The Internet Does Not Respect The Dead
On Queen Elizabeth II's Passing
It happens every single time a powerful, white person dies. There is an acknowledgment of this person’s passing and then politicians, celebrities, and other public figures from around the world extend their condolences through photo and video montages, affectionate emojis, and retweets. But for a large swath of social media, particularly those who are the descendants of the enslaved or colonized, there is a celebration. The death becomes an absurdity. Memes multiply and jokes fly that are so hilarious and bold that one fears laughter would grant them a one way ticket to hell. It happened with John McCain. It happened with Prince Phillip. And now it has happened with Queen Elizabeth II.
I did not expect that Queen Elizabeth II would die any time this year or next. The woman saw 16 British prime ministers and 14 American presidents. She lived through World War II, Vietnam, JFK’s assassination, the first man to walk on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, I could go on and on.
But when I read reports that her family members were arriving at Balmoral Castle, I knew that could only mean one thing. Because no matter what race, nationality, or creed you are, when the loved ones swarm in, someone is about to make their transition.
And then once it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died at 96 years of age, I knew that the Black and Brown diasporas, as well as Irish people, were going to have a field day on Twitter. And that they did. I’m not going to post links or embed videos of all of the responses these three communities have had to the Queen’s passing because they are extremely easy to find. But also, that’s not the point of this post. What I’m more concerned with is the virtue signaling that white people do as a call to remain dignified to a woman who did not entirely represent honor to everyone.
First of all, there is no honor and respect on the Internet. It is the wild, wild west of discourse. The things that people say online are what they may never say out loud. And for many, this kind of subversiveness is what affords them power that escapes them in real life. Social media is a place where everyone from Kim Kardashian to Jeff Bezos to world leaders can be quote-tweeted and mocked for their tweets. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the identifiers that make you enviable in life, such as wealth and power, are what make you more of a target online.
It is ridiculously ignorant to expect anyone but especially those who have strong memories of the British monarchy’s colonies to remain reverential and silent in the immediate aftermath of Queen Elizabeth’s death.
As much as the Queen may have been an emblem for royalty and female leadership, she is also a symbol of colonialism, theft, and unspeakable bloodshed. If you ever beamed at the large crown that sat on top of her head or the scepter in her hand, then you must be aware of the Koh-i-Noor diamond or the Great Star of Africa, two jewels that reflect British imperialism.
Our historical memory is different. White people want us to remember Queen Elizabeth II for her strength, grace, and elegance. Those whose people have been brutalized under her name, her family, or the British empire as a whole want us to remember the Mau Mau uprising and the concentration camps in Kenya, the British partition of India and Pakistan, the transatlantic slave trade, the looted objects and artifacts that still remain in the British Museum, the Troubles.
The fact that millions around the world speak English. The fact that millions are looked down upon if they do not speak the “Queen’s English.” We may be thousands and thousands of miles away from the United Kingdom but she and her family’s rule is in our mouths, comportment, and hierarchical influences when it comes to race and ethnicity.
White people want us to remember all the abstract attributes about her character but none of the concrete events tied to her person. It is with this willingness to remain loyal to the abstraction that they expect the rest of us to remain tethered to and in love with a white supremacist, colonial fantasy. It is an extremely paternalistic attitude but we are not children and this is not a Disney movie.
We have a collective memory and we have stories either witnessed or passed down through the oral tradition of our elders and ancestors. And when we go online, we disseminate this information to break the tight grip of “narrative” and “truth” over which white people have once held dominance in traditional forms of mass media.
And granted, there are Black and Brown people and Irish people who mourned Queen Elizabeth II’s passing just as well as there were those in the aforementioned groups who felt nothing over her death.
I personally do not mock people’s deaths. But I wasn’t going to perform mourning either. I may not have lived through any of the atrocities I mentioned above, but I do think about Caribbean nations who want to be independent of the crown. I do think about how the treatment of Meghan Markle by the Royal Family. I think about how my even writing this post in English and me being in America is inextricably linked to the British monarchy.
I feel sensitive to the fact that Queen Elizabeth was still a great grandmother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, and mother. She made her family laugh, cry, and think profoundly on many topics, I’m sure. But I also remain sensitive to the millions of lives that will never be the same because of her. And I will be damned if I judge any colonized subject on how they grieve someone whose legacy is inextricably linked with colonialism.
As much as she was an inspiring Queen, this is who she was as well. For what is a royal kingdom if there are no subjects? What is the value of jewels if their brilliance isn’t as stunning as the plunder it took to get them? What is a castle and a throne that sit high if not for the many invisible ones who have been crushed down below?
If people want to lay flowers at Buckingham Palace, let them. This is their right. But it is also the right of others to process Queen Elizabeth’s death however way they choose, especially when her life has had massive influence around the world.
And no, I do not believe Queen Elizabeth was an absolutely monster nor do I believe she was a saint. But neither I nor you have the right to expect a certain kind of behavior and everyone else should just fall in line.
And I’ll take it one step further: What does it say about you that said stranger arouses so much anger within you for historical wrongs? What are you holding onto and why is it important for Black, Brown, and Irish people to uplift that narrow, one-sided reality too?
To what end?
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Respectfully. what does being “white” have to do with any of this? I am white and I can see that the British Monarchy had more than a noble hand in the destruction of cultures and outright murder of innocents. You lost me in your first paragraph and I stopped reading, but then reconsidered that maybe you had a point to make. Nope. You didn’t. Then you invoked being white again as some kind of catch all for your own narrow world view. When are writers like you going to wake up and recognize that being born is not a conscious choice? More than that, when will you ever understand that the movement toward righteousness in America, especially, would not have happened as quickly without camaraderie between countless people of all races? I had no choice in being born white anymore than another traveler on this blue marble who may have been born with different skin. Some of us “whites” actually care about the human race and are conscious about our place in the world. If this world. We don’t need you to pump out dreck like this that cuts through the complexity of our world with the intellectual weight of a smoke ring.
*some white people*
I don't like being categorized into one group, as I am sure you don't either.