I thought about those words a lot in the past week after the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96 garnered controversy after two Black female professors made international news after calling attention to the monarchy and by extension the Queen’s history of colonial violence.
“I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying,” Carnegie Mellon professor Uju Anya tweeted in a now removed-by-Twitter tweet. “May her pain be excruciating.”
RISD professor Zoe Samudzi also 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 [Queen Elizabeth II],” RISD
They were far from the only ones calling out the Queen’s legacy; a stadium full of Irish soccer fans gleefully chanted “Lizzie’s in a box,” when they heard the news. And yet the richest man in the world and owner of The Washington Post Jeff Bezos, used his power to single Anya out for her tweet, leading her institution Carnegie Mellon to condemn her in their own Twitter statement.
British tabloid The Daily Mail singled out t both Professors Anya and Samudzi for condemnation in an article, spawning thousands of trolls to harass them, justifying their ire with the notion that death absolves someone of the harm and abuse they committed while they were alive — or at the very least should prompt people to refrain from talking about it.
Death brings an end to someone’s life, but it doesn’t bring an end to the way someone made people feel or their reverberating impact on the world.
Let them tell it, Elizabeth was either a frail old woman with no power or agency as the figurehead of colonial rule for her 72-year-reign, or she was so powerful that she had a hand in decolonizing the countries that were seized by her Empire (and, of course, rebelled and won their independence from her rule without her help).
Aside from the obvious point that death doesn’t erase the things people did while they were alive, mourning is just one of the many ways we continue to express the love that we already feel towards someone. Death brings an end to someone’s life, but it doesn’t bring an end to the way someone made people feel or their reverberating impact on the world.
The racist and misogynist backlash that these Black women have been singled out by the media to receive exposes who monopolizes our empathy and grace in life and in death. In the wake of Elizabeth II's death, hospital appointments, surgeries, funerals, and more have been canceled to "show respect" for her funeral, which matters more than the continuing lives of the people in the UK. Not to mention, the deaths of millions of Black and brown people who lived in British colonies, whose lives were sacrificed for the maintenance of British rule, don’t elicit mass sympathy. There aren’t weeks of televised mourning in their honor. They simply become nebulous collateral, mere casualties in the project to maintain white British hegemony.
A way to ensure that people don't celebrate your death is to live a life that doesn’t bring people endless pain.
In an interview with The Guardian explaining her tweet, professor Anya spoke about the family she lost in the Nigerian civil war, a direct result of British colonizers creating the boundaries of Nigeria and founding it as a colony of Britain. Though the war took place seven years after Nigeria won its independence, the UK government sent money and arms to the Nigerian government for the war against the Igbo people in the south, to maintain its control of the country – the extent of which was only recently revealed in 2020. “‘We lost half of our relatives,” Anya shared. “That’s the legacy of this war. It was a genocide, a slaughter, a holocaust.”
Sometimes love and mourning towards our departed loved ones manifests as anger toward the institutions and figureheads that are responsible for their deaths. A way to ensure that people don't celebrate your death is to live a life that doesn’t bring people endless pain.
Queen Elizabeth II is survived by a legacy of colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy. She leaves behind decades of bloodshed, violence, and carnage in the name of royalty. Her death ends her life but it doesn’t end the memory of the destruction to come under her reign. Silencing her critics only serves to whitewash the UK’s violent imperialism and colonialism. As Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it." May peace and power be with the ones whose blood was spilled to build the United Kingdom.
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