For years, it has been a staple in conscious circles to greet or express ethnic solidarity with members of the Black community with the titles “king” or “queen.” While the sentiment behind these titles of uplift is well-intentioned, I posit that monarchy need not validate the humanity of Black people.
The origin of this practice is rooted in the racial uplift that was a reaction to generations of denigration of African heritage. It was in the 20th century when Afrocentricity riveted the Black world, particularly in the diaspora, and saw increased demand for a historiography and culture that could serve as an edifying counterpoise to Eurocentric characterizations of Africa as a “dark continent.” According to the Eurocentric gaze, it was on this continent where Africans, to quote the former French president Nikolas Sarkozy, failed to have “fully entered into history.”
For people of the African diaspora, who had been alienated from their direct connection with Africa, connecting to a reimagined royal community remains tempting. After all, the great civilizations of the past that we learn about through a Eurocentric paradigm had monarchies so, to prove our parity, many of us felt we had to invoke our own monarchies. Therefore, supplemented by the many 20th century mass movements that buttressed Black dignity, was the turn towards colloquialisms like “king” and “queen.” In addition, the romanticization of royalty has been reinforced in media such as Beyonce’s Black is King, Marvel’s Black Panther, and Coming to America.
Aside from the reality that most Black people who claim these proud titles were more than likely the progeny of the hoi polloi, the problem with this practice lies in its potential to disdain the quiet dignity of the lives of the ordinary. We should normalize common experiences and normalize the value of everyday people (and being a member of this group). Throughout history, where monarchial societies have existed, trappings of status: royalty, wealth, and power have often been detrimental to or exclusionary of ordinary people. Moreover, the overt glamorization of the past can muddy the waters of a truly vibrant and involute history. It is well to discuss the kingdoms of Mansa Musa and Sonni Ali, but little Black girls should see themselves in the civil rights warrior Fannie Lou Hamer. While the thirst for an idyllic past is understandable, this can cloud our vision to affect a future based on selflessness and pride in heritage. Unlike monarchy, heritage is the common inheritance of an ethnic community. To raise children to recognize their humanity, their heritage, and their worth without focusing on enticingly vain titles is more desirable.
Perhaps the Black community’s penchant for using monarchial titles is a product of the English language. When we consider the word “noble,” we know that noble actions are revered. But is it coincidental that nobility is also a privileged class in historical stratified societies? This may imply that the judgments of value at the time when these words were created are actually the estimations of the privileged classes as opposed to the toiling masses. Anglophone people of African descent inherited this language, and the accompanying thought processes that subconsciously endorse glorification of monarchy. Therefore, a true psychological severance from the colonial mentality cannot be complete until we amend the language we use to affirm our own values. One example of this was in the 1960s and 1970s when the terms “brother,” and “sister,” became prevalent as terms of endearment for fellow Blacks in America. This made sense, for among the Black community, to cultivate ujamaa, or familyhood, has been a constant theme, more so than lording power and commanding armies.
A thread in the Black experience has been the consistent struggle to be recognized as part of the human family, and in doing so they have made society and institutions more humane and democratic. Many children have been reared with a sense of self, and this sense need not come from royalty, but from our recognition of our common humanity, throughout all its vicissitudes. To be human, and to be appreciated for it, without the need for monarchial titles, is enough.