While supporters mourn Queen Elizabeth II's death, others criticize Britain's history of colonialism

Rosie Nguyen Image
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Criticism and disapproval among sentiments felt after queen's death
While millions around the world mourn and honor Queen Elizabeth II, others say her death reminds them of the pain and trauma that their own ancestors suffered.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Millions of people from around the world are mourning and paying tribute after Queen Elizabeth II's death last Thursday, including here in Houston. The Queen's impact could be felt worldwide with every update on the Royal Family constantly at the top of news headlines.

Karen Peterson, the former president of Daughters of the British Empire in Texas shares how devastated she was to hear about Queen Elizabeth II's death. The Clear Lake resident was born in England and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 5 years old. She remembers seeing the Queen when she visited Houston back in 1991.

"I started crying right away. She's a symbol of my home country and someone I have looked up to. She has been queen since before I was born. She has always been a constant example of duty, commitment to the job you've been given to do," Peterson said.

READ ALSO: Memorial City lights up in royal purple to honor life of Queen Elizabeth II

The fascination with the monarchy extends beyond those with British lineage. Take the Queen's coronation in 1953, for example. According to the BBC, approximately 85 million people watched recordings of the highlights in the U.S. That's on top of the 27 million people who tuned in from the U.K. Stories ranging from scandals to weddings in the Royal Family frequently make their way onto newsstands in the U.S.

So why are so many Americans interested in the British rulers?

"She (the Queen) legitimizes our fairy tales that we do see on the big screen that we see in movies and that we love. We love the idea of royalty because it's attached to a happy ending. The American Dream is achievable, but we have to work for it. Royalty is part of our fantasy. It's our ability to escape our lived realities," said Prof. Tshepo Masango Chéry, who teaches African history at the University of Houston.

But, not everyone associates the Queen with fairy tales and happy endings. She ascended to the throne in 1952, when more than a quarter of the world's population was under British power. That's about 700 million people throughout parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Pacific Islands.

WATCH: Supporters mourn Queen Elizabeth, others criticize colonialism

ABC13's race and culture reporter Rosie Nguyen explores the fascination with the Royals and the mixed reactions to the monarch's passing.

Although the majority of these countries have gained their own independence, Ashton P. Woods, who is the founder of Black Lives Matter Houston argues that the scars of colonialism still linger.

"She still had the ability to make decisions. The monarch of Britain still has the ability to veto bills that have passed in Parliament. They can declare war," said Woods. "The reality is colonization is the birth of white supremacy, hate, and 'you are my subject.' The colonization may be over. But now, you have this new thing called institutional and structural racism."

People with families from countries that were colonized and enslaved by the British Empire said comments expressing criticism and disapproval of the monarch's reign come from the reminder of their own ancestor's pain, trauma, and oppression.

"We saw a lot of Queen Elizabeth's reign taking place in a time when there were severe and violent uprisings in response to an imperial apparatus. Often times, we approach with this idea that the British monarchy removed itself from imperialism. That was not the reality. It was upended by the amount of unity and coordinated efforts by those who were opposed and were occupied by it. To this day, we are still seeing that denial of reparations to imperialized and colonized places," said Anunsheh Siddique, a local community organizer whose family is from Pakistan.

READ ALSO: Queen Elizabeth, longest-reigning British monarch, dies at 96

Supporters of the Queen have been quick in her defense, arguing that denunciation for the 96-year-old ruler during a time of mourning is disrespectful and out of line. Siddique and Woods say they simply don't feel sadness over someone they view as an oppressor.

"We are not devastated after the large-scale atrocities that were committed against humanity that were committed against occupied people that continue to be so, and then mitigating and censoring the response to it is atrocious," said Siddique.

"It relates to the idea of willful ignorance and the whitewashing of issues. People don't want to be held accountable for their white privilege or their light skin. People don't want to talk about the criticism of the monarch because it leads into these discussions about race and inequality," said Woods.

Peterson said while she doesn't agree with the criticism, she believes everyone has a right to voice how they feel.

"That is something that within DBE, we have struggled with in terms of the word, 'empire.' It does have some negative connotations, but it's also history. The British way of life, for good or bad, was brought to a good portion of the world. Mistakes were made, but so were great advances. Study both sides of history and be truly informed," said Peterson. "The whole world is focused on Britain right now and this is an opportunity for people to express their passions and opinions."

Prof. Chéry said no matter where you stand, she thinks it's important that we're seeing a space being created for the difficult, but necessary conversations about the darker side of British history.

"If you look at archival records, the Queen was present at many of these inaugurations and festivities. She celebrated this independence for a number of these nations. But there was no space to actually reckon what happened, the kind of violence and theft that left people and communities in disarray," she said. "Now, you have descendants of those who have been subjugated under colonialism, who are connected by a hashtag, who are able to comment on what each other's saying. So there's this kind of unity around the former British Commonwealth subjects. I think we're seeing a reckoning with colonialism."

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