Queen Elizabeth II's death is causing renewed scrutiny of the monarchy as people risk backlash to point out the institution's racist past

Queen Elizabeth II's death is causing renewed scrutiny of the monarchy as people risk backlash to point out the institution's racist past
The royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at Trooping the Color 2018.James Devaney/FilmMagic
  • Following the Queen's death, many social media users expressed criticism of the monarchy.
  • On Twitter, it provoked severe backlash, with some people facing retribution from their employers.

Rumors about the imminent death of Queen Elizabeth II began swirling in the morning of Thursday September 8, as notes were passed around Parliament, causing a ripple of mutterings and concerned looks among journalists and ministers.

When the Palace announced that "doctors were concerned for the Queen's health," Twitter erupted with jokes and memes — met immediately with backlash to the jokes. And backlash to the backlash.

The mayhem on Twitter didn't stop when, at 6:30pm British Summer Time (BST), Buckingham Palace confirmed the Queen's death; it intensified.

Three days after the Queen's death, social media remains divided as to whether criticizing the monarchy right now is in the best of taste. But the debate has breathed new life into another: questioning the Royal Family's relevance in today's world, particularly in light of its largely unrevised colonial history.

Some Twitter users who discussed the monarchy's racist past were locked out of their accounts, or investigated

On TikTok, following the Queen's death, many users posted videos criticizing the monarchy's colonial history, as well as memes and dances celebrating the Queen's death.


However, there were no reports of TikTok users being chastised by their employers, called out by billionaires and celebrity commentators, or being flooded with hateful messages as a response.

On Twitter, the debate played out much more fiercely.

In March 2021, Oprah Winfrey's interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle aired to much fanfare. In a particularly explosive segment, Harry and Meghan said that racism was a "large part" of why the couple left the UK, criticizing the Royal Family for failing to call out racist coverage of Meghan by the British press, and disclosing a racist remark made about their son's skin tone by an unnamed Royal.

Coming a year after the renewed Black Lives Matter movement, which sparked protests across the world, it ignited a conversation about the Royal Family's racist past, which goes back centuries and includes links to Britain's slave trade in the 1500s, countless racist remarks made publicly by the Queen's husband Prince Philip before his death in 2021, and discriminatory employment practices.

That conversation resurfaced following the news of the Queen's death. And it didn't go down well.


Trevor Sinclair, a former soccer player and current sports radio commentator, is being investigated by his employer Talksport over tweets posted on the day of the Queen's death, according to a Twitter statement posted by the radio station. Sinclair's tweets have since been deleted, but various outlets reported that he suggested people of color should not be expected to mourn the Queen's death as racism had been allowed to "thrive" under her reign.

Journalists Tirhakah Love, Jemele Hill, and Eugene Scott were among those criticized in a Daily Mail report for similar social-media comments in an article headlined "Have they no shame?"

Uju Anya, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, posted a tweet on September 8, saying, "I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating." The tweet was removed and in its place is a message saying it "violated the Twitter rules," but the wheels of backlash and controversy were in motion. Carnegie Mellon disavowed her comments, while many prominent Twitter figures tweeted in support. Even Jeff Bezos weighed in.

Speaking to The Cut, Anya said she has been locked out of her Twitter account, but "the hate is coming into my email inbox."

Social media remains divided on whether the death of influential figures should lead to debate surrounding their legacy

The question of how soon is too soon to criticize the deceased is not one social media has grappled with well in the past. Following the death of Kobe Bryant, people who tweeted that he was accused of rape faced fierce backlash. People who critique political figures in the wake of their death, from Rush Limbaugh to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, often lead to controversy — whether they're pointing mild shortcomings or problematic pasts.


This tension may come in part because social media users are not bound by the rules of respectability that traditional media is.

"Social media has really lowered the barriers of what's considered polite and decent," Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at the Newhouse School of Public Communications Syracuse University, told USA Today. "But I don't want to say that's necessarily a bad thing because we were a little too polite and decent about a lot of things that we didn't talk about that we should have been talking about."

Despite the backlash, Anya stands by the comments about the Queen that she says got her locked out of her Twitter account. "I did not wish her death. I did not tell anyone to kill her. I said nothing except wishing her the pain in death that she caused for millions of people," she told The Cut. "There's not going to be any apology from me. I stand by what I said."

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