No one can force us to mourn for the Queen — and that is a glorious thing
Author’s note: some of you, especially if you are unfamiliar with British customs surrounding the monarchy, may think that the news snippets shared below are satirical. Unfortunately, they are not — and instead belong to the peculiar brand of cruel absurdity that thrives in a nation which claims it is a democracy but also simultaneously swears allegiance to a family in silly hats.
The first emotion I associate with the Queen is anger.
I was just shy of seven, newly arrived in the UK. It was the halcyon days of the late ’90s. Garage was at its peak, Woolworths was an idyllic bastion for sweets, and Blair hadn’t yet become a warmonger.
As most immigrants in close proximity to London do, my parents decided to see the sights of the former imperial capital. One of those sights was the Crown jewels, prime symbol of British colonialism’s rapacious greed and its monarchical opulence.
I was hardly precocious enough to articulate anger at the sight of what, at the time, seemed to be a shiny hat in a very boring building (British architecture, much like its food, is bland and seemingly devoid of colour, texture, or nuance).
That fury I mentioned was instead directed towards the stolen jewels within the crown and scepter, including the Kohinoor Diamond, by my mother.
It is precisely this anger that emerged throughout the world and within certain communities (the “seasoned” diasporas, as one Twitter user quipped) following the death of Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-serving monarch.
That duration seems impressive until one realises that it isn’t particularly hard to be born into grotesque wealth and perpetuate its parasitical ways.
My mother was the daughter of those who witnessed the freedom struggle. And, unlike the English whose secondary school system stills teaches them imperialist myths in lieu of history, she knew the truth.
So did my father — born in 1954, part of the first generation of Indians to be free. And so did so many over the last week who refused to pretend the monarchy and the queen were anything but fetid symbols of colonial violence.
Elizabeth II was part of a long-line of rulers whose very real function was to act as the superficial veneer that concealed the unprecedented violence of the English, and later British (for Empire was the key to the Union) colonial project. The historian Priya Satia has written far more eruditely about that phenomenon here, if you are interested in delving more into the topic.
Each colonial nation devised their own narrative to justify the enslavement, genocide, and violence that they wrought upon the world.
Their actions quite literally shattered the planet. But in order to pretend otherwise, a semblance of civility was required.
Decorum is the grotesque weapon deployed to bludgeon us into submission. It is the deceptive veneer that attempts to obscure the immense bloodshed we are expected to ignore in favour of a tendentious myth of “civilisation”.
And any form of civilisation simultaneously exists on a bedrock of barbarism as Walter Benjamin taught us more than a century ago.
The French have their revolution; and the conceit of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (what colour your skin has to be for that to apply a conveniently forgotten reality). The Spanish and Portuguese claimed service to God as they systematically eradicated thousands of languages, cultures, and peoples. And the British have their monarchy.
And they are furious they can no longer kick our teeth in and silence us. They are furious that their lies are not being adopted universally. They are furious that many do not share in their bizarre fetish of being serfs in the 21st Century.
I know, I know. It’s 2022, and kink-shaming isn’t cool. But the state of Britain is now utterly ludicrous, with media commentators seemingly forgetting the whole “speak truth to power” shtick they learned at J-school in favour of living out their fantasies of being a courtier.
Pomp and pageantry have replaced practicality in the UK. Because of the death of the Queen, and the accession of Charles, a barely-avoidable recession now looks bleakly likely. Foodbanks are shut on the 19th, the day of the funeral, despite record-levels of poverty engulfing the UK.
A vast sum of money from the public exchequer will be spent on these two decidedly feudal occasions despite the fact that the country is looking forward to a cold winter, with many having to choose between heat or food.
All medical appointments — including potentially life-saving surgeries, cancer treatments, and evaluations — that were scheduled for next Monday have also been suspended.
What better way to celebrate a the death of a monarch in the 21st century than by ensuring the peasantry go without food or medicine?
There are obsequious hagiographies in lieu of real news; from the cost-of-living crisis, to a cruelly incompetent government being replaced by an incompetently cruel one, or the violations of basic free speech as police arrest protestors calmly asking why, in a supposed democracy, does an institution like the monarchy exist.
The obfuscation covers more than national crises. The London Metropolitan police shot dead an innocent Black man named Chris Kaba last week; Sky News subsequently claimed the protest march in his memory was in honour of the Queen.
Liz would have been pleased with the knowledge that, in death as in life, her image continues to be utilised to obscure racist violence.
When she became queen in 1951, in Treetops, Kenya, she also became the figurehead of a white imperialist colonial empire. The British had just launched a violent insurgency against Kenyan freedom fighters; thousands were imprisoned, mutilated, raped, and tortured in concentration camps for the crime of demanding freedom.
Eight years later, Operation Legacy would occur; a concerted attempt to destroy colonial documents when it became clear that the British were being kicked out in order to hamper legal claims of reparations.
As the scholar and intellectual Edward Said cogently wrote, “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”
That facile, devastating myth is what the Queen served. A racist symbol of white privilege; a boot upon the throat of much of the world. And the British are surprised when many this week have refused to join them in licking it, or believing that the Queen was “innocent” of the sins of empire.
The British monarchy did not savage so many of our lands, customs, environments, pre-existing socio-political structures, communities, and languages for 500 years just so their descendants could bully us into mourning their queen.
The formerly colonised have better memories; for the coloniser can burn books and suppress history, but never shatter the experiences of those who lived through their respective freedom struggles.
As the UK lives out its medieval fantasies with King Charles III (who, by virtue of a legal exemption, is enjoying the right to not pay 40% inheritance tax just like his mum) our comrades in the West Indies are beginning the process to excise him as head of State.
I will remember the Queen with joy. Not because of who she supposedly was (allegedly a “public servant”, despite numerous investigative reports into how she abused her royal privilege to ensure laws like the Race and Equality act did not apply to her so she could ban “coloured immigrants or foreigners” from working in clerical roles) but because of what she failed to be.
When she became Queen, Elizabeth was supposed to serve as a symbol of a united, if crumbling, Empire. She was the symbolic glue that held the colonial jewels together; the velvet glove obscuring the iron fist of imperial state violence. She was to act as a mirror to the second longest serving monarch, Victoria.
But she failed. Her reign witnessed the breaking of British colonial shackles, and the utterances of long-suppressed souls finally flying free. As the empire crumbled, England retreated into a decades-long pathetic national delusion that ultimately culminated in Brexit.
And the glue that held the jewels together turned out to be nothing more than cheap paste.
I raised a glass when the Queen passed; not to her memory, but the memory of the lives torn asunder for her profit; the lands brutalised for her coffers; and the memories stolen on behalf of her family.
But I also raised it for the free. I raised it for my grandparents, born colonial subjects but living witnesses to the triumph of the Indian Independence movement. I raised it to my brothers and sisters and comrades and their triumphant fallen.
I raised it for all of us formerly colonised, today, who have finally felt the immense weight slide of our shoulders as our distress at the monarchy and what it really represents is being aired online for the first time in our generation.
Decolonisation is not about comforting the coloniser; it is about confronting them.
And so, if you are distressed or agitated at these words, all I can say is; good.