British royals cannot proceed to disregard colonialist previous and racist current, amid Harry-Meghan’s claims in Oprah interview
Harry famous that the press assaults on his spouse had “colonial undertones”, which the royal household refused to handle. These are a part of an extended historical past of colonialism and racism wherein the Windsors are entangled.
By Benjamin T Jones
Essentially the most explosive factor of the Sussexes’ extremely anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey was the declare that somebody throughout the royal family had “considerations” over how dark-skinned the couple’s son Archie could be.
Whereas Winfrey later clarified neither the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh had been behind the comment, Meghan additionally advised their son was denied the title of prince due to his blended race.
The interview factors to a bigger subject of racism within the British monarchy, each up to date and historic.
When the couple started courting, some hoped it could usher in a interval of royal renewal. Meghan, who has an African-American mom and a white father, was offered as an emblem of the fashionable, inclusive monarchy. These hopes had been progressively dashed with persistently unfavorable media protection, together with unfavourable comparisons with Meghan’s sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Meghan revealed to Winfrey that the strain to carry out official duties within the face of mounting criticism led to despair and suicidal ideas. The couple lamented the shortage of assist they obtained from the royal household.
It’s a tragic story at a person degree but it surely additionally factors to a historical past of structural racism throughout the monarchy. Harry famous that the press assaults on his spouse had “colonial undertones”, which the royal household refused to handle. These are a part of an extended historical past of colonialism and racism wherein the Windsors are entangled.
The slave commerce
The Queen’s distant ancestor, Elizabeth I, was integral to establishing the British slave commerce. One of many founders of the commerce within the sixteenth century, Sir John Hawkins, impressed Elizabeth by capturing 300 Africans. His biographer Harry Kelsey calls him “Queen Elizabeth’s Slave Dealer” and notes that she contributed her ship, Jesus of Lubeck to his subsequent voyage in 1564.
In 2018, Prince Charles denounced Britain’s function within the slave commerce as an “atrocity” however there have been requires the Queen additionally to apologise on behalf of the monarchy.
Republican campaigner Graham Smith has led the cost noting that the present royals “are sitting on a vastly important quantity which was acquired from slavery and empire”.
A colonial mindset
The British empire contracted after the World Wars and ultimately dissolved in Sixties. Nonetheless, a colonial mindset has endured. This has been repeatedly demonstrated by the informal racism of Prince Philip. Visiting Australia in 2002, he requested an Aboriginal Australian in the event that they had been “nonetheless throwing spears”.
In 1999, he mused that an old school fuse field should have been “put in by an Indian”. In 1986, he warned British college students in China that they might develop into “slitty-eyed” in the event that they stayed too lengthy. Australia, China, and India, are simply three of dozens of nations touched by British colonisation.
Whereas the Prince’s feedback — and lots of others — are sometimes dismissed as “gaffes” or poor jokes, they tie right into a tradition conflict, suggesting colonialism was finally a internet good and Britain was spreading civilisation all through the world.
Journalist Peter Tatchell has argued that the establishment of monarchy is itself inherently racist as there have solely been, and certain will solely ever be, white monarchs. He notes,
A non-white particular person is […] excluded from holding the title of head of state, a minimum of for the foreseeable future. That is institutional racism.
Whereas this might change, after all, the remedy of Meghan and the alleged considerations over her son’s pores and skin color counsel the privileging of whiteness is deeply ingrained.
Being seventh in line to the throne, there was by no means a practical probability Archie would develop into king. The notion that his mere proximity to the throne has sparked considerations, and the failure to defend Meghan from racist assaults, once more factors to a structural subject.
The wedding of Harry and Meghan in 2018 by charismatic African-American Bishop Michael Curry, serenaded by a gospel choir, was a public relations coup for the royals. The Sussexes’ exit from royal life after such a brief interval, and the explanation why, is extremely damaging.
The monarchy has remained largely silent on the historical past of racism in Britain and the way the royal household has benefited from racism and colonialism.
After the loss of life of George Floyd sparked the Black Lives Matter motion, 1000’s throughout Britain had been fast to indicate their assist and solidarity. So strongly did the motion resonate, in 2020 the English Premier League had the phrases Black Lives Matter printed on gamers’ shirts, opening matches with gamers taking a symbolic knee.
The royal household stated nothing. By protocol, the monarchy doesn’t touch upon political points however its function is to supply ethical management. With out explicitly endorsing Black Lives Matter, the Windsors might have contributed to the zeitgeist by providing statements condemning all types of racism and visibly championing anti-racism charities.
As a society, Britain is having a tough nationwide dialog about its imperial previous. Statues of slave house owners are being torn down and makes an attempt to decolonise the curriculum are gathering tempo.
If the royal household is just not in a position to make related makes an attempt to confront the racism in its previous and current, it dangers falling ever additional out of contact with the individuals it’s purported to symbolize.
Benjamin T Jones is Lecturer in Historical past, CQUniversity Australia
This text is republished from The Dialog beneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.
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