This is a deeply personal post and one that might offend some folks. Please understand it is all in the spirit of our society moving forward with bias or baggage.
I must admit I have long found the fascination so many Americans have with the British Monarchy beyond bizarre. Our nation was founded by throwing off the chains of the oppressive British monarchs 245 years ago and since that same monarchy has overseen an Empire that subjugated tens of millions under the premise of a “white man’s burden,” while having an official codified policy of Anti-Catholicism written into British law (The anti-Catholic marriage law was rescinded in 2012, but it was on the books for 350 years. If you were Catholic you could not marry into the royal line of succession – how people didn’t find this highly offensive in a modern, largely secular society is beyond me).
So in fairness, being someone of South Asian ethnicity who hails from a family of politically-influential socialists and freedom fighters in India, I am the most obvious candidate to dislike the British Empire. I am also someone who has studied Irish Republicanism extensively. But I am also an Anglophile culturally, when it comes to mainstream working class British culture and cuisine- but to me that never extended to the royal family for multiple reasons.
American fascination with royalty, monarchy and dynasty has from my vantage point been incredibly unhealthy for our nation. In the meantime the British elites have profited off the tourism Royalty brings, while docking the working folks of that nation with the bill to maintain such an extravagant and outdated entity.
With all of this in mind, I was stunned by the reaction to Sunday night’s Oprah Winfrey interview. The idea that the Duchess of Sussex was subjected to racism seemed to genuinely shock the American public, who feasts on streaming series that glorify the Monarchy, tabloids, reality TV and overly-politicized cable news channels. Nothing in the revelations from that interview surprised me. In fact, what does bother me is it took so long to get these issues finally on the table to discuss maturely.
The Monarchy has long been an outdated vestige of racism, imperialism and anti-Catholicism (probably antisemitism as well, but I am no aware of specific examples). The sooner it is abolished the better. Modern societies do not need Kings and Queens and royal families to govern them or even entertain them.
It’s absolutely stunning so many Americans love the royal family. Hopefully this episode ends this particularly odd and destructive fetish. But before I go, I must say my peace about another matter related to this. The current conversation around Winston Churchill’s legacy and British rule of India has intensified in recent weeks. Please indulge me as a South Asian here for a minute or two.
The British Legacy in India
In recent days some of the same American conservatives that have defended MAGA excess, insurrection and denying reality about elections have rushed to defend the Monarchy and historic legacy of Winston Churchill. Let me be clear about Churchill – as a South Asian I abhor him and actually refer to him (fairly or unfairly, you decide) as the “Butcher of Bengal” thanks to the 1943 Bengal Famine where upwards of 3 million Indians died.
Famine was a key technique in the British imperial arsenal. When the British conquered Bengal via treachery on the battle field at the Battle of Palashi in 1757, a famine a decade later killed millions. Famine would repeat itself at strategic times in the history of both Ireland and India in the next century.
Before 1757, Bengal on its own had a higher GDP than Britain and France combined.
In fact, in 1700, Bengal itself had accounted for about 10% of the world’s GDP. By the time the British had fully implemented governance over the region it was a basketcase economically and socially. De-industrialization and de-ubranization took place. The entire economy was reworked to specifically benefit British traders and their corrupt allies.
In 1700, as the British were only mere traders with a few coastal settlements (Surat, Mumbai, Fort William (Kolkata) and Fort St George (Chennai)) the Mughal Empire under the Emperor Aurangzeb had the world’s highest GDP, higher than all of western Europe COMBINED. Bengal, the wealthiest subdivision within the Mughal realm accounted itself as noted above for 10% of the global GDP. The total share from the Mughal Empire was according to some estimates about 23% and the entire Indian subcontinent was close to 25% of the global GDP. That’s a greater share of the global GDP than the US or China currently represent.
Mughal India had the highest rate of urbanization in the world at the time, the most fabulous architecture, and a thriving culture of literature and music. Industrialization on a mass scale was on the cusp of happening in Bengal before it happened in Britain. In fact, had the British not won battles at Palashi and in 1764 at Buxar, the world might recognize Dhaka (then Jahangirnagar) not Manchester as the city that made the industrial revolution.
When the British conquered the South Indian kingdom of Mysore in 1799, that nation-state had a higher standard of living than Britain. Within two decades, the interior of southern India had been completely de-industrialized and urban life crushed.
By the time the British left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, South Asia was among the most downtrodden and pathetically poor places on the planet, 190 years of British rule had turned the world’s greatest economy into one simply structured to benefit an island nation thousands of miles away.
This entire 190 period, while Parliamentary Whigs and later Labour stood up for the plight Indians, the royal family and Tory class in Britain engaged in rape and pillage of the land.
So for me with the dual identity of being South Asian from a prominent anti-colonial Indian family and being an American who is deeply proud of elements of our history, the British monarchy to me about the worst thing in the world. Ending it is long overdue.