People Are Telling the Queen to “Rest in Power.” Let’s Not Do That.

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On September 8, Queen Elizabeth II passed away. Since then, there has been a global outpouring of grief as Brits mourn the death of their longest reigning monarch. 

However, I hope that in this time of grief, we can also take a moment to self-reflect. Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people and publications using the term “rest in power” in lieu of the traditional “rest in peace” to memorialize the queen. Most notably, E! News used the term to eulogize the 96-year-old monarch in a now deleted tweet that read: “The end of a royal era. Rest in power Queen Elizabeth II.” 

And they got criticized. Heavily. Hundreds of Twitter users called out the online magazine’s tone-deaf wording, noting that the turn of phrase is associated with racial and social justice movements and that it’s not really appropriate in this context. At first glance, what E! News did may not seem like a big deal. The queen was, after all, a symbol of power for an entire nation. But it’s worth digging into the history of the saying to understand why readers objected.

Finding the exact origins of a phrase can be tricky. But according to etymologist Barry Popik, the term “rest in power” was originally coined in the early 2000s, after the death of Bay-area graffiti artist and community activist Mike “Dream” Francisco. According to Popik’s findings, it was first used in a newsgroup honoring the artist’s legacy after he was tragically shot and killed during an armed robbery. Francisco himself was Filipino, but “rest in power” has since taken root within Black culture.

In 2005, the phrase appeared in a number of California publications memorializing young victims of violence. It spread more widely on the internet in the early 2010s and was used to honor the deaths hip-hop artists and Black musicians. However, it really gained traction in 2014 after the death of Mike Brown. The unarmed 18-year-old was killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, kickstarting waves of protests demanding racial justice and police accountability across the country.

In the same year, the phrase was also used to eulogize Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl who died by suicide. As movements like Black Lives Matter gained increasing momentum, the term was used more and more to memorialize those who’d lost their lives to systemic violence and to honor powerful and influential people in marginalized communities. 

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