- Carola Kolbeck
How The Queen’s Death Is About So Much More Than A Grieving Nation
© Illustration by INJECTION - Yichen Lin
The Queen’s death evoked different feelings in all of us. But many are not feelings of sadness but come from a place buried deep in Britain’s questionable colonial past.
A week ago, Queen Elizabeth’s death shook the nation. A nation fraught with uncertainty and rocketing fuel and energy prices grieves for what appeared to be it's only constant. This may explain the impactful reaction to her death - personally and globally.
But amongst the tributes and fond memories shared in the media, voices of a different kind of sadness, feelings of anger, frustration and disdain can be heard, too. How can we grieve for someone we didn’t really know and why are voices from the former empire more critical than somber?
When the news of the Queen’s death hit early evening on Thursday, 8th September, a flood of grief, tributes and condolences swept across every media platform. The UK seemed united, for the first time in years, by its collective loss. Grieving someone we don’t really know isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. Apparently, it’s quite normal for us to experience a host of negative emotions when a public person dies. It reminds us of personal losses or our own mortality. In the case of the Queen, she was a steadfast factor of life and has remained a certainty since the late 1940s, when everything else, from wars around the world, economic crisis, and terror attacks to Brexit, a pandemic, and political turmoil, seemed to tear on the reserves of a fraught nation. And now she’s gone. Leaving the UK in a state of uncertainty and facing a new era - not just by name, but in every other way, too.
Countless articles cover every aspect of her life, from being a great example of feminism to highlighting that she was an emotional being who also had regrets, such as a delayed visit to a catastrophic event in the 1960s, when a colliery spoil tip collapsed in Wales, killing 116 children and 28 adults. It feels easy to forgive Her Majesty. After all, she is only human.
However, amongst the nostalgia and fondness for someone who has been described as the ‘matriarch of the nation,’ others are taken aback and voice their frustration and outrage. Voices from the black community in the UK, the former colonies, and the Commonwealth all over the world highlight facts that seem to be swept under a royal carpet. Impact, an organisation with over 2.2m followers on Instagram, shared voices from people of colour from Britain's former colonies and highlighted that the monarchy was complicit in racism, slavery, oppression, economic demise, and the brutal attempts to stop independence movements. For them, the death of the Queen amplifies yet another missed opportunity to apologise. Naturally, as is always the case on social media, a rather unpleasant thread of comments follows those tweets and many point out that the monarch neither ruled nor had the power to instruct these historical events. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the Queen had a choice of how to deal with the legacy of British colonialism - and according to critics, she never addressed this, let alone apologise for it. Uju Anya’s tweet, which went viral, sums up the sentiment that many shared that day:
"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."
As Britain welcomes its new King, there has been further controversy fuelled by multiple arrests of anti-monarchy protesters. It all prompts questions about what kind of king Charles may be, and many wonder whether he will do what none of his predecessors could: Apologise for what he himself described as a “most painful period of our history.” In order to heal, not just from the Queen’s death but from a dark past, collective guilt and grief must be addressed, and honest conversations need to be had. Some say that the monarchy has to change to fit within a modern Britain, one that has the capacity to be honest and truthful.
The healing of a nation, its former colonies, and its empire have no chance if the past is romanticised and falsified. Any chance of togetherness stems from listening, acknowledging, and working through the past, and mending things for a better future. Maybe, the Queen’s death can facilitate just that.