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For Many, Grieving Queen Elizabeth II's Death Is Complicated — And That Should Not Be Overlooked

Photo: Lorna Roberts | Shutterstock | Wikimedia Commons
Queen Elizabeth II

After the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, following a seven-decade seat on the throne, many people around the world are mourning the loss of the world's longest-serving monarch.

While many people are expressing their sympathy for the passing of Queen Elizabeth, who died at Balmoral Castle at the age of 96, others are expressing their complicated feelings for an equally complicated Queen who represented the controversial British colonial empire.

Queen Elizabeth became the reigning monarch after the sudden death of her father, George IV, and the consequent abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, in 1952. She quickly became the figurehead for the post-colonial era of Britain.

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The country still bore a violent connection to its brutal past, which included racism toward Asian and African colonies, and throughout the years, there have been cries from people who want the monarchy to address its colonial past.

The impacts of British colonialism make grieving Queen Elizabeth II complicated.

For people who lived through the consequences of British imperialism, brutal colonialism, and racism both abroad and in the U.K., the Queen's legacy will only be a reminder of the violent and lifelong trauma that the Royal Family created and still benefits from to this day.

On a human level, anyone — regardless of their stance on the British monarchy — can spare a thought for her family and loved ones and acknowledge that she certainly lived a long and great life.

But, given what the Crown represents, it's difficult to just grieve the woman who wore it.

“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,” wrote Harvard University history professor Maya Jasanoff for The New York Times.

“As such, the queen helped obscure a bloody history of decolonization whose proportions and legacies have yet to be adequately acknowledged.”

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While Queen Elizabeth, at times, tried to distance herself from the empire's legacy, creating events to address the past and present colonies, which included Commonwealth tours, her efforts were met with extensive criticism.

Earlier this year, Prince William and Kate Middleton were set to embark on their first official engagement to Belize. However, it was ultimately canceled after protests erupted from the Q’eqehi Maya people over a land dispute with a charity that William funds. 

Next, the couple headed to Jamaica but were met with the same demonstrations, with people calling on the Royal Family to address the issues of reparations following the slave trade, which the family directly profited from.

Jamaica's prime minister, Andrew Holness backed the country's protests, saying that they were all "moving on" and wanted to be "independent," following in the footsteps of Barbados, who removed Queen Elizabeth as their head of state and became a republic, a move born from the growing criticism of the Monarchy rule in the Caribbean.

People criticized the Royal Family, and by default, Queen Elizabeth as well, for refusing to speak candidly about the people who are still suffering from the British monarchy and decades of direct colonialism rule.

Over the past several decades, the U.K. has brought in trillions of dollars from its colonies to boost its own economy. The idea of the monarchy was built on the backs of slavery, establishing a slave trade that saw the transport of millions of Africans and South and North Americans to other countries.

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The slave trade was seemingly infinite, so much so, that it wasn’t until 2015 that the country fully paid off its “debts” to slave owners from freeing slaves in the 19th century.

While Queen Elizabeth didn't enact these grueling policies, she also didn't do much to step in and correct these wrongs.

After all, the Queen refused to publicly condemn apartheid in South Africa, despite former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher working to help stop white rule in the country.

Many people argue that the Queen bears a semblance of responsibility for the horrors that happened, like those in Kenya, India, and Ireland, despite her possibly not giving the authorization. 

Yes, the Queen is just the figurehead of a broken system, not its original creator, but to grieve someone propped up by the atrocities of her ancestors is difficult.

None of this is to say that anyone should, or is, rejoicing in her death. The inherent issues that are embedded in the monarchy will not die with Queen Elizabeth II. 

However, tributes to the Queen and her reign could benefit from some nuance.

There is no such thing as a good monarchy, not when the ideology of the throne represents whiteness, oppression, and racism.

That deep-seated racism showed itself in how the Royal Family conducted themselves within Buckingham Castle, with royal advisers banning "colored immigrants or foreigners” from working in the palace until at least the late 1960s, over a decade into Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

The bigotry still exists in the Royal Family to date, we all saw the effects of that hate when, in 2020, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry decided to leave behind their royal duties because of racism directed towards Markle from the family. 

Despite the many people possibly feeling indifferent toward the Queen's passing, it's important to note that while she represented many of the atrocities that the U.K. inflicted on colonialized countries, we should still express sympathy to those grieving her.

The Queen was a grandmother, a mother, as well as the ruling monarch for many people in the U.K. Her legacy resonated with many, and now, her death signifies a new era for Britain.

For them, it's about mourning the woman who wore the Crown, more than the Crown itself.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Keep up with her on Instagram and Twitter.