Last week’s visit by the Earl and Countess of Wessex titillated many residents as they flocked to gain sight of two members of the British Royal Family. Awe-inspiring as they are for some, however, monarchies are an imperfect fit in our modern world and they have a particular and palpably pernicious effect on colonial territories. This effect is one of suppressed cultural and national identity, constrained as it is by the unquestioned deference to all things Royal. There is a problem with the monarchy.
Perhaps the most important problem is that the very existence of the monarchy validates a culture of entitlement, something most of us say we reject and want to pull our children away from. It is certainly an entitlement culture when, through the mere accident of birth and not hard work or a solid education, an individual can rise to a position of power, influence and wealth. And both know and expect that to be their destiny. There is an unmistakable, even if subtle message being sent to our children on the occasion of each Royal visit. Our entire reward system is predicated on young people doing the best they can in school; getting specific skill sets; and then securing good employment opportunities. The monarchy, thrust in front of our children, invalidates that.
On another level, since the British monarchy does not reflect the diversity of its colonial territories—and probably never will—there is an unfortunate paralleling of deference and authority along racial lines. For a country so fragmented by past racial injustices and trying to set this firmly behind us, each Royal visit harkens back to the days of white privilege. It does so with their very presence; without the utterance of a single word. The monarchy is nothing if it is not about history and tradition.
The most vivid imprint of the monarchy locally rests with the Queen’s Honours List. On the one hand, these awards recognise the accomplishments of Bermudians in social, political and other fields, all in service to the country. It is laudable that those who have contributed to the betterment of Bermuda be honoured. On the other hand, there is something distinctly perverse in a colonial subject accepting an award installing him as a Commander of the British Empire or indeed to become a Knight in such an empire. It is for this reason the PLP argued for 30 years against the acceptance of such awards.
For those who would never contemplate accepting such an award their contributions to Bermuda go without formal recognition. Roosevelt Brown (no relation) comes to mind. Through his leadership every Bermudian won the right to vote—a genuine hero no doubt and who’s legacy provokes no question. Roosevelt, though, would never have accepted such an award: after all, it was because of disparaging remarks he made about the monarchy in Parliament that he was expelled.
About ten years ago Premier Smith established a committee, representing all sectors of Bermuda, to devise an alternative awards system. As a member of that committee we worked dutifully and created a Bermuda awards system taking the best from Canada, Jamaica and other Commonwealth countries. This report needs to be dusted off and placed in the public domain for public scrutiny.
Monarchical symbols in Bermuda cannot be a source from which social cohesion emanates. Sixteen years ago I wrote in RG Magazine that “the British Flag, God Save the Queen and the Governor’s plumed hat are outmoded and oppressive relics in Bermuda today: a bi-racial, multi-cultural, ethnically diverse society.” I believe these words still resonate today.