Death and Empire

I hold a number of opinions about the Queen. Firstly I am simply glad for her that death came quickly and she didn’t spend months, or years suffering. For anyone who is grieving the loss of a person they cared about, my every sympathy.

But it’s complicated, and we do need to talk about the issues, too. For a lot of people, Queen Elizabeth was a symbol of a whole lot of things that made them feel comfortable and patriotic. Those people are mostly white. For a lot of people around the world, Queen Elizabeth was the face of oppression and she came to the throne when the British Empire was still very much a thing. She was the embodiment of colonialism, and the living reminder of atrocities committed in the name of the British Empire. Anyone feeling relief, or rage in response to this death is entitled to that feeling. You can’t really separate the role of the Crown in world history from the specific person most recently wearing it. That’s not how crowns and empires work.

People who suffered because of England’s desire for an empire are still being impacted by that – we’re not so many years from being obliged to let countries rule themselves again and the impacts on cultures, economies, identities and environments remain. If you can’t see how that works, I can recommend finding out about the jewels in the crown jewels as an illustrative place to start.

Here in the UK, we’ve been seriously hurting for years. Many people lost loved ones to covid. Many people lost jobs, security and mental health to the mismanagement of covid. That’s all getting worse thanks to Brexit and ongoing terrible political decisions. Most of us are scared and hurting. But there’s been no way to express that collectively, and there are plenty of trolls, on and offline, waiting to smack you about if they don’t like how you’re feeling. By dying, the Queen has given people a focal point for grief, and it’s likely the responses in the coming weeks will be informed by the sheer backlog of grief people in the UK need to process. 

Perhaps we could manage to recognise the grief of other people whose history with the Queen involves more overt forms of oppression and conquest. Perhaps we could find it in our hearts to be glad that one old lady died at home with some dignity, and to wish that kind of dignified death for everyone. Do we owe her more love and concern than any other elderly person? 

Could we perhaps stop telling each other that some people have special entitlement based on the accident of their birth? Could we instead share out that grief and love a bit more evenly, grieving the many elderly people who died of covid and government cruelty in recent years? Could we be kinder to each other in our grief? And might we possibly be willing to hear that ‘great’ Britain really hasn’t been even slightly great for a lot of people.Could we perhaps decide that life is worthy of respect, not just the lives of a select few.

And a reminder that no one owes their oppressor respect. No, the Queen didn’t go out into the world and dirty her hands directly causing misery, but a lot of other people have done so in her name and you can’t be a figurehead for something while trying to claim that you have no hand in what you’re a figurehead for or how that thing has operated in the past. You can’t sit on wealth that comes from violence, slavery and colonialism and be beyond criticism.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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