If Your Feelings About The Queen’s Death Are Complicated, That’s OK

Photo by Gaby Mahlberg/Getty Images
On September 8, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96, after 70 years as the nation and commonwealth's monarch. In the days since, we’ve been prescribed a national mood: a palpable sense of mourning amongst a substantial majority of the British public. Events have been cancelled, commemorative portraits are quite literally everywhere, there have been tributes (from marmalade sandwiches to spontaneous acts of song) and stadiums have fallen silent in Her Majesty’s honour. This is how the United Kingdom was always expected to grieve. 
And then there’s Black Twitter (and Irish, Asian and anti-monarchy online spaces…): a jumbled stream of darkly funny memes, joyous celebrations, and intensified criticism of Britain’s dark and destructive colonial past. The more vocal amongst us remind followers to pay attention to the suspended news cycle: inflation and rising energy bills, and Chris Kaba, the unarmed Black man who was recently killed by the Metropolitan Police. They say: don’t get distracted.
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For some Black and brown people in Britain, especially those of us who have been actively critical of the monarchy in the past, how we’ve shown up online over the past few days has been an interesting sport: what can I say right now? How am I supposed to feel?
“The Queen as a symbol means many things to many people — and that is fine,” writes author Jemele Hill on Twitter. “It’s fine to write about, discuss, analyze, critique or celebrate.” Agreed. It’s also OK if you’ve found yourself at the intersection between feeling kinda sad about the Queen’s passing but definitely not mourning; angry about the past but not necessarily indignant. Because more than one thing is true: a beloved long-standing monarch — the “rock on which modern Britain was built” — has died. And, just as truthful, a figurehead of the British empire —  which through racism, imperialism and colonialism exploited countries in Africa causing economic and social disparities that still persist to this day — has died. 
“I didn’t feel a wave of sadness... Not like the time I saw my dad cry once. Not like when I hear another innocent Black man has been killed by the police,” shared writer Calypso, in a recent Instagram post titled, ‘when you’re mixed raced in Britain and the Queen died.’
“But I am not NOT sad,” they continue in the post shared on September 10. “Because my granny loved the Queen. My granny on my white side. So sometimes Lizzy doesn’t even feel all that alien.”
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This could be the Black British experience in a nutshell. On TikTok there are multiple videos of African parents grieving the news as if they knew Elizabeth personally; my own grandparents from Antigua and Barbados, highly-respected Elizabeth and, in those glass display cabinets that nearly all Black elderly people had during the nineties, were commemorative Royal Family china we weren’t allowed to use. Still, I grew up decidedly indifferent to the monarchy, and more recently, have been ready to tussle on behalf of Meghan Markle. I’ve never been able to understand the cognitive dissonance that is loving the Queen and hating the institution she has represented all her life. Well. Until now. I see examples of it everywhere. 

"Black and brown people around the world who were subject to horrendous cruelties and economic deprivation under British colonialism are allowed to have feelings about Queen Elizabeth. After all, they were her "subjects" too.”

Karen ATTIAH
The Voice editor Lester Holloway recently came under fire when the long-standing Black newspaper was guest edited by King Charles III, then Prince of Wales. Upon the announcement of the special edition, Charles was described as an “ally” to Black people. It angered many of the supporters of the paper, which had previously published an interview with Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, on Barbados’s move to become a republic, removing the Queen as the island’s Head of State.
Holloway has doubled-down, and in an article for the Guardian, remembers the Queen as “calypso-loving Elizabeth, who defied conventions and racist attitudes in 1961 to share a dance with Ghana’s pan-Africanist ruler Kwame Nkrumah.” Meanwhile, for the Guardian, novelist Ben Okri paints a picture of a “magical” monarch with a “special aura” that helped her become part of our collective psyche, so much so “that in some way to think ill of her was to think ill of oneself.” 
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These gushing tributes were to be expected upon the Queen’s death; yet when coming from Black and brown British voices can feel unsettling.
It’s easy to understand why.
On social media, there’s a visceral push and pull between those wanting to honour the Queen (mother, grandmother, head of state, ma’am) and the academics and commentators working to prevent the whitewashing of the Queen’s legacy. The former keeps griping that now is not the right time to bring up the c-word: colonialism
But if not now, then when? As Karen Attiah tweeted earlier this week, “Black and brown people around the world who were subject to horrendous cruelties and economic deprivation under British colonialism are allowed to have feelings about Queen Elizabeth. After all, they were her "subjects" too.”
The ongoing request to “respect the dead’ has moved into the icky territory of grief respectability, where marginalised voices are expected to adhere to a so-called proper code of moral conduct and use language that praises and honours the deceased (and, God-forbid, not make jokes about the death of a monarch). In other words: stay silent. 

"A lot of things in this country are about to change, but a lot of things that desperately need to change won’t."

It especially came to a head when Uju Anya, a Nigerian-born professor at Carnegie Mellon University, posted a remorseless tweet about the Queen’s health when it was first announced that the Queen was ill.
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos added his 2 cents, causing the tweet to go viral, and the professor’s employers quickly released a statement distancing themselves from her words. Before Anya’s account was suspended by Twitter, the academic doubled down, and tweeted defiantly: “If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star.”
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Anya, who “was born in the immediate aftermath” of millions dead during the Biafran war, has received hate en masse. But as her widespread supporters say, you can’t police how victims of colonisation talk about the Queen’s passing. In later comments posted to the website Public Source, Anya wrote: “Some may not approve of how a survivor of state violence expresses their opinion of those who harmed them, but all should know that ‘colonizer’ is not an abstract word to me,” she says, “...nor is the blood-soaked legacy of Queen Elizabeth II and the British monarchy something I’ve only read in history books.”
People scrambling to disprove Anya and others who have publicly chosen not to mourn at this time, have been confronted with the very real truths within these history books (many of which we didn’t get to learn in school). As Farooq Kperogi at Kennesaw State University told CNN. "The Queen's legacy started in colonialism and is still wrapped in it. It used to be said that the sun did not set over the British empire. No amount of compassion or sympathy that her death has generated can wipe that away.”
Right now, maybe the most uncomfortable truth of all this is that people in this country will still feel sad knowing all this — yes, some Black and brown folks, too. For the most part, I’ve been happy to leave people to mourn in the way they see fit. Not everyone will agree with this approach. 
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Maybe it’s because I’m firmly fixed on the now; trying to brace myself for whatever the post-Elizabethan era will bring and reckoning with the scary reality of the country’s current financial crisis — for me, this is far from “insignificant.”
A lot of things in this country are about to change, but a lot of things that desperately need to change won’t.
It’s extremely telling that a protest march following the killing of 24-year-old Chris Kaba, who was shot by a Metropolitan police officer on Monday, 5 September, was confused for marking the death of the Queen. I am not conflicted when it comes to supporting those who don’t want to see his death overshadowed.
So no, the national mood isn’t unified, but, right now, we’re all in mourning.

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