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

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In a room in south London, pictures of Caribbean veterans who served in Britain’s armed forces hang on the wall alongside a majestic official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Dozens of people enjoy plates of fritters and saltfish cakes before the start of a lecture by a Jamaican war veteran. The crowd is invited to observe a few minutes of silence to mark the death of the Queen and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III.

In the room, there is respect for the late queen. But for British Jamaicans, the relationship with the monarchy is more complex. The institution’s connection to slavery and decades of colonial rule leaves many wishing for proper redress, but some are not optimistic that it will fall under King Charles.

“We wish him the best,” said Arthur Torrington, the director of the Gale Foundation, a group advocating for those who immigrated to the UK from the Caribbean in the decades following World War II, and their descendants.

“He will talk. We hope he will talk.”

Complicated feelings in London’s Jamaican community

Around 800,000,000 Jamaicans and those of Jamaican descent live in the UK

The mass migration to Britain from the Caribbean was driven by the need for workers to rebuild England after World War II. Many families have settled in London, especially in areas south of the Thames, such as Brixton.

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

Poet Saffron Blue admired the Queen, but she doesn’t think the monarchy has done enough to address the British Empire’s history of slavery and colonialism. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

She spoke to CBC News as she attended the event, which honored a Jamaican War veteran. It took place at the West Indies Association of Service Personnel, a building King Charles once visited when he was Prince of Wales.

Blue said she felt a sense of “calm” when the Queen died and described her as a “remarkable woman”.

Still, she thinks it makes sense for Jamaica to become a republic and follow Barbados, which deposed the Queen as head of state in November 2021.

“They are not free. They are still tied to the constitutional monarchy,” she said.

“Think you can’t do certain things unless you get permission from here, I don’t think that’s the case.”

A potential Jamaican republic

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

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

A survey published last month showed that 56% of Jamaicans support the move.

Last year, the Jamaican government announced plans to seek financial compensation from Britain for forcing an estimated 600,000 Africans to work on sugar and banana plantations that enriched British slave owners.

When the current Princes and Princes of Wales, William and Kate circumnavigate the caribbean In March, as part of a trip to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, activists demonstrated in Kingston, Jamaica, demanding an apology and reparations for years of slavery.

Protesters hold up signs
Protesters in Kingston, Jamaica, gathered outside the British High Commission on March 22 to demand the UK make reparations for slavery ahead of a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as part of their Caribbean tour. (Gilbert Bellamy/Reuters)

When King Charles visited Barbados last year for a handover ceremony marking the removal of the Queen from her head of state, he spoke of “the appalling atrocity of slavery” saying he “stains to never our story”.

But that recognition is a long way off for William “Lez” Henry, professor of criminology and sociology at the University of West London, who has African and Jamaican ancestry.

“There are people in Jamaica right now… who can’t even afford running water. What has the monarchy done for them?” He asked.

“I just think it’s ridiculous.”

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

He said he was hesitant to even say so publicly given that a few who have expressed similar views have been chastised online.

He points to former British football player, Trevor Sinclair, who was taken off the air at a radio station where he works after he tweeted ‘why should Black & Brown mourn’ the Queen’s death.

Sinclair later deleted the post and apologized.

‘You know, we cry for a rich woman’

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

Rochelle, who would not give her last name to CBC, says she thinks it’s wrong to be disrespectful after someone’s death, but understands the point some racialized people are making.

“It’s sad, but I just hope that the poor…and the people who are struggling right now won’t be forgotten,” she said.

“You know, we cry for a rich woman.”

She stands in a group with two other women of Jamaican descent. When the subject turns to King Charles, they said they didn’t expect him to push the envelope.

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

“I don’t think he wants to start his reign by opening that Pandora’s box.”

A woman is 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 sits at a table playing a game of dominoes and says that if any of the royals are going to spark conversations about past and current racial struggles, it will be the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan.

“Harry married a black woman and we all love him for it,” he said, laying down a tile in turn.

Clarke moved to London from Jamaica 20 years ago after marrying a Briton, but said it took her a year before she could actually migrate because her application was constantly rejected.

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

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

“I think it’s time we part 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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