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A lot has changed in 60 years

A DIAMOND Jubilee – sixty years – is a very long time. Some of us, a minority, admittedly, were around when the accession of Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed. It was a foggy February and radio programmes – there was very little television then – were restricted to news and solemn music to mark the passing of her father, King George VI. Everything seemed to be dull and grey as the country struggled to get out of post-war austerity.

While today’s younger generation are understandably, and rightly, impatient for things to get better, today it is proper to look back on the progress that has been made.

In February 1952, and for a long time afterwards, “no coloureds, no dogs, no Irish” signs barring accommodation still disgraced the streets of our cities. Change was coming, albeit slowly.

Television coverage of the Coronation the following year, the occasion gave a major boost in popularity and sales to the medium, opened windows onto a wider world. Tall, regal Queen Salote of Tonga stole the limelight among the visiting dignitaries, and included in the politicians and ministers from overseas was Alexander Bustamante of Jamaica.

STRUGGLE

The ever-growing West Indian sector of the population was highly visible but yet unseen. It has taken a long time of struggle and battles, which have been well-documented in this newspaper over the years, for the degree of acceptance and integration which we have today to be implemented. There is much which still needs to be done but there can be no doubting that the cultural complexion of the country is very different to that over which the Queen presided when she first came to the throne. Social restraints were much more rigid at that time. People didn’t mix much out of their class or social group.

The relationship of the United Kingdom – then very much the Mother Country – with its former colonies has matured, too, with the times, and has changed. When the Prime Ministers of Commonwealth countries come to meet the British Prime Minister she/he does so now on an equal footing. Yet that relationship does have its restrictions. When in 1983 the U.S.A. intervened militarily in Grenada, a Commonwealth country owing allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, without the participation or, apparently, prior consent of her government, it showed clearly that her writ can run only so far in a region within the American sphere of influence.

Other doors, though, have opened. The Queen, whose family ancestry is German and whose husband was born in Greece of German heritage has been almost uniquely qualified to lead this country in the European Union. Although that entity is derided constantly by the UK media, many Jamaicans living here are not alone in appreciating the extension of opportunities.

African/Caribbean communities have made a major impact on cities and localities across the continent.

I became aware of this most pertinently when in Nuremberg, the cultural heart of Nazi racism (the “Nuremberg Laws” prohibited marital/sexual relationships between races), I was directed to catch the bus at “Nelson Mandela Square”. There are African/Caribbean heritage representatives in the sports teams of most European countries, in a good number of national parliaments, and Europe-wide with Bob Marley’s music seemingly ubiquitous across culture, art and commerce.

DIVERSE IMMIGRANTS

At the same time as the Cold War ended in Europe, opening up the United Kingdom to many more new and diverse immigrants, the edifice of apartheid came crashing down. The new South Africa, the South Africa of Nelson Mandela, chose to remain in the Commonwealth under the Queen.

Mozambique, Rwanda and Cameroon opted to come into the same family of nations even though they had little or no experience of being British colonies.

There have been some very strong personalities in the Commonwealth – Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, the Manleys –father and son, Julius Nyere, Eric Williams, Indira Gandhi – her father and her son, Forbes Burnham, Cheddi Jagan, to name just a few at random – and all have worked within that same framework. It has taken the white southern Africans, John Vorster and Ian Smith (and, admittedly, his successor Robert Mugabe) to break with that bond of Queen and Commonwealth.

I can still well recall that day our village schoolmaster told us that the King had died, and the next morning he lugged in some very large loud-speakers to put in each classroom so that we could hear the radio commentary of the proclamation of his daughter as our present queen. It was a long time ago, and a very different world. Yet those changes have been achieved with comparatively little rancour and unrest. Yes, there have been upheavals, some serious and some ongoing, but look what has happened over those same sixty years in the U.S.A., large tracts of Africa and Asia, France, the Middle East, and Central/Eastern Europe.

As a society we may not have got it all right but we have got less wrong than many other countries. Have we achieved in that time to justify celebration? It depends ofnwhether you are a person who thinks that a glass with 50 percent liquid is half-full or half-empty. I accept there is enough to justify all of us in this society celebrating the progress that has been made while admitting that there is a lot more for us to start working on in the next sixty years.

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