For Indigenous Australian journalist and writer Stan Grant, the Queen’s death last September brought mixed feelings. In his new book The Queen is Dead, he calls for a reckoning with the legacy of colonialism that the Queen stood for. This is an edited extract.
The White Queen is dead.
It is time to bury her. Not just her body, but the very idea of her. Most importantly the very idea of her.
This is not about the Queen. Not the Queen we knew. Her face as familiar as the faces of our own mothers. It is not about the flesh-and-blood human being. The wife. The mother. The grandmother. It is not about the beautiful princess she once was, nor the dignified, gracious equally beautiful elderly woman she became. It is not about the bright yellow dresses or the decorative hats on race day. It is not about the kindly twinkle in her eye and the reassuring voice every Christmas, in her message from the palace.
Like so many others, I will miss that Queen.
I met that Queen once. Very briefly. She extended her hand, I shook it. Her smile was fixed yet seemingly genuine, and she offered a few words before I moved on. I was as charmed by that Queen as any other who had the pleasure of being introduced to her.
That was the Queen fulfilling her duty. The Queen of service and dedication. It mattered little to her, I’m sure, who I was, but more that I was one of hers. A subject. She was my head of state. I lived under her Crown. The laws that governed my life come with her seal of approval.
That Queen stared down at us from pubs and clubs and schools and parliaments all across the country. That was the Queen of strength and stay. She was the Queen we were once afforded the opportunity of throwing over and yet did not, could not.
I have known that Queen my entire life. No Australian under the age of 70 has known another. I know so many loved that Queen. Perhaps, were I them, I might love her too. Perhaps I would like to have had the chance.
This is not about the Queen. But it is about the White Queen. I cannot shake this moment. In her death I feel the world turn. The White Queen is a metaphor. She stands in right now for hundreds of years of an idea of Whiteness. That myth, that trick of the mind, that invention of race. Not real.
But, oh, how terrifyingly real to most of us on Earth.
I will not mention by name the Queen. The Queen I met.
That’s our way. We respect the dead and their names. Names changed or never again mentioned. But she will be the White Queen, and that’s more important than her name anyway. To me it is the most important thing.
I cannot love the White Queen — the idea. I cannot mourn the White Queen.
The White Queen is dead. May she be the last White Queen.
What do I mean, the last White Queen?
There will never again be a Queen who reigns in a world where Whiteness is so assured. The empire into which she was born and over which she reigned is a thing of nostalgia. Like a cool autumn evening when the sun dips early and the branches of stark trees stripped of their leaves hang still in the breathless air, Britain itself is a thing of faded beauty. I want that Britain to lay its burden down.
The White Queen is dead. Let the spell be broken.
This spell has been cast for a thousand years. It is an evil magic, a trick of nature that fixes a hierarchy of humanity with people who imagine they are White at the top and those of us deemed not White measured below. Henry VIII, Queen Victoria, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hobbes, Jane Austen, William Blake, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vincent Van Gogh, Marie Curie, Thomas Jefferson, James Cook, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Beatles, Alfred Hitchcock, Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler, Hannah Arendt, Madonna, Margaret Thatcher.
We have created a world in the image of Whiteness. White monarchs. White scientists. White artists. White poets. White musicians. White thinkers. White terror and White fear. Yes, and White love and White mercy. But still White. All of it White.
How many names have been erased? How many names we should know but do not. Terence and Tagore, Tenzing and Truganini. Look close enough and they are there. They are not hidden. But more likely they speak against the world and not to it.
Across the centuries, they wrote words of eternal peace and love, and they led White man to the top of the Earth, and they spoke of resilience and survival. To most, these names are strange. It is those other names, and the countless, countless names of people considered White, that fall so easily from our lips.
I have tried this test on people. In one minute, name 10 famous people. How easily the names come, how White each person is. In another minute, I ask, name 10 who are not White. These people have shaped our world too; their thoughts and faiths and art have fired our imaginations. But they don’t come so easily to mind.
Muhammad Ali, some say, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi. Some might reach further: Beyoncé, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey. Tick . . . Tick . . . tick . . . think . . . Miles Davis, Barack Obama . . . Chairman Mao. The minute has long passed.
Under the spell of Whiteness, it is White people we see first. The Whitest stars that shine brightest. Interestingly, when I ask someone to name those people who are not White, no one says Jesus. In a world where Whiteness is prized, Jesus — a dark-haired, dark-skinned Jewish man from the Middle East — has become bathed in beatific White splendour.
How many White people are there on Earth? I have asked this question too, and no one gets it right. By some estimates, there are about 700 million people in the world whom we would call Caucasian. You could fit twice that number into China or India. That is fewer than one in 10 people. The United Nations says that by 2025, some 98 per cent of the world’s population growth will be in non-White countries, particularly Africa and Asia.
Gravity is tilting. In 1900, Europe had a quarter of the world’s population, but by the middle of the present century that will have fallen to just 7 per cent. By 2050, it is thought one in four people on Earth will be African.
How many White people are there? When I ask that question, the number never fails to astonish. Because Whiteness is all around us. It is a swarm. All-seeing, all-knowing Whiteness. And where we are engulfed by Whiteness, all else dims. I have tried this on people who are not considered White. I have asked them that same question: how many White people are there on Earth? I see their eyes widen, their mouths fall open, when they hear the answer. It is a moment of clarity. The scales fall from their eyes; they wonder, what have we been so afraid of?
Fewer than 10 per cent of the people in the world are White: Caucasian.
Why are we so surprised? This is the trick. Whiteness is an illusion. We fail to see what is right in front of us. There are far more of us who are not White than those who are. But we are hypnotised by Whiteness. We see it even when it is not there.
Because it is everywhere. It frames everything. We live in a maze of mirrors and each one distorts our reality. Once trapped in Whiteness, we cannot easily find our way out. And in each warped mirror, Whiteness stares back at us.
Such a tiny number of White people have conquered the world. And I do mean conquered. With force and their law, they have subdued the planet. Whiteness has bent the world to its will.
Are these people who think themselves White so supernaturally gifted? Are they chosen by the gods? Do they possess some wisdom unknown to the rest of us? No.
The conquest of Whiteness is no divine providence. It is no accident. It was drawn on maps. It was sailed on ships. It was written in books. It was weighed in gold. It was marched in columns. It was sounded off in cannon fire. It was hoist by flags. It was named empire.
Of all the things known about the Queen, of all the things written about the Queen, this is the most important: that she was White. It is the most important thing to me. She was the epitome of Whiteness. Without Whiteness, she would not have been Queen. And no one who is not White has ever sat on that throne.
Let me repeat it and say it slowly: the White Queen is dead.
This edited extract is from The Queen is Dead by Stan Grant, published by HarperCollins.
Stan Grant is a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi man. He is a journalist who has worked for ABC, SBS, the Seven Network, Sky News Australia, and CNN where, from 2001 to 2012, he was an anchor and senior correspondent in Asia and the Middle East.
Stan is the bestselling author of Talking to My Country and Australia Day. In 2016, he was appointed to the Referendum Council on Indigenous recognition. He is now chair of Indigenous Australian Belonging at Charles Sturt University.
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