Heavyweight boxing is not typically associated with Queen Elizabeth II or even the British monarchy.
But Anthony Joshua’s recent Commonwealth Day speech is a refreshing example of these two unlikely – but actually quite similar – worlds coming together.
Joshua, the current unified heavyweight champion, is Watford-born but of Nigerian descent. “I come from the Yoruba people,” he said in front of the Queen, “who are the largest and some might say the loudest ethnic group in all of Africa. I am proudly Nigerian and I am proudly British.”
His unifying remarks are refreshing at a time of jarring identity politics. “These days we hear so much about division and difference that some might be tempted to see that as a bad thing,” he laments. “But on the contrary, it’s a beautiful thing, a thing to be celebrated and cherished – and a great source of peace and stability.”
This, I sense, is not the softer and ever-malleable version of multiculturalism we have come to know. It is a more genuine brand that Joshua evokes – one that celebrates a common heritage and reflects on the best parts of Empire rather than the worst.
Here I’m reminded of people like the Caribbean writer V.S. Naipaul, the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe and even the invincible Nelson Mandela – figures that certainly prodded empire but also sensibly respected western and British traditions. “I don’t imagine my father’s parents would have been able to understand the idea,” Naipaul told the Manhattan Institute in 1991 about his experience in London – the headquarters of Empire. “So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement.”
But one need not reside in Britain to experience these ideas. It is a sentiment that touches the far reaches of the Commonwealth – 53 nations, all six continents, and 20 per cent of the world’s land area. Mandela, recalling his school days in 1920s Natal, said that “Britain was the home of everything that was best in the world” and “the country that was my pride.” “You must also remember that Britain is the home of parliamentary democracy,” he added, “and, as people fighting against a form of tyranny in this country [South Africa], we look upon Britain to take an active interest to support us in our fight against apartheid.”
While Joshua spoke of overcoming division he also spoke of the practical chemistry that enables individuals to do well in any decent democracy. “I feel opportunity should be there for the taking along with hard work, dedication and perseverance regardless of one’s background.”
How refreshing. And, matched with the Queen’s enduring example of duty and pursuit of the common good, a pathway for all of us touched by the Commonwealth in the twenty-first century.
Image source: Bellanaija