When the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday sent a torrent of grief to millions around the world, it also revived criticism of her legacy, highlighting the complicated feelings of those who saw her as a symbol of the British colonial empire. – an institution that enriched itself through violence, theft and oppression.
“If anyone expects me to express anything but contempt for the monarch who oversaw a government that supported the genocide that massacred and expelled half of my family and whose current people are still trying to overcome the consequences, then you can keep wishing you a star,” Obianuju Anya, an associate professor of second language acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University, tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Her tweet had been retweeted more than 10,000 times and had garnered nearly 38,000 likes on Thursday evening. Anya did not immediately respond to requests for an interview made over the phone and via Twitter.
Zoé Samudzi, a Zimbabwean American writer and a assistant professor of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design, wrote on Twitter: “As the first generation of my family not born in a British colony, I would dance to the graves of every member of the royal family if I had the chance, especially hers.” She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While Elizabeth reigned as Britain navigated a post-colonial era, she still had a connection to the colonial past, which was rooted in racism and violence against Asian and African colonies. In recent years there has been a growing call for the monarchy to confront its colonial past.
Matthew Smith, a history professor at University College London who directs the Center for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership, said: “Reactions point to the complicated and mixed relationship people have had with the British monarchy, people in the Commonwealth and especially in the Caribbean.
“I think when people express that opinion, they don’t specifically think of Queen Elizabeth,” Smith said in a telephone interview from London. “They think of the British monarchy as an institution and the monarchy’s relationship with systems of oppression, repression and forced extraction of labour, and especially African labour, and exploitation of natural resources and coercive systems of control in these places. That is what they often respond to. And that’s a system that goes beyond the person of Queen Elizabeth.”
The Queen died less than a year after Barbados removed her as head of state and became a republic, a move partly due to growing criticism of the monarchy among Caribbean nations. Others, including Jamaica, have suggested declaring their independence.
Born in Jamaica, where he spent most of his life, Smith said some people in the Caribbean deeply mourn the death of the Queen, especially older generations who may have memories of seeing her during one of her visits. visits to the islands.
Part of what endeared the queen in the Caribbean was that she performed her role in a way that seemed quite in contrast to how people understood British monarchs, Smith said, adding that her personality and the fact that she was a woman, distinguished her. “She didn’t look like historical monarchs,” and she “came to the crown young,” he said.
Hours before the royal family announced the Queen’s death, Ebony Thomas, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Education, warned against police surveillance of how people reacted to Buckingham Palace’s announcement that Elizabeth had been placed under medical supervision and her doctors “concerned” about her health.
“Telling the colonized how they should feel about the health and well-being of their colonizer is like telling my people we should worship the Confederacy,” Thomas tweeted. “‘Respect the dead’ if we all write these Tweets *in English.* How did that happen, hm? We just chose this language?” Her tweet has been liked more than 25,000 times, but has also been criticized.
Thomas declined a request for an interview. She later defended her position in a series of tweets.
“I made these comments before the official announcement,” she wrote, adding that her original tweet was made in solidarity with colonized people around the world. She also said she neither danced on anyone’s grave nor controlled anyone’s emotions.
Kalhan Rosenblatt contributed.