Queen Elizabeth II. England’s longest serving monarch died just four years short of 100 years old. She leaves behind a family who will miss and mourn her. Wall to wall coverage of her passing, lauding the Queen, her global iconic status, and her stature as an elder stateswoman has dominated the small screen, the air-waves and cable news. Additionally, there were headlines on the ascension to the throne of now King Charles III, and the change in titles for both his sons and their children.
There is another crucial, uncovered narrative in this moment. It is one that emerged on social media – especially Twitter – and united African Twitter, Caribbean Twitter, Irish Twitter and Indian Twitter. The unity essentially came from the nations and continents colonized under the Monarchy, and reeling from the legacy of colonialism. That legacy lingers and continues to shape their world, and shows up in this particular moment.
It is that uncovered, unexplored, uncontextualized narrative that requires scrutiny, engagement and focus. The Queen’s passing opens up important space to explore what the Monarchy represented and presided over, what was happening in the world under her reign. And so, with this passing, the 1952 project is being launched. It is named for the year her reign began. It is an exploration of the toll of Empire and Colonialism, and focuses on Africa, the Caribbean and England. It will explore who we – Black and white – became as a result of Colonialism’s legacy and how it shaped notions of identity – national, cultural, and personal – identity. That legacy lingers and shapes how we – Black and white – see ourselves, each other, how we are seen by the world, and how the world expects us to be.
The Queen was a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and a great grandmother. She was also a Monarch that presided over colonialism, and the Monarchy is symbol and status of Colonial power. That means there are two narratives. For millions of people the monarchy under her reign shaped, changed, destroyed, decimated and devastated. Do not speak ill of the dead, do speak truth of the impact of what their life represented and to whom. The 1952 project is about what this reign represented for the colonized, and speaks to the truth of its impact on them, and their descendants, and how that impact continues to shape and influence across nations, sectors, peoples and progress.
The 1952 is an emotional justice initiative about dismantling colonialism’s legacy in order for there to be healing. Emotional Justice is a racial healing roadmap that grapples with a legacy of untreated trauma from oppressive systems. It is a roadmap that centers global Black people. The 1952 project is inspired by the 1619 project by Nikole Hannah Jones, the Pulitzer prize winning journalist. the 1619 project explored the economy of enslavement and how it shaped the modern economy and industrial nature of America. The 1952 project will explore the emotional economy of Colonialism and its legacy.
Colonialism’s emotional economy shredded a sense of cultural self and ingrained aspirations towards Britishness, and what Francesca Adedeji, the global thought leader in education, describes as ‘an affection for the oppressor’. It is the emotional connection to Colonialism that lingers, prompting the truly bizarre expectation that the children of the colonized whose land was taken, whose families were tortured, brutalized, and torn apart during colonialism and the Monarch’s reign would mourn the end of that reign in the same way her sons and grandsons would. We cannot – we do not – heal that way.
The 1952 Project has four themes. They are Loss, Legacy, Grief and Healing. The themes allow for a specificity of focus, and serve the project’s aim to create a narrative shift on how the world of Colonialism is engaged and thought about. There has always been a ‘there are good things’ approach to colonialism when it is discussed, especially in the British media. There is the ongoing expectation that there is a sunny side of colonialism for the colonized, and that must be recognized, articulated, appreciated and ever honored.
This is a narrative that centers whiteness. That centering is poisonous and profitable. It nurtured Black people to believe centering whiteness and diminishing their own identity would find reward in places of labor, leadership and learning. That reward always required Black people to uphold and defend whiteness and to destroy any suggestion that the structural nature of colonialism has any role in the disparities that exist across multiple sectors, or in institutional racism, the off-spring of colonialism. And that structural nature had real world, lived experience consequences. That centering of whiteness, that nurturing of connection to colonizers shows up across Africa, the Caribbean, and England.
Centering whiteness is part of colonialism’s legacy, and it shapes all of us. It manifests in dual deadly false narratives: white superiority and Black/African/Caribbean inferiority. It manifests in re-writing histories. We see that re-writing in some of the coverage of the Queen’s passing. One outlet described England and the Monarch’s ‘longstanding relationship with Africa’. Relationship? Are we referring to, or including the horror of the Mau Mau in Kenya, tortured at the hands of the British, the brutality of apartheid during the Monarchy, the devastation of Biafra in Nigeria? A relationship? When society centers whiteness, brutality is reimagined as bonding.
This centering is not in the intellectual parsing of colonialism’s poison and legacy. It is in the emotional legacy that leads millions of us to pause due to fear of Colonialism weaponizing its power to punish. It matters that we recognize – and therefore reckon with – this emotional legacy. It shows up in the outpouring of critique towards those who are descendants of the colonized, who articulated their pain at what this passing, and what the Monarchy represented, for them and their families.
Centering whiteness leads to an expectation of black mourning of white supremacy. It manifests again and again. It is part of how colonialism shapes us – not intellectually, but emotionally. This expectation of black mourning of white supremacy is a poison that spreads. It creates internalized conflict, and entrenches an already existing complexity that exists between the colonized and the colonizers.
With The 1952 project crucial questions will be asked through these four themes of loss, legacy, grief and healing. What was lost, and by whom? What is the legacy of that loss? How does this legacy manifest, and where does it show up? How has this legacy nurtured, curated and sustained a connection between the colonizer and the colonized and their descendants? How does that show up in how Black and white people work, learn, lead? What might healing look like? Whose grief matters?
There is no magic in the work of dismantling the legacy of Colonialism, and how it shapes – African, Caribbean, Black and white people – but dismantle that legacy we must. That dismantling requires we do the work in creative, communal, academic, artistic ways. In its dismantling, we are taking huge strides towards a humanity that centers justice, not one that privileges whiteness, and then calls that privileging, justice. There are thousands doing that work, that dismantling in multiple ways every single day. That work matters. The sheer size, weight, depth and breadth of Colonialism, its power and its legacy may mean that work feels like a pebble navigating boulders. It is not. The 1952 Project is an offering. It stands alongside those doing that work, and honors them as it picks up a collective baton, and joins them in carrying it further down a dismantling road.
It is time for The 1952 project.