4 young people on their attitudes to the monarchy and commonwealth
From the Bahamas to Jamaica, here's what young people who’ve only ever known Queen Elizabeth as a head of state think of the UK monarchy and possible referendums
words Brit Dawson
When the Queen died earlier this month, it raised a slew of questions – some were trivial, like whether the UK was getting a bank holiday for the funeral, or the length of The Queue. Others, however, were more significant – specifically, what Queen Elizabeth’s death might mean for the Commonwealth, and, in particular, its so-called ‘realms’.
The Commonwealth is a political association of 56 member states, most of which are former colonial territories of the tyrannical British empire. Within this group are 14 Commonwealth realms, including the likes of Jamaica, Canada, The Bahamas, Australia, New Zealand, and Grenada – countries in which King Charles III is now the monarch and head of state. (Although the role isn’t hereditary, the Commonwealth agreed in 2018 that Charles would take over from the Queen when she died.)
These ‘realms’ each function as independent states, with the monarch being represented by an appointed official called a governor-general. Still, unsurprisingly, many people in these countries don’t want a British monarch, even as a symbolic head of state. In fact, in recent years, several of these countries have held referendums on whether they should become republics, with success in Ghana, South Africa, and Gambia between the late 50s and early 70s. Barbados became the most recent republic in the Commonwealth, removing Queen Elizabeth as its head of state last year – though it did so without a public referendum.
Now, in light of the Queen’s death, it’s likely a number of other countries will do the same. Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda have each already announced their intentions to hold referendums on becoming republics – though other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have ruled out a vote in the near-future.
But what do young people in these countries – who’ve only ever known Queen Elizabeth as their head of state – think of their British monarch and possible referendums? Below, Woo speaks to five of them to find out.
JADEN*, 21, JAMAICA
“[Jamaica still having the English monarchy] reeks of colonialism, and is not in line with the ideals we should be following. I find it quite disturbing that our head of state is a descendant of the people who permitted and industrialised the most horrific human atrocity ever. Many Jamaicans might not understand this, but [the fact] that we continue to uphold this colonial symbolism has huge ramifications for our society. From statues to parish and county names to parks and even religiously, we’re still colonised. For example, most Jamaicans are Christian, which is a religion [that was] beaten into our ancestors by the British colonists, which creates an environment of self hate and inferiority in terms of how we view African retention and Africa itself.
[The monarchy has had no influence on my feelings of heritage or identity] – they are just a reminder of British colonialism and slavery, along with elitist classism, which [still] plagues our society [today]. This notion of one being of a higher standard because they have wealth or look more white than others has created a system of exploitation, where we see a society of a small elite class socially raping the masses for their own benefit – similar to how the slave owners used to operate. In many cases, it’s this elite class that would like for us to remain in the Commonwealth and continue to uphold the monarch, as they subscribe to that kind of symbolism and hyper-capitalist exploitation.
The tide was long turned [against the monarchy, even before the Queen’s death]. Most Jamaicans – though they might not express it – have a deep disdain for the monarch, particularly the younger generations who’ve inherited a nation that’s politically and [socially] divided. They now realise that many of these problems were sowed by colonialism. Most Jamaicans associate politics with violence, and this is a direct result of the nature of the political landscape. Getting rid of this institution is the first step in changing our country for the better – small and insignificant as it may seem.”
CHLOE*, 27, CANADA
“My thoughts of the English monarchy when I was growing up were very fairytale-like. In my mind, the monarchy was just a royal family who lived in a castle with extreme wealth. In school, we were taught about the importance of protecting the royal family, which we were told was why we had the Queen’s face on our money – so that we would never forget her. Each year we celebrate Victoria Day (which marks the birthday of Queen Victoria) as a country-wide holiday and have fireworks, and as a child I remember playing games that taught you about the royal family.
Over time, though, my opinions on the monarchy have changed, as I’ve become more educated on the history, privilege, and wealth this family has amassed, as well as the injustices they’ve taken part in and the treatment of women in their family, including Princess Margaret, Diana, and most recently Meghan Markle.
[Still], as a Canadian, I feel the pride of our country, especially in our older citizens who are connected to the Monarch, and a sense of love and admiration for the traditions. I do feel a tide turning in the younger generation, but overall I think the majority of the country respect the Queen, the monarch, and the idea of being connected in some capacity to the UK, as another entity outside of Canada alone.”
PATRICK, 20, GRENADA
“Grenada isn’t under the British monarchy, and doesn’t have the British monarch as head of state. Not since independence in 1974. We are under the Grenadian monarchy, and the Grenadian monarch is head of state. The two offices are held by the same person, yes, but legally and constitutionally they’re two entirely separate institutions. Saying Grenada has the British monarch as its head of state is the same as saying Britain has the Papuan monarch as head of state. Grenada is a fully independent country, with no ties to the British monarchy. [Framing it as the British monarchy in Grenada] gives the impression we are somehow still subservient to the UK, when we’re a fully independent state. We are swearing loyalty to the King exclusively in his capacity as King of Grenada, as our head of state. [Any other framing] delegitimises [our monarchy] in the eyes of many people – they take to believing we are subservient to Britain when we’re not, or that the monarchy is some form of colonial institution, which it ceased to be in 1974.
I’m very much in favour of retaining the monarchy, and think it’s an important and valuable institution. It gives us a non-partisan head of state detached from our parties, in the form of the King and governor-general (who holds all constitutional powers in the country), as well as a good constitutional safeguard. The monarchy was central in restoring democracy in Grenada after the US invasion in 1983, where the governor-general was, as representative of the Queen, the only remaining legal authority in the country. The monarchy doesn’t do us any harm, and becoming a republic wouldn’t make us any more independent – it would just be a very expensive waste of time.”
AARON, 22, BAHAMAS
“The British people seem to revere the Queen herself; be that because of the title or the length and familiarity of her reign. That sentiment has embedded itself within large portions of Bahamian society. People forever saw Queen Elizabeth II as honest, goodhearted grandma Lizzy – not that she wasn’t goodhearted, but it’s hard to [see] the merits of somebody who’s standing on the backs of millions of slaves sent to colonies, and the billions of dollars they generated for the isles. She actively participated in the oppression of independence revolts in Africa, yet is somehow praised for granting independence to a host of countries, [which are] either splattered with different ethnic groups forced into a new westernised identity, or former slave states desperately trying to govern themselves as small island nations dependent on export to Britain.
As a Bahamian, I detest that Charles III is technically our head of state, and recognise that the only reason this remains so is to ensure that tourism and trade between us and the UK don’t hit any speed bumps. Our government has been trying for decades to exemplify some British standard that simply won’t work because we’re not Britain. [Though] I can definitely feel the remnants of a British ideology throughout the nation – at least on the surface. Our national identity has all to do with the monarchy, because there would be nobody to populate the island had the British not brought slaves here. [But] our government, education, and identity should be seeking to be Bahamian.
I do feel tides changing. The Queen herself was an institution; her reign was older than my country by 20 years, so there was never going to be widespread criticism of the monarchy under her rule. She was a constant, and people find it easier to push for change in the midst of shifting seasons, [so] I hope we can become a republic soon enough. Our prime minister has stated recently that a referendum could be in order soon. Having the British monarch as our head of state feels like being a 40-year-old adult still living with your parents.”
*Names have been changed