The Royal Racism

“All they had to do was stand by (Meghan) publicly and they would’ve changed the world,” claimed Mofiyin Onanuga, Girl Up London Co-President, and gender equality activist. While a new call for racial equity has caused international outcry against discrimination, the British royal family has refused to speak out against racism. Even when a member of their own family was at risk of losing her life to suicide after ruthless racist persecution, the family refused to speak openly about anti-racism. This only goes to show the institutional and blatant racism that comes into play in institutions of power such as the British monarchy. 

The monarchy began in 1066, making it nearly 1000 years old. In 1558, Elizabeth I took the crown and with it, began the long history of British racism. While some might consider Elizabethan England the “Golden Age” (1558-1603) of Britain, this was also when the monarch herself funded slave dealer John Hawkins’ first voyage to Africa, where he captured 300 natives and traded them for ginger and sugar. While this was normal in the Elizabethan time period, this is not normal or acceptable today. Hence, Elizabeth II’s silence about her family’s connections to slavery speaks volumes of the values the modern crown upholds. And although there isn’t a legal obligation for old institutions of power to apologize for past barbarity, there is a clear moral one. The monarchy in Belgium, for instance, expressed “profound regret” for the wounds of the colonial past and the “acts of violence and cruelty that were committed,” they committed in the Congo. Hence, although the current Belgian monarchy cannot change the past, they can acknowledge the hurt they caused, and the cycles of poverty, racism, and violence they began. Additionally, while speaking out about Black Lives Matter could be considered political, something royals cannot talk about, they could address antiracism through their various charities. The family’s refusal to get involved in antiracism work, or even acknowledge their role in an unequal world hints at the racism ingrained in the monarchy’s DNA. However, the public racist statements made by the late Duke of Edinburgh highlight this prejudice. 

Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Phillip, was expected to ensure the safety of all of Great Britain’s population to the best of his ability, including the 15% non-white citizens. This didn’t hold him back, however, from making public racist declarations. From saying that British students in China could become “slitty-eyed” if they stayed much longer in the country, to saying that a messy fuse box looked “as though it was put in by an Indian” while on a diplomatic trip to Scotland. According to Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University Professor, “Prince Phillip to European aristocracy is what Donald Trump is to American liberal democracy: an embarrassment- to the men who flaunt the ugly truth from under the thin veneer of the bourgeois etiquette.” Prince Phillip represents the racism that the monarchy, in light of the 21st century, has hidden. Nonetheless, such ideals are ingrained in their very existence. And while the BBC has addressed the Duke of Edinburgh’s racism by highlighting the comments as “gaffes from decades on royal duty,” or simple “unintentional and unfortunate remarks causing embarrassment,” these statements are certainly not unintentional, but rather slip-ups that showed the underlying thought processes of the monarchy; the cracks that exposed what was underneath. From lack of action and public apologies to explicit racist remarks and a past intertwined with slave dealers, should this family be idealized? And what does this have to do with us Colombians?  

1.9 billion people watched Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding on May 19th, 2018. In contrast, more than 49.1 million people watched the couple’s interview with Oprah. In the now-famous interview, Meghan and Harry claimed that “concerns” were raised by the family about their firstborn’s skin color, with Meghan being biracial. “For that to even be a question just shows this fear of what? Of him (Archie, Meghan and Harry’s firstborn) being the color of those you look down upon?” asked Onanuga. On a similar note, Meghan expressed her heartbreak at the family’s lack of action when she came forward with suicidal thoughts. This is especially hypocritical given the family’s funding of Heads Together, “which combines a campaign to tackle stigma and change the conversation on mental health.”  This messaging should be especially worrisome because, in a survey conducted in The Columbus School in April 2021, 75.4% of the students who took the survey stated that they knew about the interview and claimed they kept up-to-date with the monarchy’s affairs. 55.4% of them said that they believed the monarchy is influential in our society. It is problematic that this idealized and admired family refuses to acknowledge their inherent racism, and condemn that perpetrated by their institution and individuals. 

There is no doubt about the white supremacy that these kinds of institutions epitomize, and the racist history they represent. Although the monarchy being abolished is up for discussion, its members should certainly reexamine the messaging they’re representing, and address the hurt they’ve caused, both in Elizabethan times and today. “If they can’t support their family, why are they going to support me, a woman of color they’ve never met before?” Onanuga questioned.