- JCI Blog
The death of Queen Elizabeth sparks up criticisms of the Crown
By: Lilli Erigero
Yesterday, September 8th, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s longest reigning monarch, passed away at age 96. She has lived through a lot during her lifetime, women finally getting the right to vote, World War II, India’s declaration of independence from the United Kingdom, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the creation of the internet, the end of British rule in Hong Kong, the list goes on. Although she is a remarkable figure whose presence has had an undeniable impact on the world, I and much of the world can’t help but have mixed feelings about her death.
Queen Elizabeth II is greatly revered by many, but her death has also revived criticisms about her role as the head of the British Empire. An era of which colonialism, slavery, and racism in countries across the globe. Although the British Monarchy has little political power, much of the criticism is linked to the relationship the British monarchy has with systems of oppression, forced labor, violence, and exploitation of natural resources is undeniable - which is why many of us are not grieving her passing.
Twitter, in particular, has been a major platform for this discourse. Uju Anya, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, tweeted "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.” This tweet embodies how many feel across the world. Uju Anya, whose parents are from Nigeria and Trinidad, is one of the many people who has personally been impacted by the harmful effects of British colonialism.
Similarly Zoé Samudzi, a Zimbabwean-American writer and an assistant professor of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, tweeted, "As the first generation of my family not born in a British colony, I would dance on the graves of every member of the royal family if given the opportunity, especially hers."
Karen Attiah, a writer for The Washington Post, justified these feelings and tweeted "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."
These views and conversations, though not necessarily about Queen Elizabeth as an individual, are a greater reflection of the monarchy and the role she’s played in the many atrocities committed in the name of the CrownIt’s important to remember that the Commonwealth, a fancy euphemism for the former British Empire, still holds rule over many of their colonies including Jamaica and that Barbados was only given independence last year. Her participation in colonialism are not a distant history but an on-going tragedy.
Moreover, attempts by news outlets to revise Elizabeth’s history warrant these responses and criticisms. BBC attempted to rebrand and call her colonial ties in Africa a “long-standing relationship.” According to this article, “During her 70-year reign she visited more than 20 African countries, and once jokingly remarked in front of a smiling Nelson Mandela that she had been to more of Africa than ‘almost anybody’, prompting rapturous laughter from those around her.”She defined her reign as one that saw seeing “all 14 African British colonies gain their independence, starting with Ghana in 1957.”.Attempts to present Queen Elizabeth in a positive light within an African context is not surprising but it comes across as insensitive, offensive, and cruel.
As an American with no attachment to the British monarchy, I hope these conversations continue and that we use these criticisms to look inward as a country as well. The United States is not an innocent player in the history of colonialism. If anything, Queen Elizabeth’s death is a time to think about the role of institutions and imperial governments over the last 100 years. And while I am not celebrating the life of Elizabeth II, I am thinking about her and her lasting impact.