In Britain’s Jamaican community, a mixture of reverence for the Queen and contempt for colonial heritage

In a hall in south London, photographs of Caribbean veterans who served in the British Armed Forces hang on the walls alongside a dignified official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Dozens of people were enjoying plates of fried salted fish and patties before the evening talk of a veteran from Jamaica began. Crowds were asked to take a few minutes of silence to mark the Queen’s death, and the beginning of King Charles III’s reign.

In the room, there is reverence for the Empress. But for British Jamaicans, the relationship with the monarchy was more complicated. The institution’s links to slavery and decades of colonial rule leave many desiring for proper repairs, but some are not optimistic that it will happen under King Charles.

Arthur Torrington, director of Windrush Foundation, a group that advocates for immigrants from the Caribbean to the UK in the decades following World War II, along with their descendants.

“He will speak up. We hope he will speak up.”

Complex emotions in the Jamaican community in London

Approximately 800,000 Jamaicans and people of Jamaican descent live in the UK

The massive emigration to Britain from the Caribbean was due to workers’ need to rebuild Britain after World War II. Many families settled in London, especially in neighboring areas south of the Thames, such as Brixton.

Saffron Blue’s father left Jamaica to find work in London. Once he was settled, the rest of the family moved in.

The poet Saffron Blue admires the Queen, but she doesn’t think the monarchy has done enough to deal with the British Empire’s history of slavery and colonialism. (Briar Stewart / CBC)

She spoke to CBC News while attending an event honoring a veteran from Jamaica. It is held at the West Indies Service Employees Association, a building that King Charles once visited as Prince of Wales.

Blue said she felt “quiet” when the Queen passed away and described her as a “remarkable woman.”

However, she believes it makes perfect sense for Jamaica to become a republic and follow in the footsteps of Barbados, which removed the Queen as head of state in November 2021.

“They are not free,” she said. They are still bound in a constitutional monarchy.

“I think you can’t do certain things unless you get permission from here, I don’t think it’s done.”

A potential Jamaican republic

Jamaica, which declared 12 days of mourning after the Queen’s death, gained independence from Great Britain in 1962.

The country is still one of 15 Commonwealth countries, but its government has signaled that it wants to reform its constitution and become a republic by 2025.

A survey released last month found that 56% of Jamaicans support that move.

Last year, the Jamaican government announced plans to demand financial compensation from Britain for forcing some 600,000 Africans to work on roads and banana plantations to enrich British slave owners.

When the current Prince and Prince of Wales, William and Kate visit the Caribbean in March as part of the Queen’s Platnium Year trip, activists protested in Kingston, Jamaica, demanding an apology and compensation for years of slavery.

Protesters holding placards
Protesters in Kingston, Jamaica, rallied outside the British High Commission on March 22 to demand reparations from the UK for slavery ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit as part of the campaign. their trip to the Caribbean. (Gilbert Bellamy / Reuters)

When King Charles visited Barbados last year for a transitional ceremony marking the removal of the Queen by its head of state, he spoke of the “horrible brutality of slavery” and said it was “forever stain our history.”

But that admission doesn’t sit well with William “Lez” Henry, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of West London, whose ancestry is of African and Jamaican descent.

“There are people in Jamaica right now… who can’t even afford running water. What the hell has the monarchy done to them?” he asks.

“I just thought it was ridiculous.”

Henry said since the Queen’s death he has not spoken to anyone, on social media or by phone, who has expressed any grief over her passing.

He said he was a bit hesitant to say publicly that several people who had expressed similar opinions were reprimanded online.

He pointed to former England footballer Trevor Sinclair, who was put on the air at a radio station where he worked after he tweeted “why Black & brown should mourn” the female’s death. King.

Sinclair later deleted the post and apologized.

‘You know, we’re crying for a rich woman’

On Saturday in Brixton, a London community commonly known as “Little Jamaica,” reggae music is played at a bustling market on Electric Avenue, where vendors sell Jamaican produce, clothing and food. .

Rochelle, who won’t give CBC her last name, said she thinks it’s wrong to be disrespectful after someone has died, but understands the point some racists are making.

“It’s sad, but I just hope that the poor … and those who are struggling today are not forgotten,” she said.

“You know, we’re crying for a rich lady.”

She stood in a group with two other women of Jamaican descent. When the subject turned to King Charles, they said they did not expect him to cross the line.

“There’s a lot of political history and I don’t think he’s going to get there,” said one woman, who did not share her name.

“I don’t think he wanted to start his reign by opening that box of worms.”

A woman walking down the street.
Brixton, known as ‘Little Jamaica,’ became a destination for families who immigrated in the 1950s and 1960s from the Caribbean. (Briar Stewart / CBC)

Back at the veterans hall, Andrew Clarke sat at the table playing dominoes and said if any royal would incite conversations around past and present racial struggles, that would be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan.

“Harry married a black woman and we all love him for it,” he said when it was his turn to lay a brick.

Clarke moved to London from Jamaica 20 years ago after marrying a British woman, but said it took him a year before he could actually emigrate because his applications were repeatedly rejected.

He says that whenever his friends from Jamaica want to come and visit, they struggle to get UK visas.

“Why is that so [the monarchy] the head of our country and we can’t even go to England?

“I think it’s time we go our separate ways.”

Andrew Clarke, who immigrated to Britain from Jamaica 20 years ago, plays dominoes in South London on Saturday. He said it was time for Jamaica to leave the Commonwealth. (Briar Stewart / CBC)

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