While the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday caused an outpouring of grief from millions of people 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 who enriched herself. through violence, theft and opposition.
“If anyone expects me to express more than disdain for the monarch who oversaw a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and whose consequences those alive are still trying to overcome, they can continue to wish on a star, Uju Anya, associate professor of second language acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University, tweeted Thursday afternoon.
His tweet had been retweeted more than 10,000 times and had garnered almost 38,000 likes by Thursday night.
In an interview on Thursday, Anya, 46, said she is “a colonization child”: her mother was born in Trinidad and her father in Nigeria. They met in England in the 1950s as colonial subjects who were sent there for college. They got married there and moved to Nigeria together.
“In addition to colonization on the Nigerian side, there is also human slavery in the Caribbean,” he said. “So I have a direct lineage not only from people who were colonized, but also from people who were enslaved by the British.”
Although Elizabeth ruled as Britain navigated a post-colonial era, she still had a connection to her colonial past, which was rooted in racism and violence against Asian and African colonies. There have been growing calls in recent years for the monarchy to confront its colonial past.
Zoé Samudzi, Zimbabwean American writer and 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 on the graves of every member of the royal family if given the chance, especially hers.” She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Matthew Smith, a history professor at University College London who runs the Center for the Study of British Slave Ownership Legacies, said: “The reactions indicate the complicated and mixed relationship people have had with the British monarchy, the people in the Commonwealth and particularly in the Caribbean.
“I think when people express those views, they’re not specifically thinking of Queen Elizabeth,” Smith said in a telephone interview from London. “They are thinking about the British monarchy as an institution and the relationship of the monarchy with systems of oppression, repression and forced extraction of labor, and in particular African labor, and the exploitation of natural resources and systems of forced control in these places. That’s what they often respond to. And that is a system that exists 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 that was born, in part, from growing criticism of the monarchy among Caribbean countries. Others, including Jamaica, have hinted at declaring independence.
Smith, who was born in Jamaica, where she has spent most of her life, said some people in the Caribbean deeply mourn the queen’s death, particularly older generations who might have memories of seeing her on one of her visits to the islands.
Some of what killed off the queen’s Caribbeans was that she played her role in a way that seemed quite at odds with how people understood British monarchs, Smith said, adding that her personality and being woman also distinguished her. “She didn’t look like historical monarchs,” and she “came to the crown young,” she said.
But Anya said her perspective on the queen has been largely shaped by Britain’s role in the suffering of her parents and many others during the Nigerian Civil War that followed the nation’s decolonization in 1960.
His family was displaced in the war and some of his relatives were killed. Her parents, siblings and relatives “went through tremendous trauma,” she said.
“I am deeply offended by the notion that the oppressed and survivors of violence have to be deferential or respectful when their oppressors die,” Anya said. The crown, she said, continues to “meddle in African affairs” and oppress.
“There are people literally all over the world, rejoicing at the death of this woman, not because they are vile or cold, but because her reign and the reign of her monarchy, by extension, was violent,” Anya said.
He said he hopes his Twitter comment will encourage people to investigate the Nigerian Civil War.
Hours before the royal family announced the queen’s death, Ebony Thomas, an associate professor at the University of Michigan College of Education, warned against surveillance over how people reacted to Buckingham Palace’s announcement that Elizabeth had been placed under medical supervision and that her doctors were “concerned” about her health.
“Telling the colonized how they should feel about the health and well-being of their colonizers is like telling my people that we should worship the Confederacy,” Thomas tweeted. “‘Respect the dead’ when we’re all writing these tweets *in English*. How did that happen, hm? Did we just choose this language?” Her tweet received more than 25,000 likes, but also faced some criticism.
Thomas declined an interview request. He later defended his position in a series of tweets.
“I made these remarks before the official announcement,” he wrote, adding that his original tweet was made in solidarity with colonized people around the world. She also said that she wasn’t dancing on anyone’s grave or controlling anyone’s emotions.