You’ll recall Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden,” often used as moral justification for empire, because who but the white man could civilize the black and the brown people of the world? And so Britain entered Africa and Asia in places like Kenya, Hong Kong, Burma, and India.

The Brits were even in the Philippines, for a brief time, occupying Manila from 1762-1764. Maybe they couldn’t find decent bangers and mash? They left in a hurry as the Philippines were already colonized by Spain, then ultimately America, which colonized the Philippines after the Philippine-U.S. War.

For more on the impacts of British colonialism, I hope more people get to know the work of Harvard Professor Caroline Elkins.

Her accounting of how the British dealt with the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s is in her 2005 book, Britain’s Gulag. To use the noun “Gulag” is no hype. The British held up to 320,000 Kenyan Kikuyu people in detention camps where people were starved, tortured, and raped.

Among the people Elkins interviewed were Paulo Nzili who said he was castrated with pliers at a camp. And there was Jane Muthoni Mara, who said she was raped with a heated glass bottle.

Just two of the names of those victimized by the systematic violence of British rule.

Elkins’ book helped to uncover a previously unknown batch of files—more than 240,000 secret files—that were removed by the British at the time Kenya became independent in 1963. The documents were part of a secret history of Kenya and 37 other countries that the British intended to purge from their colonial past.

Because her book and the subsequent discovery of the missing documents,  Elkins served as an expert witness after a handful of survivors of the Kenyan detention camps sued for reparations in 2011.

Ultimately, 5,228 Kenyans who were subjected to “torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration” were each given reparations payment of around 3,800 pounds each in 2013.

That’s far less than Japanese Americans got for their incarceration by the U.S. during World War II — and the Kenyan experience was far worse.

And to think, it all happened during the Queen’s watch.

This year, Elkins, who is now professor of history and African and African American Studies at Harvard, and founding director of its Center for African Studies, has a new book out, “Legacy of Violence.” In it, she takes a broader look at how for centuries Britain used what she called “legal lawlessness” to bend the rule of law to morally justify its imperial rule from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The Queen’s passing couldn’t come at a better time to re-evaluate and understand just how strongly the British believed in the “velvet glove, iron fist” mentality that brutalized the world.

At this stage, the news of the day is still hung up on the ceremonial pomp of the Queen’s death and whether all the Royals will make nice to each other.

But you shouldn’t.

Think instead of how the Royals are like the cherry on top of some really bad things. And how they’ve long been a distraction from what was really going on in the name of the British people. Yes, kings and queens have no power politically, but they give a nation an image and identity of what it stands for. Generally good, despite the reality.

Just remember the cruel repression of Kenyan Kikuyu people, and other free people of the world. Think of where today’s ruling junta of Myanmar learned how to govern. That’s what the British empire was about. And then think of the effort to hide the documents to obscure the British Empire’s enduring M.O., the taking of resources in foreign lands to enrich the mother country while subjugating the people of those foreign lands through violence and, yes, racism.

The queen’s death is an invitation to uncover more of the historical but forgotten truths. And to see how they have shaped all the obstacles to diversity we still fight to this day.

Emil Guillermo is an Asian American journalist and commentator. He writes for numerous publications and vlogs at



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