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The Black Diaspora’s Complicated Feelings About Queen Elizabeth’s Death

While some mourn her passing, others say it could fuel a drive to end Britain’s reign over predominantly Black countries.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visits Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 2002. A visit by Prince William 20 years later was marked by protests and calls for reparations. (Julian Parker/Getty Images)

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has evoked mixed emotions in Black communities around the world. Some praised her 70-year reign as a rare woman in the class of predominantly male world leaders, while others celebrated her death and the prospect of Black countries severing their ties to the monarchy.

The United Kingdom’s 14 commonwealth nations include several in the Caribbean and Central America, such as the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Nevis, and St. Lucia. Days after the queen’s son was crowned King Charles III, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda announced he plans to hold a vote within three years on whether to remove their new leader from the island nation’s helm. 

The monarchy’s hold on other predominantly Black countries also has been weakening. Barbados parted ways with the commonwealth last November. And while Jamaica is still in the headcount, residents didn’t give Prince William and Kate Middleton a warm welcome in March when they visited the country. 

The queen’s death on Sept. 8 sparked a flurry of scathing statements about the monarchy’s history of colonialism and internet memes poking fun at the royals. But there also was mourning across the African diaspora, even beyond the boundaries of the kingdom.

Jemima Douyon, 32, said she empathized with her Haitian mother, who was heartbroken by news of Elizabeth’s death. Haiti was never ruled by the British monarchy — in fact, in 1791 it became the first Caribbean country to successfully revolt against its European oppressor, in its case, France. 

“My mom said that she was a feminist icon, and I do see some value in what she’s saying to the extent of women in politics,” said Douyon, who immigrated from Haiti with her family in 2004 and now lives in Atlanta. “I’m sure it was not easy, and I can appreciate her work, literally in a world of men.”

Despite Elizabeth’s role in perpetuating a colonial system that has oppressed Black and brown people for centuries, Douyon said she couldn’t fully blame the queen for navigating a “system that was already in place before her.” 

“I do have pretty strong feelings about what she represents in terms of that, but … it’s not like she single-handedly did this,” Douyon said. 

Nicole Truesdell, an anthropologist and independent scholar who has dedicated her career to uncovering the truth about Black history, said Queen Elizabeth II worked overtime to keep her family relevant as other European monarchies were falling apart. Her reign began in 1952 when she was 25. Her funeral is scheduled for Sept. 19. She was 96. 

Capital B spoke with Truesdell about what the queen’s death means for the royal family’s reign in Black commonwealth nations and the complicated emotions it has created for Black people globally. The interview was edited for clarity and length. 

Capital B: Why is there a divide in how people are mourning or celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s death? 

Nicole Truesdell: The queen’s passing created a moment that allowed people whose voices were always pushed to the side [to be heard]. Queen Elizabeth has been touted for 70 years on the throne. She came in at a time when the U.K. and the British monarchy itself really had to figure out who it was because the rest of the monarchs around in Europe were either getting their heads cut off or were told to leave. 

The monarch was smart, through a monarchical lens, in which they realized they had to figure out a way to make themselves more current and more modern. You see Queen Elizabeth over time trying to do these types of engagements in the commonwealth to try to keep former colonies to be aligned with and to support the British crown because the monarchy’s only purpose is to uphold old ways.

This nostalgia of the past attached to the British nation-state is being cracked, because that story was always false. We’re seeing people having to face the reality of what they were told who their queen was, what they were told their nation state was, or what they were told are the basic foundations of who they are. 

It was showing that around the world, people always have these different stories and histories. But there was never any space. So they made the space and by making the space, the shock to me is that people are gonna have to take a step back and ask themselves, “Is everything I was told about being English, or British, or a part of the British crown [true]. If that was all false, what else is false? Who am I and what am I loyal to?”

Can you explain how and why somebody, or a whole family, can rule another country in 2022?

The minute the Europeans came off that shore and started to colonize the world — it’s not just the British, you got the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese, the Dutch — that created another kind of global economy that was heavily tied to oppressive, now capitalistic systems. So you still see that in the present day. When you have countries, especially in the Caribbean, who most of the time colonization took resources from resource-rich areas, that’s really the embodiment of what it means to be a colonialist or an imperialist. You don’t know how to feed people; you just know how to take from them. 

Now you made yourself independent and now you’re called a commonwealth, but the queen is head of the state. When you’re head of state, you’re still taking the resources out. You kind of get into this relationship — you don’t even really want to be in it, but it’s all you know. It’s also what you’ve been trained to know, because you’ve been trained in your education system, you’ve been trained throughout the institutions that this is the person you need, an outside person to help you manage you. That’s colonization really. 

Many times I’ve seen a lot of older folks in the diaspora who really love the queen. Well, you have to ask yourself who taught them how to love that queen? Malcolm [X] says this: “Who taught you how to hate yourself?” And he was spot on because if you look at the education systems, a lot of former colonies were usually either run by English-speaking entities or the church. So you are being taught from the beginning that you need somebody else — whether it be white Jesus up top, or white colonizers over in Europe to help you manage your own affairs. Over time, you get folks realizing, quite frankly, this is some bullshit. When you ask for freedom and say, “I’m taking my shit back,” there will be repercussions. So I think it’s actually smart to do it in a multifaceted way to have numbers of countries saying, “No, we’re going to pull out now,” because there is strength in numbers when you have been the head of boot-on-your-neck for over 100 years.

What does this mean for Black folks in the Caribbean, in Africa, in Europe, now that Queen Elizabeth died? Even though there’s now a king, are we going to get rid of these majestic titles and move forward?

I would say, a cautionary, yes. This is why I’m really excited and happy that there is more understanding of different histories coming into the conversation, because we have to learn from what people did in the past.

What we learned a lot of times, depending upon the country, is that you can’t just replace one king with another. You can’t just replace one oppressor with another, because the actual economic systems, political economic systems that operate in the country will dictate whether that country will actually be more free, or will it just reproduce to another colonial mechanism? 

I think there’s gonna be a lot of Black folks around the world and countries asking themselves what it is they’re actually trying to do? What is it they’re actually trying to do that’s sustainable for the population? And I think that this is a time where we have to understand that our struggles are interrelated. We have to understand that these struggles are tied together. I know that they’re talking about creating a Latin American conglomerate like the EU. I think we’re gonna start to see a rise of those types of engagements. There’s been talk about different African countries coming together for a kind of conglomerate. I think we’re going to start seeing the countries doing more collaborating like the EU did. 

Do you think that this may be the moment that Black folks get together and do better for ourselves? Historically, whenever we come together, we end up with a Black Wall Street [massacre] or the [1985 MOVE] bombing in Philadelphia. Can this moment finally happen where we can come together around the world and show our strength in numbers? And do you think we will see change during our lifetime?

I really do think it’s a possibility, and that’s where I do get excited. We’ve also seen a resurgence of a lot of Black folks around the world going back to ancient practices — spiritual practices, community practices — because it’s a way for us to tap back into what community means outside of a white capitalistic patriarchal framework. 

I don’t necessarily think it would be in my lifetime, but I’m OK with that because I believe my work and the work of folks like us is to help us to abolish, so that the ground is more fertile for other folks to build. I think we’re trying to do everything at once, but … we had a long history, and I think that right now we have to understand, as we uncover and we deconstruct and we abolish, we’re trying to lay a better foundation for generations going forward. 

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jemima Douyon’s name.