NOne million people arrived in London Monday morning to pay a farewell. The international nature of the gathering was a testament to the Queen’s immense global soft power, the likes of which is unlikely to be rivaled by any of her successors. But it’s also fitting of the country over which she reigned. This Britain, Queen Elizabeth II has left behind, is much more multicultural and diverse in religious and ethnicity than it was 70 years ago.
Over the course of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, Britain’s population grew by nearly a third from roughly 50 million in 1950 to 67 million today—an increase spurred, at least in part, by increased immigration. Last year, 14.5% of Britain’s population was made up of people who were not born in the country, as opposed to 8% in 2004.
That diversity was on full display during the period of National Mourning that followed the Queen’s death. Britons all ages and backgroundsTourists and many others could be seen standing outside Buckingham Palace paying respects to Queen Elizabeth II, as well as waiting in line for hours to view her coffin in Westminster Hall. While Queen Elizabeth II’s passing presented a rare moment of national unity to many Britons, for the country’s ethnic minority communities, it also invited an opportunity for reflection and reckoning over the Queen’s legacy, Britain’s colonial history, and what the monarchy represents to them. According to May’s poll, only 38% of U.K. non-white citizens wanted their country to be a monarchy. This is compared with 68% of all Britons.
For Britons of ethnic-minority backgrounds—whose communities span vastly different cultures and faiths—there is no one singular answer. Many consider Queen Elizabeth II to be a beloved symbol for national unity. Others see her as a British institution. For others, her 70-year legacy is impossible to disentangle from the broader monarchy—its history and its present, its good and its bad.
In recent days it was common to see people who are more in line with the former when walking around London. Raksha Sinhal, a woman of South Asian heritage from Surrey, in Southeast England, tells TIME that she came to Westminster to watch the Queen’s funeral procession because she wanted to pay tribute to “an amazing woman.” The country’s colonial past notwithstanding, “I think the Queen is separate from that,” says Sinhal. “Yes there was history there. It was colonialism. But I think she made a difference and changed that.”
Continue reading: The Monarchy in Britain: Queen Elizabeth II’s Story
Yusra Salih, 30, and her family attended the funeral procession with a large mosaic of the Queen comprising thousands of photos from the Queen’s life, including those of the monarch visiting her native Sudan. “We are very fond of the royal family,” says Salih. Despite its unsavory colonial history in Sudan, “There are no hard feelings at all. We can be Muslims, Arabs, Blacks or Africans. We are a whole mixture of things, but we feel like our voice is getting heard.”
Support for Queen Elizabeth II was also expressed within Britain’s multi-faith communities, many of which held special services and tributes in her honor in the days leading up to her state funeral. One such event, which was organized by the British Pakistani Christian Community group in London’s St. James’s Park on Sunday, attracted dozens of people to participate in the sermons, hymns, and prayers. “She looked after everyone,” says Kamran Sohail, one of the organizers who traveled to London from Liverpool for the funeral. “She never minded about which race, which color, which religion … She is really a mother of nations.”
According to Rakib Ehsan, a social policy analyst based in Luton, England, part of the Queen’s appeal for many in the U.K.’s ethnic-minority communities stems from her reputation for bridging divides between Britons of different backgrounds and faiths, including those not belonging to the Anglican church she led. Queen Elizabeth II, the British monarch who visited the U.K.’s first mosque during her 50th birthday celebrations in 2002. The same year she visited her first Hindu temple. According to the British Census, Hindus are 4.4% of British citizens and Muslims 1.3%. “Her message of emphasizing family values, the comfort that comes from community, devotion to faith and how faith can be a source of resilience and optimism—that’s not something that will only appeal to Christians,” says Ehsan, adding that “while we should be honest about the brutality of British colonialism, we have to also acknowledge that the Queen actually considerable repair work as a ceremonial figurehead.”
Continue reading: After Queen Elizabeth II’s Death, Many Indians Are Demanding the Return of the Kohinoor Diamond
While the Queen’s death and legacy has been unifying for many Britons, for others it has only highlighted the divisions that remain in the country. Shola Mo-Shogbamimu (London-based politician and author of This is Why I ResistTIME spoke to a woman who said that although she still mourns Queen Elizabeth as an individual, she did not grieve the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch. According to her, the Queen failed in any way over her 70-year tenure to raise awareness about systemic racial disparities throughout the country. “I expect more from those with the kind of power she had and I didn’t see it,” says Mos-Shogbamimu. “I don’t see it in the monarchy as an institution either.”
King Charles III could yet decide to go further than his mother did, both in redressing Britain’s colonial past as well as building even more bridges with the country’s ethnic minority communities. As Prince of Wales, Charles spoke out against the “indelible stain” left by the transatlantic slave trade, which at the time was regarded as a significant step towards Britain officially acknowledging its role in that period, though it fell short of an outright apology. Since ascending to the throne, Charles III has also pledged to protect the diversity of Britain and its “community of communities.”
Mos-Shogbamimu said that while previous monarchs have closely adhered to their constitutionally-mandated neutrality, King Charles III can and should go further. “We do not need him to pay lip service,” she says. “For whatever time he has in his reign, he has to do a lot of things that are radically different from what his mother did, which was to be silent. Silence is complicity.”
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