I expected the Irish schadendfreude. Although I generally identify as Italian (primarily because of the food, family and temper) my father had red hair, freckles and some relatives in County Somewhere. My ties to the old country are pretty attenuated, but I’ve been around Irish Americans most of my life, so I knew that they’d be a bit gleeful about the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
Mostly, I thought there’d be bad jokes and a few tasteless toasts to her “Hell-th.” But I didn’t anticipate the level of vitriol triggered by the passing of the world’s longest-reigning monarch. It never occurred to me that people I knew, and liked, would be posting memes about dancing jigs and the potato famine (which occurred, um, almost two centuries ago and in which Elizabeth Windsor, old as she was, didn’t have a hand). I was surprised to see some otherwise sensible friends post diatribes about the colonization of their wee bit of earth by this vandal queen.
Worse, though, was the thinly veiled defense of the Irish Republican Army. When I mentioned that the IRA had murdered Lord Mountbatten and his innocent 12-year-old grandson in a bombing back in the 1970s, the ones who chose to engage with me tried to do that “whataboutism” that I myself have fallen into on some regrettable occasions. Let’s be clear: the British have been brutal in Northern Ireland, but that does not excuse the murder of an innocent child (or other innocent children that the terror group targeted). And when I say terror group, I mean terror group.
To call the IRA freedom fighters is to fall into the same trap set by Rashida Tlaib, who refers to the PLO with that same terminology, or Ilhan Omar, who has a hard time condemning the folks who kidnap and behead Christians. Terror has no passport, no nationality.
But to be honest, the worst comments weren’t from what they’ve called “Irish Twitter,” but rather from people who like to appropriate the misery of ancestors they never met, and grievances they never suffered.
You have the typical comments like this one from a professor at Carnegie Mellon, someone named Uju Anya, who tweeted, “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving, raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” The university issued a statement condemning the comments, but she won’t lose her job. Imagine if a white professor deliberately used the wrong pronouns of a prominent trans activist. They’d be suspended. They actually have (Google it).
But a Black woman can make despicable comments about a (then) dying monarch who never harmed her, who never even met her and who likely had nothing to do with whatever phantom terrors Anya’s great-great-great grandmother suffered, and she earns the applause of thousands. This is the world in which we live.
After my mother died, I received some lovely expressions of sympathy from my political adversaries. The vast majority of the people were kind because in the moments of our deepest sorrow most human beings follow their better angels. There were, however, some people who emailed to gloat.
I can only imagine what the British royal family is feeling now, if they make the mistake of actually checking social media and reading the things from mediocre creatures like the Carnegie Mellon professor, people so insensate and narcissistic that they have no room in their hearts for grace. There has been such a hardening of discourse, fueled by the aggravating factor of social media anonymity, that it’s rare to find true, pure, kind sentiment when a public figure dies.
Even someone as universally beloved and uncontroversial as Elizabeth triggers anger and resentment in those who live to find fault, who mine grievance like the Molly Maguires mined coal, who abandon any pretense of decency to feed the gods of their cult of victimization.
Frankly, at this moment, I’m as interested in the evils of the British Empire as I am of those perpetrated by the Roman Empire. The recent nature of the alleged atrocities doesn’t distinguish them, for me, from the massacre of Christians by Diocletian, and the bones of the persecuted in Africa bear the same weight as the bones sealed into the walls of the Roman Catacombs. History is replete with evil, and some of it was committed in the name of the empire headed by Elizabeth’s ancestors.
But she did none of this. Her legacy is one of service, duty, obligation, decency and honor. She deserves recognition for what she did, and not for what she bears on her shoulders through some historical proxy. Shame on those who don’t get it.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at email@example.com.