OTTAWA—London Bridge is falling down, indeed. (Fun fact, I used to live near London Bridge when I lived in England. Shoutout to SE1.) The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is over and so is the 10-day dog-and-pony show by which the world was held hostage. Perhaps now we can tell the truth about her legacy—one bathed in the blood of my, and many others’, ancestors.
On Sept. 8, the Queen did the world a favour by dying. Yes, I said it. For 70 years, she had presided over the dissolution of the Empire that built Britain’s economic and political engine for 400 years—the same Empire that initiated and calcified a political, administrative, and socio-economic structure that put white, Anglican-Christian men on top to rule over gender, class, economic, and racial disparities that characterize the world today. Ask yourself: where would Britain be without the sugar plantations of the West Indies, the tea and spices from India (and they still can’t cook), the gold and jewels that bedazzle the Queen’s crown from Africa, or the opium sold to China? The answer is: nowhere. And the closer one looks at the economic growth of this once-powerful nation—a growth that allowed it to amass the political power necessary to shape the world—one realizes that it wasn’t built on the greatness of the steam engine. No, it was built first on slavery, then on the violence of colonialism, and subsequent rape of imperialism. To keep this order was her duty, and in that she succeeded. However, given the social upheaval of inequities based on this order, how was her success in maintaining this status quo a benefit? In her staunch stoicism and her inability to read the tea leaves of change (for example, her inability to demonstrate the need for her humanity around Princess Diana’s death), her presence in this world in the role she held made it a worse place.
Is now the appropriate time, or are people who descended from the non-western (read: non-white) parts of the former British Empire still relegated to silence out of “respect” for an institution that raped and pillaged our lands for generations? The English unleashed unspeakable generational traumas to build Britain off the backs of their subjects and we have a right to remind everyone about them.
With great power comes great responsibility, and in this she failed. In fact, her tenure was a failure of human rights and of reconciliation; you can’t reconcile what you won’t admit to. And deny she did the ravages of slavery and Britain’s leadership in their various colonial projects. Royson James of the Toronto Star noted in his column that, years ago, a group of Rastafarians wrote to Her then-Majesty, seeking reparations for slavery. Her response was as follows: “Under the statue of the International Civil Court, acts of enslavement committed today do constitute crimes against humanity. But the historic slave trade was not a crime against humanity or contrary to international law at the time when the U.K. government condoned it.”
Guess who heavily influenced—constructed—international law at the time? Slave-trading countries. It’s the globalization of the white supremacy hustle. Britain and its European bredren are the original architects of white supremacy through the path of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and benign authoritarianism.
The response to these charges by people who don both #BlackLivesMatter and #EveryChildMatters in their bio? That the Queen could not be held responsible for those atrocities since her power was ceremonial and she already decolonized Africa and India.
Some of y’all don’t know your own histories and it’s embarrassing to hear you speak.
She was powerful enough to decolonize Africa, but not powerful enough to stop apartheid? Which is it? It is neither. Unlike real leadership, that does the right thing against all odds and against all tradition, Queen Elizabeth II sat back in the comfort of her palace, littered with stolen jewels from the spoils of colonialism and slavery, and showed her bravery and attention to duty by allowing people to be slaughtered in their quest for freedom and self-determination. And no, she can’t use Nelson Mandela as her one Black friend to shield her from the criticism of her reign.
Let’s break for a vocabulary lesson. Decolonization is not the rebellious process of removing oneself from colonial rule; rather, as defined by Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, it is “about ‘cultural, psychological, and economic freedom’ for Indigenous people with the goal of achieving Indigenous sovereignty.” Indeed, decolonization is not a metaphor.
For Indigenous Peoples of this land, the Twitter account, IndigenousX, wrote a wonderful thread about the responsibility she had to her subjects that she shirked to keep the status quo: “For those saying we should be magnanimous about the passing of the queen, a reminder that the queen inserted herself into the lives of Indigenous people here multiple times. She wasn’t a bystander to the effects of colonization and colonialism; she was an architect of it.”
The Queen came to power in 1952, amid the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. While she was in Kenya accepting her accession to the throne, the British colonial government was cracking down on the uprising for the right to self-determination for the peoples of Kenya—Black African people. These war crimes were so brutal, depraved, and violent that the British colonial government invented new techniques to teach their subjects a lesson. As detailed by The Guardian: “Among the detainees who suffered severe mistreatment was Hussein Onyango Obama, the grandfather of Barack Obama. According to his widow, British soldiers forced pins into his fingernails and buttocks and squeezed his testicles between metal rods.” This is how the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign began and continued to Bloody Sunday in 1972.
The Irish Republican Army did us a solid when they eliminated Louis Mountbatten, who was the architect of the partition of India, which was a clusterfuck of epic proportions that still haunts families 75 years later. As The Conversation reminds us, this was another brutal affair of lost lives and generational trauma: “It was hardly a joyous moment: A botched process of partition saw the slaughter of more than a million people; some 15 million were displaced. Untold numbers were maimed, mutilated, dismembered and disfigured. Countless lives were scarred.”
What is incontrovertible is that the Queen had control over what went on in Buckingham Palace and how her children were raised. And in those roles, she also failed—badly. She decided to jeopardize the monarchy, globally, by demonstrating her solidarity with Prince Andrew against the well-founded accusations of sexual perversion and abuse by Virginia Giuffre, even after a $16-million settlement was reached. National Archives from 1968 revealed that people of colour—from the Commonwealth that she so loved—were barred from working in clerical roles in Buckingham Palace, but were only permitted as domestics (around the same time Canada was running the West Indian Domestic Scheme. There is a long history of relegating BIPOC to subservient roles to the white masses. Leadership on this issue was set by the Queen). To add insult to injury, when anti-discrimination laws came to fruition in the 1970s in Britain, the Queen—through her advisers—lobbied successfully for exemptions from those laws. Obviously, the Queen was not a proponent of racial or gender equality. And for that, I’m glad her reign is over, leaving the Crown and the Commonwealth in peril amid new calls for reparations. It is the dawn of a new era.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.