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Natasha Lightfoot on the British Commonwealth's Future after Elizabeth

NPR's A Martinez talks to associate professor Natasha Lightfoot of Columbia University about several countries moving to break ties with the Commonwealth now that Queen Elizabeth II has died.


The death of Queen Elizabeth is a moment for some countries to decide if they really want a King Charles. There is, of course, a Commonwealth of Nations, countries attached to the United Kingdom, in many cases by a history of colonialism. And within that Commonwealth is a smaller group, the Commonwealth of Realms (ph), 14 other countries that still recognize the British monarch as their own sovereign.

A Martinez found that some countries are debating this question. He spoke with Natasha Lightfoot, who is at Columbia University and wrote a book about Antigua called "Troubling Freedom."

NATASHA LIGHTFOOT: It's possibly the outpouring of grief and calls for respect and dignity that tend to suggest whitewashing of the queen's legacy and essentially trying to paper over any sort of critical responses to what the queen's life signified in her time as monarch.

A MARTINEZ, BYLINE: Queen Elizabeth ruled over the waning years of the British Empire. How can the monarchy disassociate itself from its colonial past, with most members being former colonies of the British Empire?

LIGHTFOOT: That would probably be a difficult prospect, given that for much of the colonized world, the monarchy has been the symbol of land theft, human resource theft. It would take some form of apologizing. And the problem with apologizing is that such an apology could become a legal basis for lawsuits for reparatory justice, and that would probably end up costing the British Treasury millions, if not trillions of pounds. So I don't think the work that really needs to be done to atone for the atrocities of the colonial past will probably be engaged with under the new monarch.

MARTINEZ: So in a strange way, professor, it almost sounds as if for the monarchy, for King Charles, it's almost better as if he does not address it and just move forward.

LIGHTFOOT: Well, better for him, but is it better for the millions of people around the world who have suffered under the weight of British colonialism? It's actually quite worse for them because the result in many of these places has been pretty clear signs of underdevelopment, climate insecurity, economic insecurity. There's no way to really disconnect colonialism from all of this. And certainly, the queen's passing has become this important moment, trying to push past the idea that the monarchy is just merely symbolic and that there are real political and material consequences to this kind of political setup.

Read entire article at NPR