(The Root) — It’s always fascinating to observe how romantic Americans are about the United Kingdom. No matter what age or color, economic status or education, the country that most Americans call “England” always brings out the corniest responses.
I like showing folks London when they come over, making sure that they see black London, too, of course, whose capital is a South London community called Brixton. Brixton is very gentrified these days, as many inner-city black communities are everywhere. But many black people still live there. And there was a fairly big party there Monday night.
That morning, a little before noon, it was announced that Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s legendary prime minister, had died of a stroke in her room at the Ritz Hotel. The BBC and the rest of the nation had been preparing for this day for years, so the newscasters dressed in black and the tributes poured in; it was all fairly automatic. What they weren’t prepared for was the jubilation at the announcement of her death. It was pretty wild stuff.
You can look up Mrs. T on Wiki or elsewhere to see who she was, but my point is that Americans usually think that Brits are like what you see on Downton Abbey: quiet, genteel. Not exactly.
OK, there are some people like that. But not all. Tweets to me ranged from “Will there be a conga line behind the funeral procession” to “Make sure you stamp the dirt down.” Those are just the things I can publish.
Not to speak ill of the dead, but the fact is that “the Iron Lady” was deeply divisive on many levels. Two examples: One, she was infamous for closing down the coal mines. One of the leading cartoonists in the country drew her coming out of her grave, demanding, “Why is this pit still open??” The mines were an essential source of work and solidarity for millions of people; closing them changed entire communities in Wales and the north of England. Those communities celebrated, too.
Second, many blame Mrs. T for creating the negative economic and political atmosphere that led to the urban revolt known as “the Brixton Riots” in 1981, two years into her administration. It started because of the community’s reaction to the “sus” law — short for “suspected person” — enforced by London’s Metropolitan Police. Like New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, the sus law was particularly oppressive to black men.
In Brixton on Monday, a square was chosen and the music set up. Black and white people waved banners, and the pubs had to bring in extra beer. Not everyone in Brixton celebrated, of course, but those who did made a whole lot of noise. The media were outraged. There was an even bigger celebration in Glasgow, Scotland. They really hate her up there.
Many Americans who knew her will be here next week, dressed in mourning. They’d better get ready for a shock. Thatcher’s funeral procession through the streets of London may pass by some cheering and partying crowds. Downton Abbey. It’s great TV.