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“Racism Is as British as a Cup of Tea”: Kehinde Andrews Says Many Black Britons Don’t Mourn the Queen

StorySeptember 19, 2022
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As Monday’s state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of a national period of mourning in Britain, we speak with the U.K.'s first professor of Black studies, Kehinde Andrews, about the generational difference in perceptions of the queen within his Jamaican family, which he lays out in his recent essay, “I Don't Mourn the Queen.” He also describes the brutal legacy of the British slave trade and the British Empire, which makes the monarchy a symbol of white supremacy that should not be mourned, but rather abolished. “This is an old institution — deeply racist, deeply classist, deeply patriarchal. It just needs to go. And this is the perfect time to discuss when it should end,” says Andrews.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show in London, where the coffin carrying Queen Elizabeth II has just been placed in a hearse bound for Windsor Castle following the state funeral at Westminster Abbey. More than 500 foreign dignitaries attended the queen’s funeral, including President Biden, leaders from Commonwealth nations, many members of other royal families, including the emperor and empress of Japan. The funeral was the largest police operation in U.K. history. Police reported placing sharpshooters on the roofs of every building within a mile of Westminster Abbey. The funeral conducted by dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr. David Hoyle.

REV. DAVID HOYLE: We come to this house of God to a place of prayer, to a church where remembrance and hope are sacred duties. Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth and from the nations of the world to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service.

AMY GOODMAN: In related news, King Charles III was confronted directly by a protester over the weekend during a stop in Cardiff, who shouted at him, “Not my king!”

PROTESTER: Charles, while we struggle to heat our homes, we have to pay for your parade. The taxpayer pays £100 million for you, and what for? [inaudible] Not my king!

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Birmingham, England, where we’re joined by Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies in the School of Social Sciences at Birmingham City University. He’s actually the U.K.'s first professor of Black studies, author of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World, his recent piece for Politico headlined “I Don't Mourn the Queen.”

In it, he writes, “My paternal grandmother was born in colonial Jamaica in 1914 and was raised on the fairy tales of the Mother Country and nobility of British royalty. She migrated to Britain in search of better opportunities in the mid 50s as part of the so called Windrush generation, who helped to rebuild the nation after the Second World War. A picture of the Queen had pride of place in her front room and were she alive today, she would have wholeheartedly joined in the collective grief. But my father grew up in the 1960s, facing the cold realities of British racism and could never feel any warmth to either the nation or its figure head.”

Professor Kehinde Andrews, welcome to Democracy Now! Instead of me reading your words, why don’t you tell us that story and talk about the coverage of the queen and what the queen’s passing means, not only for Britain but for the Commonwealth and the realms? Do you think this could mean the end of empire? Can you hear me, Professor Andrews?

KEHINDE ANDREWS: Yes, I can hear you. Sorry. So, yeah, no, I mean, I think you’ve captured a lot of that with the Politico piece. And what is happening today is this collective grief of the country. And as a Black British person, it brings to mind W. E. B. Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness, when he said that being Black and being American, sometimes they just clash so much that you feel alienated from the society. And seeing all this collective grief and this mourning and people queuing 24 hours with little kids so they can stare at what was likely an empty box, it just seems like the country has gone kind of collectively mad around this. It’s something that we just don’t have a connection to, for millions of us in this country, those of us who never saw the queen as somebody representing us, and actually saw the queen as somebody who represented the very racism that we face on a daily basis.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I talked about the Windrush generation. That’s what you write about. Your paternal grandmother came to Britain as a part of that, from Jamaica. Can you explain that more to people who are not familiar with what happened?

KEHINDE ANDREWS: Yeah. So, my family was part of the British Empire. We have to remember that Britain isn’t just these little islands. What made Britain “great” was this massive empire, that included Jamaica, where my family were from. And in Jamaica, it was slavery. We were taken there similarly to African Americans taken to America. I always say the Caribbean is like the American South.

