After a record-breaking 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96. She was the country’s longest-serving monarch, so it’s no surprise that her death is a moment of sadness for people all over the world.
For many British people – the new prime minister Liz Truss among them – the Queen represented the “very spirit of Britain”, with a sense of duty, class and grace. But for others, the Queen and monarchy signify something else entirely, an institution inextricably linked with imperialism, colonisation, and slavery.
Though these things are viewed as belonging to the past, it’s difficult for some of us to ignore the role that the royal family played – and continues to play – in structures that allow inequality and racism to persist.
So, when news of the Queen’s death broke, not everyone felt sad or upset.
Instead, it was a case of business as usual for some – keep calm and carry on – or yet another moment to remind the public how deeply the royal family have impacted the lives of Black and Brown people around the world.
Writer Shirley Sozinha, 26, from London, founder of the pan-African cultural hub, UncoverPlat, says that the Queen leading the country for more than 70 years is a huge achievement and that she respects her as a woman.
“However, I do not respect the institution she comes from,” Sozinha tells HuffPost UK.
“What she represents is far greater than being a woman in leadership. She represents colonialism and her reign was the pinnacle of British brutality.”
As messages of condolence pour in from world leaders, including from the countries of the Commonwealth, there are those who point out that its very existence is a stark reminder of the royals’ role in imperialism.
The Queen herself did not colonise other countries. However, her family have benefited from the Empire and, some say, are yet to confront its bloody past.
“During the course of her reign, she witnessed the dissolution of nearly the entire British Empire into some 50 independent states and significantly reduced global influence,” Maya Jasanoff writes in a New York Times essay.
“By design as much as by the accident of her long life, her presence as head of state and head of the Commonwealth, an association of Britain and its former colonies, put a stolid traditionalist front over decades of violent upheaval.”
British lawyer and human rights activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu put it this way: “Stop with revisionist homage. Show your affection for her but don’t lie.”
This is current affairs – as recently as November 2021, Barbados removed the Queen as its head of state, becoming the world’s newest republic, and Jamaica is now in the process of doing the same.
As Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University told Birmingham Live during the Commonwealth Games this summer: “The Commonwealth is all about Britain trying to maintain some kind of symbolic link back to its imperial past. The empire is still there in some ways.”
Sozinha, who is originally Congolese, believes people of colour are right to acknowledge their conflicting feelings about the monarchy in this moment.
“Despite all that they are seen to do, they carry the blood of millions on their hands and it would be a big ask to expect any person of colour to overlook this,” she says. “We shouldn’t be shedding any tears, the Queen has not done anything that was intended to benefit us. We’re not royal subjects.”
Sozinha isn’t the only one to reject the national mood of mourning. In a tweet, since deleted, sports broadcaster and former England footballer, Trevor Sinclair wrote: “Racism was outlawed in England in the 60s & it’s been allowed to thrive so why should black & brown mourn!”
Sinclair received media backlash for the sentiment, but others have commented that the Black community is being judged more harshly for its views, than, say, Irish people, who also have a complex relationship with the monarchy.
There have been jokes and memes aplenty on social media and for some Brits, the feelings run even stronger.
Kelachi Onyebuchi, a 26-year-old social media coordinator, who is British-Nigerian, says that when she heard about the Queen’s death, she actually felt a sense of victory.
“Slowly, the very institution that signifies years of slavery, colonialism, pain, suffering is crumbling down,” she says – adding that while she was no fan of the Queen, she was aware what her position as head of the monarchy entailed “and for that very reason it will be extremely pretentious of me to mourn her death.”
She tells HuffPost UK: “I don’t and never will mourn my colonisers. I will never mourn the people that facilitated starvations and massacres (just to name a few of their many atrocities) of my people. Never.”
Incidentally, while Onyebuchi’s parents don’t care much about the Queen or the monarchy either, she says her mother did love Princess Diana. This is not uncommon in Black families – Diana was adored globally, especially in the homes of immigrants, where many of us kids knew you rarely spoke ill of Lady Di.
But numerous elders in our community loved the Queen just as much – and are mourning her death along with the rest of the country. Some younger people of colour are even sharing their parents’ reactions on TikTok, where the generational divide has never been clearer.
Publicist Haddy Folivi from London is in her forties. She tells HuffPost UK that while she is no royalist, her grandfather, Joseph George Forster, received an OBE from the Queen, in Gambia, for his service to customs.
“My mum loved the royals, maybe due to her father’s influence,” she says,
“I have fond memories of her taking me to Trooping the Colour yearly, and her waving the flag, beaming as she caught a glimpse of the royals. I remember our trips to the Commonwealth Institute and her taking me to St James’s Park, and I remember my mum’s tears when Princess Diana died. ”
Folivi explains that these moments formed a beautiful part of her childhood and are happy memories she will never forget.
“I love how the Queen served her country as a woman. I’m not a royalist but I love how she carried herself. I love the fact she made my mum smile,” she says.
WhatsApp threads are proving lively since the news came in from Balmoral on Thursday. Yinka Ewuola, 41, a business coach and strategist, from London, says that several different debates are running in her own family group chat.
“My parents love the Queen, even though they are of Nigerian heritage and colonialism ravaged and almost destroyed our country,” she tells HuffPost UK.
Ewuola’s view of the monarchy is more mixed – she says she feels warmer about the Queen than the institution itself. She puts her and her parents’ diverging opinions down to cultural but also generational differences.
“Our generation comes with increased emotional vocabulary, theirs with more stoicism and deference. Ours with more challenge of leadership; theirs with more respect for the same,” she reflects – adding that it’s not clear-cut.
“Having been born at a time with a female monarch and PM, it definitely shaped my perception of what was possible for me as a woman in this world.”
However, as she describes it, “colonialism was incredibly damaging and so for it to now be rebranded in the press as a ‘longstanding relationship’ with those countries feels quite frustrating to me and many others too.”
Eki Igbinoba, who is 26 and works in PR, has stronger views than her mother and father, too.
“My parents are in their sixties, approaching their seventies,” says the south Londoner. “They were taught to be respectful and grateful which is different for people my age. They understand and agree with my opinions, but have more respect towards the Queen.”
Asked if younger people of colour should move on from history, she has a clear answer.
“How can people of colour forget the past when the past continues to affect our future? You expect me to treat every white individual as an individual. But, I am not treated in that way. I’m expected to be grateful for the fact that my parents immigrated here but are still made to feel like they’re not British,” she says.
As many Black British people cannot forget, this isn’t just history, it’s now – and it’s racist, from the experiences of a famous newcomer like Meghan Markle when she married into the royal family to the treatment of immigrant families who have lived in the UK for decades.
“Should we forget about how this country has treated the Windrush generation?I feel really uncomfortable with the way that especially people of colour are told how to feel in the face of oppression,” says Igbinoba.
“The queen lived a life of luxury. We did not.”