Why some people are refusing to mourn Queen Elizabeth

·Senior Writer
·6-min read

During a soccer match at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday night — just hours after the death of Queen Elizabeth II — the crowd broke into song.

“Lizzy’s in a box, in a box, Lizzy’s in a box!” they sang.

The death of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch at age 96 was met with an outpouring of tributes from people around the world mourning her passing.

But critics of the crown were quick to point out the royal family’s role in the subjugation of people in countries formerly controlled by Britain, including Ireland, India and Nigeria — sparking an online debate over the monarchy itself.

A man installs a plaque depicting Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday at her residence Balmoral Castle in Scotland. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

“I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating," Uju Anya, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, wrote in a tweet after Buckingham Palace announced that the queen’s doctors were concerned about her health.

The tweet was removed by Twitter for violating the platform’s rules, and the school released a statement saying Anya’s views “absolutely do not represent the values of the institution, nor the standards of discourse we seek to foster.”

There are plenty of people, however, who share similar views.

“The matriarch of a royal family legacy of slave-trading, imperialism, colonialism, theft, symbol of opulence and mascot for the ruling class is dead,” the rapper and film director Boots Riley tweeted.

On Thursday afternoon, CNN international correspondent Larry Madowo delivered a live report from Kenya, calling attention to the reality that the queen was not universally loved.

“Across the African continent, there have been people who are saying, ‘We will not mourn for Queen Elizabeth because my ancestors suffered great atrocities under her people,’” Madowo said. “And she never fully acknowledged that.”

The Economic Freedom Fighters, an activist group in South Africa, posted a lengthy statement to Twitter explaining why it would not be mourning the queen.

“We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa's history,” the statement said. “During her 70-year reign as Queen, she never once acknowledged the atrocities that her family inflicted on native people that Britain invaded across the world.

"The British royal family stands on the shoulders of millions of slaves who were shipped away from the continent to serve the interests of racist white capital accumulation," it added. "If there is really life and justice after death, may Elizabeth and her ancestors get what they deserve."

For longtime royal watchers, some of the criticism of the queen and monarchy is justified — and some is unfair.

A man wearing a Britain's flag hangs a product with depiction of Queen Elizabeth
A man wearing Britain's flag hangs up products featuring Queen Elizabeth after her death this week. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

“We can’t and shouldn’t deny the actions of history,” Myko Clelland, an expert on British royalty and director of content for MyHeritage.com, told Yahoo News. “But the modern constitutional role of monarchy being separated from politics, and acting only on the instruction of the government of the day, means that we have to look to other people, people who have their hands on the levers of power, to examine who was responsible for those decisions.”

The queen presided over the transition of the British Empire into the Commonwealth and the modernization of the monarchy — one that is “remarkably capable of hearing public sentiment and adapting,” Clelland said.

“Queen Elizabeth lived through tumultuous times,” he said. “She did not intervene as the Empire became the Commonwealth, and nations decided to take control of their own affairs. Centuries before, we may have seen different actions.”

And the queen did acknowledge some of the abuses that predated her reign.

In 1986, amid a groundswell of global opposition to apartheid in South Africa, she was reportedly angry at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she refused to go along with sanctions.

In 2011, when Queen Elizabeth made history as the first monarch to travel to Ireland since its independence from Britain in 1922, she addressed their shared, painful past.

A woman places flowers outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.
A woman places flowers at Buckingham Palace in tribute to the queen. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

“To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past, I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy,” she said in a speech at Dublin Castle. "With the benefit of historical hindsight, we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.”

The following year, the queen made headlines when she shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a former commander of the Irish Republican Army who had become deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. The IRA, a paramilitary group that waged a terrorist campaign to drive British forces from Northern Ireland, assassinated the queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, in 1979.

“We can only judge her on her own choices,” Clelland added. “And the response to those choices is seen perhaps most effectively by the immense outpouring of respect and grief we are now seeing around the world.”

But even in England, some critics of the crown are frustrated by all the adulation.

“The royals seem to be adored by so many, and at times like this, I find it a bit frustrating when so many are suffering, and those in power don’t appear to care about that,” Mo Varley, a teacher in Sheffield, England, told the New York Times. “I don’t think you can have a family paid for by the state be free of scrutiny.”

The queen’s death also comes as a growing number of British territories in the Caribbean have replaced, or are seeking to replace, the monarch with their own heads of state, calling for reparations and demanding that Britain apologize for its abuses during the colonial era.

Cards and flowers are laid out on Saturday in honor of the queen
Cards and flowers are laid out on Saturday in honor of the queen. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters)

And yet Caribbean leaders are still mourning her.

“Undoubtedly, she formed a special bond with the people of Jamaica,” Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a statement. “We are saddened that we will not see her light again, but we will remember her historic reign.”

And for those who are in mourning, “the grief is genuine,” Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian.

“The admiration for the woman who has been an emblem of a nation for so many decades is deeply sincere,” Toynbee wrote. “There will be appreciation for the great care she took in such a fractious age not to take a side, express a view or add to the rifts that sharply divide the country. Every nation needs a figurehead; and, however perverse the sheer randomness of being born into that role, she did it with remarkable skill and dignity.”