But one of the things that happened with my grandmother’s generation is they were born in Britain. They had British schooling, British education. They were taught that Britain is the mother country, and the queen is great, and it’s all wonderful. So my grandmother grew up loving the queen, loving Britain, had lots of hope when she came and migrated here. And she had a picture of the queen on her wall ’til she died, and would have been in one of those queues to go see the coffin.

But the realities of racism were very different when she got here, when my dad got here as a young man and grew up and saw all the same racism that African Americans experience — police brutality, problems at schools, segregated housing. So we grew up not feeling any connection to Britain, and obviously not feeling any connection to the figurehead of the nation-state.

AMY GOODMAN: Your father chose to leave Britain and go back to Jamaica?

KEHINDE ANDREWS: He retired a few years ago. Yeah, to be fair, he had always kind of been going back to Jamaica for weeks. He’s never really — the weather never really took it — never really took to the weather here. My father was part of the Black power movement in Britain, very much saying, “Look, this state, it doesn’t represent us. We can’t get progress here. We have to have our own education system, our own schools.” I mean, this is how Black studies eventually came about, in [inaudible] we said, “Actually, the curriculum isn’t for us. The university is not for us. Can we do something different?” And the queen is the head of the nation — though the king now is the head of the nation. They do represent what the nation is. And racism is as British as a cup of tea, which is why so many of us reject both the nation and the monarchy.

AMY GOODMAN: I thought it was very interesting how you talked about Black Brits and Black Americans, how here in the United States you’re talking about seeing racism every day, on a daily basis, and in Britain, it’s not only in Britain, but it is the empire, it is the Commonwealth, that’s not so often seen. It was exported to the colonies.

KEHINDE ANDREWS: Yeah, I mean, the big difference between America and Britain is that Britain essentially did its racial violence off campus, if you like, so in the Caribbean, in India. There’s been very few of us actually in the United Kingdom on the island, only 'til what we call the Windrush generation post-1948. So, whereas in America you have — you know, there's Black people in America before there was America. Racism is coded into all the laws. It’s so obviously in the Constitution. In Britain, it’s different, because we really have only been here in large numbers relatively recently. But the problems are exactly the same. I mean, British racism and American racism are the same, right? Britain founded America. It was Britain that first took enslaved Africans to America. So it can seem like racism is different here, but it’s actually not. It’s exactly the same.

AMY GOODMAN: Gold, tobacco, sugar, cotton. Queen Elizabeth I, you say, launched Britain’s slave trade. Talk about these commodities and what they meant for the people where they were grown, those that brought that wealth to Britain that we’re seeing transferred from one generation to the next in the royal family.

KEHINDE ANDREWS: Yeah. So, if we think what made Britain Britain, prior to the 16th century, before the British Empire and before Britain got involved in slavery, Britain was a small country in the North Atlantic, doesn’t have many resources and wasn’t really going anywhere. What made Britain take off was its involvement in the slave trade. And the Royal African Company, which is the company founded to initially start enslaving Africans for the British Empire, was the company that enslaved more Africans than any company in the world. Britain was the premier slave-trading nation. And in all the things if you think about what made Britain Britain, first it is gold, then it is silver, and it’s then financialization and the stock market, etc. Then it’s tobacco. And those were the things which powered Britain’s development.

So, on one hand, you had Britain making massive strides, the Industrial Revolution, becoming this great nation at the top of the world. But then look at what happens to the people who had to do that. The Caribbean, for example, is a perfect example, where my family is from, were taken there in chains, made to produce all this wealth. Sugar was the first one that really pushed Britain forward. And then you look 200 years later. How is somebody like Jamaica doing? It’s one of the poorest economies in the world. And that’s not an accident. That’s because the whole country and the economy were designed to drain money out and give it to Britain. And the best example of this is, when they ended slavery in 1838, eventually, the British government paid the largest payment ever, equivalent to about 100 billion pounds, if you look at GDP, to the slave owners, and the enslaved got nothing and, in fact, had to work off their — had to work for four years 75% of the time as slaves to prove they were fit to be free. And we still see the legacy of that today.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about expressing dissent today in Britain, the whole issue of whether you can say you are against the monarchy, that you want it to end?

