Student witnesses the impact of the Queen’s death while abroad

Images courtesy of Igor Martiniouk ’24.

On Sept. 8, 2022, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died at Balmoral Castle. As a citizen of both the United States and the United Kingdom currently studying abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, it has been interesting to view her death from both an American and British perspective. I have been touched by the outpouring of grief and celebration of the Queen’s life here in the United Kingdom, which is a very different reaction to the news than I have seen coming from the United States.

Within minutes of the announcement, my social media feed blew up with Americans’ elation at the news. Twitter users generated hundreds of viral memes, and people edited audio clips of the BBC announcement with a 2012 Youtube-esque “outro.” At the same time, the United Kingdom entered a national state of mourning. Flags were lowered to half-mast. Every event at my university was canceled. Grief counseling became available for students, we were excused from classes, and we were given the option to sign a condolence book that would be sent to the Royal Family. It is undeniable that this past week has been a powerful moment in history for the United Kingdom.

Images courtesy of Igor Martiniouk ’24.

Here is why I understand both responses as justified. There is no question that the British monarchy has perpetrated countless morally corrupt actions and that it represents a long history of colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples. The death of the Queen incited celebration from both Americans and other formerly colonized nations, and rightfully so. While I am not defending the existence of the monarchy, or trying to overlook its inexcusable actions, I do believe that British people have the right to mourn the long life of a stoic and culturally significant figurehead, despite the heinous crimes committed by the institution she commanded. 

Images courtesy of Igor Martiniouk ’24.

As a person, Queen Elizabeth II was a meaningful, poised leader who instilled a sense of calm through political and social turmoil in the United Kingdom and worldwide. As an American, I remember her steadfast reign amongst chaotic election cycles and hearing about how she broke a three-hundred year tradition to play the U.S. national anthem at Buckingham Palace on Sept. 11, 2001. As a Brit, I remember her kindhearted Christmas speeches, her words of encouragement during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, her subtle humor and her unabiding love for her corgis. For 70 years, the country has relied on her for a sense of stability, and everyone in the United Kingdom is feeling the shock of her loss. 

I can only hope that as Americans, during this important moment in time, we can understand the multi-dimensional nature of this shift in leadership. It is possible to denounce the horrific violence of a nation while also considering the cultural experience of so many citizens of the United Kingdom who have never lived under any other monarch’s rule. We can extend cultural empathy whilst condemning a nation’s long history of racism, exploitation, and colonial greed. There exists nuance in this situation that I was only able to come to terms with by standing on British soil as I watched an entire nation grieve for a beloved leader who has truly united the country under her long and influential rule.

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