Carnegie Mellon’s response to Professor Uju Anya’s tweet is an example of how institutions uphold white supremacy

OPINION: The policing of Black women’s responses to racial trauma isn’t anything new, but this latest example is especially egregious. 

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

When a world leader dies, there are always different types of responses to the death announcement. There are those who fully supported the leader and openly mourn their passing with platitudes and remembrances and the like. There are those who are indifferent to the news and wonder why everyone is making such a big deal about it. There are those who view the leader through a critical lens and make mention of their past deeds—both good and bad—while discussing their passing. And then there are those who have been directly affected by the bad deeds of the leader, and in that leader’s passing, they find catharsis in expressing their true feelings about the leader and everything that leader did. 

No matter which one of those categories a person may fall in, it is their human right to feel how they feel. If they choose to share those feelings openly, say on social media, those of us receiving those messages have a choice: we can agree or disagree. 

What we should not be doing, under any circumstances, is telling other people how to respond and deal with their personal trauma. Policing those responses—especially when they come from marginalized groups and are directed at a white leader who did, in fact, cause harm—is a form of white supremacy. 

Our latest example of this comes by way of Carnegie Mellon University in the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 

When the queen’s death was announced on Sept. 8, there were mixed responses across the internet. Many praised the queen and made note of all her good deeds. Irish Twitter went totally in, cracking jokes, laughing and cheering that the monarch was dead. 

Numerous people from countries where the queen’s reign over colonialism and genocidal activities had a direct impact on their families had something to say about her passing, and understandably, none of it was nice. 

Uju Anya was one of those voices. She “is a university professor and researcher in applied linguistics, critical sociolinguistics, and critical discourse studies primarily examining race, gender, sexual, and social class identities in new language learning through the experiences of African American students,” according to her website, and she is a tenured professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  

Upon learning the queen was on her deathbed, Anya tweeted, “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” 

While it was certainly a harsh declaration to put out on social media, it came from a place of deep hurt, personal loss and resentment. As Anya told WTAE reporter Marcie Cipriani:

“I am the child and sibling of survivors of genocide. From 1967-1970, more than 3 million civilians were massacred when the Igbo people of Nigeria tried to form the independent nation of Biafra. 

Those slaughtered included members of my family. I was born in the immediate aftermath of this genocide, which was directly supported and facilitated by the British government then headed by the monarch Queen Elizabeth II. This support came through political cover, weapons, bombs, planes, military vehicles, and supplies the British government sent to kill us and protect their interests in the oil reserves on our land. 

My people endured a holocaust, which has shadowed our entire lives and continues to affect it, because we’re still mourning incalculable losses and still rebuilding everything that was destroyed. Conversations among us today still include who was lost, who was displaced, where people ran, where bodies are buried. They do not include kind, respectful, or temperate sentiments about the people who murdered our relatives and destroyed our lives.”

Context is everything, and those who rushed to judge her tweet should have taken the time to understand where it came from, including Amazon founder and bathroom break monitor extraordinaire Jeff Bezos, who took time away from union-busting to quote tweet Anya and say “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow.”

First of all, the irony of Bezos—who won’t even let his employees go pee when they have to—wagging his finger and clucking his tongue at someone else talking about “making the world better” is making me constipated. 

It is also worth noting that Bezos has donated millions of dollars to Carnegie Mellon. This becomes important when you look at the way an internet mob formed against Anya after Bezos quote-tweeted her, with many asking if it was proper for a college professor to be saying such things on the internet. 

Carnegie Mellon then issued its anemic statement condemning her words as follows:

We do not condone the offensive and objectionable messages posted by Uju Anya today on her personal social media account. Free expression is core to the mission of higher education, however, the views she shared absolutely do not represent the values of the institution, nor the standards of discourse we seek to foster.

What happened to universities being places where free thinking is fostered? What happened to universities supporting free speech? Why is this university throwing this Black woman professor under the bus? Why did Jeff Bezos feel the need to speak on this tweet of all tweets?

Again, keep in mind that Irish Twitter went off on Thursday. There is a video online of an Irish soccer match during which the crowd sang “Lizzie’s in a box” in reference to the dead queen. Did Bezos or anyone else speak out against this as vocally as they did against the Black woman? Another video showed Irish pubgoers chanting the same song. Outside of the UK, did anyone raise a fuss? 

Do I even need to point out the major difference between those people and Dr. Anya?

As a Black woman, Anya was supposed to keep her thoughts to herself. This is how white supremacy works. You are supposed to endure the abuse and keep silent about it. Even raising the issue makes you a bigger problem than the issue itself. Remember selective offense

This is nothing more than Carnegie Mellon and Jeff Bezos upholding white supremacy. Coupled with the complete whitewashing of British history that is happening since the queen died, it should be entirely offensive to us all, not just Professor Anya. 

As many have thoughtfully noted on Twitter, death doesn’t make the queen a saint. Her deeds will always be remembered by those who she impacted. Besides, would there be this much backlash if Anya’s tweet were criticizing the “tyrannical leader” of a “third-world country” or someone from a Middle Eastern country? I highly doubt there would be any outrage. It’s OK to criticize those people, but baby, white is always right, even when it is dead-ass wrong, apparently. 

Anya herself is quoted as saying, “‘Speak no ill of the dead’ is a weapon that’s leveled against the oppressed to silence them, to lionize oppressors, and to sanitize their history.”

Karen Attiah, a columnist for the Bezos-owned Washington Post, who is Ghanaian Nigerian by way of Texas, wrote in an op-ed on Saturday:

The death of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, is causing a global battle royale over a central question: How do we speak honestly about the loyal servants to Britain’s powerful and historically brutal empire?

My answer? You speak the truth loudly, firmly and without hesitation. Use a microphone if you need to say it louder for those in the back.

In the wake of the queen’s death, propaganda, fantasy and ignorance are being pitted against Britain’s historical record and the lived experience of Africans, Asians, Middle Easterners, the Irish and others.

Pretending that the queen’s rule was entirely rainbows and unicorns and happy faces all around does no one any good. It is important to study the true history of every country, every leader and every ruler so that mistakes of the past do not continue to be made…

…unless that is the plan all along. Protecting white supremacy ultimately leads to white supremacy continuing in some way, form or fashion. 

And just maybe that’s what all of this is about anyway. Maintaining the status quo and crushing the voices of dissent. 

Whatever the case may be, CMU was wrong. Jeff Bezos was wrong. Those trying to silence the voices of marginalized people are wrong. 

Say it with your chest. The louder we get, the more they will have to listen. 


Monique Judge

Monique Judge is a storyteller, content creator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.

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