KEHINDE ANDREWS: Well, it’s interesting. I’d say that I’ve spoken to probably about 20 journalists. I’ve done interviews like this all week. Not one of them has been with the British press. There has been wall-to-wall coverage of the funeral. I turn any TV channel on, it’s just queen, queen, queen, queen, queen, and no dissent, no questioning the role, no questioning the future of the monarchy, none of this. It really has been a week of propaganda, which has come to a crescendo today, where absolutely everything is closed.

And you did report on some of the — you know, the way that protests are being dealt with. I mean, honestly, if you just looked, stepped back from this and said, “Well, actually, how has this been treated?” it’s not too far from fascism, actually. And it is — and people say it’s not the right time now. When else would be the best time to question the role of the monarchy? When there is 70-year reign, a very [inaudible] ended, surely now is the perfect time to wonder why on Earth we would have this monarchy, why on Earth we would represent 14 other countries in the world where the monarchy is the head of state. And even in Britain, this is an old institution — deeply racist, deeply classist, deeply patriarchal. It just needs to go. And this is the perfect time to discuss when it should end.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could also address the issue of those who talk about the queen, like the conservative commentator Candace Owens speaking about British colonization of Africa on her show, The Daily Wire, earlier this month?

CANDACE OWENS: The real truth of the reason why people hate the queen has nothing to do with the colonization, has nothing to do — which, by the way, just to be clear, the Brits invading Africa actually represents — and this is going to get me in trouble — but it was, if you look at how forward it brought the African colonies, it ended up being a net positive. Now, this is, of course, people — it’s going to get me in trouble, because people somehow think that Africans were living happily ever after, and things were great, and then the horrible English, British descended upon and murdered everybody, and the French suddenly murdered everybody. And that just isn’t the truth. Obviously, the African nations had slavery, just like the European nations had slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Kehinde Andrews, if you could respond?

KEHINDE ANDREWS: Well, unfortunately, some people like to make money from being the Black face of white racism, and Candace Owens has a very good history of this. I mean, that is perfectly nonsensical view of the past.

Actually, when Britain came into — when Europe, in general, and Britain, in particular, came into Africa to enslave people, Europe was behind, was far behind. In the 15th century, Europe was probably the only place in the world in the Dark Age and came into Africa. And one of the ways — indeed, the main way that Europe takes over is the slave trade. It is draining out Africans to get the commodities — gold, silver, tobacco, etc., etc. And then it enriches Europe so that Europe can colonize. I mean, colonization in Africa was actually [inaudible] for a reason. Most countries on the African continent were not directly colonized by European powers for more than 100 years, because it took centuries of draining out African people, a barbaric system of slavery, which never existed on the African continent, which totally and utterly destabilized Africa so that Europe could take over.

The idea that slavery and colonialism were somehow positive for Africa is, frankly, insane. I mean, just look at global [inaudible]. The poorest part of the world is the place — is the so-called sub-Saharan Africa. The place with the lowest life expectancy is so-called sub-Saharan Africa. Anybody with their eyes open, looking at this honestly, could not possibly think that Africa has benefited from anything that Europe has done.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up this show — we have 30 seconds — Kehinde Andrews, what would you like to see now? I mean, you have the song “God Save the Queen” is now changing to “God Save the King” with now King Charles III. Your thoughts?

KEHINDE ANDREWS: I think it is time now to end the anachronism of what is the British monarchy. Seventy years, certainly, I think [inaudible] — and when we say the Commonwealth, that’s just a form of British empire [inaudible]. I think many countries are going to think about removing the queen as head of state, including my own country of Jamaica. But I think also in Britain, like, this monarchy is a terrible symbol. If we want to have an antiracist Britain, if we want to learn the lessons from the Black Lives Matter summer, if you want a public space which includes the millions of children of empire in it, we have to get rid of the monarchy.

AMY GOODMAN: Kehinde Andrews, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of Black studies in the School of Social Sciences at Birmingham City University. He’s the author of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. We’ll link to your piece in Politico, “I Don’t Mourn the Queen.” That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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