In Defense of Not Mourning Queen Elizabeth
By now you have surely heard that Queen Elizabeth II has died. Traditional media and social media are full of lovely eulogies, ruminating on her legacy, her “life of diplomacy,” her “dignity and dedication,” and “grace, humanity and fortitude.” Born in 1926 and queen since 1952, her reign has spanned generations. “Only Britons well into their 70s can remember a time before the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who remained a unique symbol of continuity and duty in a period of extraordinary upheaval,” notes The New York Times.
That seems like a polite way of saying that Queen Elizabeth II has seen some serious shit go down. She also presided over a country that started or benefited from a lot of it. She inherited the legacy of colonialism and atrocities sanctioned by the British royal family—and perpetuated this legacy. During her 70-year reign, she served as head of state of over 30 countries.
Understandably, many people around the world aren’t too keen on mourning the queen’s passing. Some are using it as an opportunity to condemn British colonialist activities throughout history (including during Elizabeth’s reign). Some are using it as an opportunity to mock or critique the monarchy. Some are using it as an opportunity to celebrate. (See, for instance, the #IrishTwitter, #BlackTwitter, or #ScottishTwitter hashtags right now.)
The queen was “a fixture of stability,” but “we should not romanticize her era,” writes Harvard history professor Maya Jasanoff in a New York Times op-ed, noting the suppression of anticolonial movements in places such as Kenya, Cyprus, and Aden, Yemen, during Elizabeth’s reign and the queen’s alleged opposition to Scottish independence. Jasanoff suggests that with Elizabeth now gone, “the imperial monarchy must end too.”
All of this seems as healthy, normal, and fair as the glowing tributes.
Any leader—perhaps especially a monarch, extra especially a monarch who reigned for seven decades, and extra extra especially a monarch who reigned for seven decades over a crumbling and often cruel empire—will mean many different things to different people, depending on their vantage points. To some, Queen Elizabeth II is a beloved symbol of British nationalism, refinement, and tradition. To others, she’s a symbol of Britain’s wretched history of racism, colonialism, and all sorts of atrocious acts. Asking those in the latter group to shut up right now in the name of civility and decorum is no more right than asking those grieving the queen to quiet down.
Yes, Queen Elizabeth II was a mother, a grandmother, a wife, and a friend. But she was also a monarch, not just some nice old lady living a private life. She had subjects. Many of those subjects, or their descendants, have experienced hardship and trauma under her reign or the reign of her family members before her. Even if not all of this is directly tied to her, the British royal family carries some serious baggage and she’s a representative of that.
Let people celebrate. Let people grieve. Let people be frank and open in their emotions. There’s room in the queen’s death discourse for glowing tributes and for honest reckoning, too.
Aretha Franklin’s FBI file has been unsealed. The declassified documents present a maddening record of how the federal government kept tabs on Aretha Franklin. The agency tracked Franklin’s civil rights activism and her friendships with folks like Martin Luther King Jr. and Angela Davis. “The notes on Franklin’s friendship with Dr. King include close documentation of her performances at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), of which King was president,” notes Pitchfork:
The FBI characterizes the shows—which took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and Memphis, Tennessee, in 1967 and 1968—as “communist infiltration” events. A subsequent note in the file is titled “Assassination of Martin Luther King. Racial matters.” It alleges that Franklin was said to be involved in a free, “huge memorial concert” at Atlanta Stadium, donated by the Atlanta Braves. The show “would provide emotional sp
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