Political commenter and activist Angela Rye lit a fire under author and longtime journalist Malcolm Gladwell for his admiration for Queen Elizabeth II.
Rye shot back at Gladwell after he referred to the queen as an emblem of “grace and dignity” on Comedy Central’s “Hell of A Week.” Gladwell said the late monarch was just a symbolic British figure and shouldn’t bear the blame for all the ills the country has committed.
Gladwell, who is of Jamaican descent, said his mother is devastated by the queen’s death, and the British monarch was an estimable figure in his household.
“She was a woman of extraordinary grace and dignity and in a world that needs a lot of lot more role models of grace and dignity,” Gladwell said. “And you know, there are some things that our country did that are unspeakable, but that doesn’t set England aside from different, many other countries in the world.”
Rye agreed that the queen’s role was largely symbolic, but “we should not ignore the power of that symbolism.”
“They colonized — British colonized 30 percent of Africa, so even when we talk about your mother who adored the queen, we have to understand Black people’s infatuation with systems of power that have also abused them.”
Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, and while the U.K and British Commonwealth countries, including Jamaica, implemented days of mourning days, some people of a darker hue have publicly revolted against the bemoaning of her death. Some also hope that it brings changes in the monarch and a move toward reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans. Others like Rye harkened back to British history of colonization. Others went as far as to mention America’s own fight for freedom from Britain.
Carnegie Mellon professor Uju Anya, 46, called Elizabeth II a “representative of the cult of white womanhood.” Anya, whose parents are Trinidadian and Nigerian, has different memories of the queen than Gladwell.
“My earliest memories were from living in a war-torn area, and rebuilding still hasn’t finished even today,” she said.
Twitter removed a tweet Anya posted the morning of the queen’s death.
“I heard the chief monarch of thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating,” she wrote.
Anya stood by her tweet and received the backing of over 4,000 people in the academic community and beyond by petition. Still, Anya faced backlash from many who called her tweet harsh. Nigerian author and priest Reno Omokri said he was “mortified by the hideous and historically inaccurate things,” Anya said. He also reflected on the queen’s ceremonial role.
A mainstream media frenzy also surrounded Elizabeth’s death. Coverage of preparations and early proceedings flooded the airwaves. As with any death of any known figure, condolences were sent from most world leaders. Admirers crowded the outside of Buckingham Place and other key sites for a glimpse of the royal family.
“Well, basically, she’s there to get tourists to come to England. That’s her job,” Gladwell told Rye and others on the show that aired on Sept. 16.
“Y’all can just get a mascot,” Comedian Roy Wood Jr. said.
However, Rye argued that even though she had no political power, the queen did not use the power she did have to speak up against the injustices committed by the country. Rye also spoke about the racism against the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markel.
“You have someone who just said recently…that she really only just began to identify as a Black woman in her adult life, and her adult life was treated with great disdain by this woman of symbolic power,” Rye said.
“If you the new supervisor of a company that’s been doing f–k up stuff, ain’t it your job as new supervisor to undo some of the f–k up stuff,” Wood said.