THE STRANGE LEGACY OF QUEEN VICTORIA
God Save the Queen
Queen Victoria of England was one of the most important and popular monarchs in British history. She was the sister of King Leopold I, whose son Leopold II ruled the Congo using a system of extreme violence and enslaving and murdering the native population.
The period of Queen Victoria’s reign marked an era of aggressive expansion of the British Empire including the conquest and colonization of India. While a popular figure at the time due to her high moral standards of rule her image has soured over the years due to her involvement in colonial expansion.
Mirroring what the British did in chartering the East India Company, Queen Victoria proclaimed a royal charter that provided the newly formed British South Africa Company to operate in Africa as a vessel of exploitation in the name of the crown. The served as a colonial enterprise that carved up Africa’s territory and set out to stake the continent in the name of the Empire.
Queen Victoria Statue
Not only has the statue come under verbal scrutiny but also physical vandalism. Given Queen Victoria’s involvement in the acceleration and acceptance of Britain’s colonial enterprise, many citizens and activists have beenkeen to point out this dark corner of her legacy. While these views on British supremacy were commonplace during that era, they are inherently at odds with modern thinking. However at odds in thought Britain is with it’s past, nostalgia seems to impose its will.
According to a poll conducted by the British government in 2016 found that Britons look back on colonialism rather fondly, finding that 43% of Britons think the British empire was a good thing while 44% believed we should be proud of colonialism.
Setting a moral standard
The toppling of statues acts as a starting point in the long reconciliation process with the past. The question arises of what comes next after the statues have fallen. Has the sense of animosity eased on behalf of the offended? If not, where do go from here? Do we reevaluate every public statue based on whether or not the figures’ moral compass holds up to modern standards? Should we reevaluate the statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in London?
While undoubtedly an outstanding president whose political genius and charisma navigated the U.S. out of the great Depression and steered the country towards victory in World War II, Roosevelt’s tenure was plagued by one of the more recent shameful acts in modern memory. While scholars collectively agree Roosevelt to be among the greatest leaders of the 20th century, they seldom forget the stains on his past. In the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forcibly relocated more than 100,000 Japanese descendants from the western seaboard to concentration camps scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yet where is the outcry from activists? If society holds such a high moral standard for commemorations of admired leaders then we must apply it to equally.
Old memories seldom fade
The geographical location of the statue has given rise to renewed criticism given the colonial and Apartheid stains of South Africa’s past. In 1948, the National Party rose toprominence and instituted a systemic enforcement of racial segregation legislation, named apartheid. The already fragile racial tensions erupted into sectarian violence that only served to foster racial division.
Aided by strong undercurrents of prevalent racism in the area, many citizens now question the historical relevance of Queen Victoria. By modern standards, Queen Victoria Seen is now seen as a monolith to an archaic time period that propagated white supremacy coupled with exploitation. We must take into account both the history of Queen Victoria and the country of South Africa as whole to see if removing the statue might be a step forward in an attempt in rectifying the wrongs of the past.
The antidote is a prescription of critical self-examination of South Africa’s history, from the time of British colonialism to the Apartheid-era, and to really ask ourselves who exactly is the figure being honored while taking into account the current political climate. Given South Africa’s racially checkered past, the time is now to reevaluate the relevancy of colonial monuments and engage in civil discussion. The moment we shy away from tough questions is the moment where we shy away from discovering tougher solutions.
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