Back already early February this year, the British media wrote about how the previous six months had been a PR disaster for the British Royal Family.

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Then as Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the “friendship, a spirit of unity and achievements” of the Commonwealth on March 8, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah aired in the U.K. that same evening pointing to the racism Meghan experienced within the institution. Among the revelations were the couple’s descriptions of their treatment by the British tabloid press, the lack of support from “The Firm” to counter racist media narratives, and purported concerns from a royal family member over the color of their son Archie’s skin before he was born. But there were many for whom all of this was hardly surprising.

Many in Britain hailed the couple's wedding in 2018 as a watershed event to represent people of color at the heart of the country's establishment, but others had mixed sentiments or cynicism. Many Black people in the United Kingdom didn't feel connected to Meghan at the time, not only because she is American but also because of the benefits she carried with her to the palace as a wealthy, light-skinned biracial woman be marrying into the Royal Family.

However, following Meghan's increasingly unfavorable coverage following the wedding, which included racist headlines that fueled even more racist comments online, more Black people began to identify with her due to those shared experiences. The interview's allegations about "concerns" about Archie's skin tone, as well as the institution's lack of support for both the media hounding and security detail, echoed the experiences of many Black people in the United Kingdom who don't receive institutional support across the board, whether in the workplace or the palace.

Meghan, the family’s first mixed-race member, said she had had suicidal thoughts during her time in the royal family and alleged that a family member had expressed concern about her child’s skin color.

The fallout was huge. But reactions were largely split between people who saw it as a sign of institutional racism in the monarchy and those who thought the couple had made the whole thing up. After all, there was no hard evidence to back up the claim.

However, on 2 June, Britain's Guardian newspaper  unearthed documents buried in the UK national archives, which revealed that the Queen's courtiers had banned ethnic minority immigrants and foreigners from holding clerical positions at Buckingham Palace until at least the late 1960s.

According to the report, the Queen's chief financial manager told civil servants in 1968 that "it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint colored immigrants or foreigners" to clerical roles. Still, they were allowed to be hired as domestic servants. The investigation also revealed that decades ago, the palace used a parliamentary procedure known as "Queen's consent" to obtain an exemption from UK legislation to prevent discrimination in the workplace, including hiring people based on their ethnicity. The Queen is still exempt from those laws today, the Guardian reported.

"The Royal Household and the Sovereign comply with the provisions of the Equality Act, in principle and practice," the palace told CNN in its statement. "This is reflected in the diversity, inclusion, and dignity at work policies, procedures, and practices within the Royal Household." However, what is missing from these statements is any apology for past racist policies or insight into the royal family's steps to take to right those wrongs.

This silence from the Queen's inner circle will not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the behavior of the palace. Queen Elizabeth is a very traditional monarch who rarely makes public statements. She is of a generation that believed remaining silent on almost all issues was the best way of preserving the dignity of the crown.

This strategy has largely served the monarch well during her 69-year stint on the throne. However, its success is partly due to the Queen enjoying enormous popularity among the British public, many of whom accept that she is a woman of a different generation and don't expect her to change. But the palace reaction will be disappointing to the growing chorus of people calling for change at a time of racial reckoning in the UK and globally. And for the younger generations of royals, the Queen's decades of silence could make their lives harder when the time comes for the crown to be passed on.

Some of the younger royals have spent the past decade-plus being public figures, speaking out on issues such as mental health, climate change, and equality. This has largely been supported by younger British citizens who have not grown up in the same deferential culture as their parents and grandparents.

Now, it will be more difficult for younger royals to square their public image of enlightenment with the failure to condemn their family's institutionally racist hiring policy in the past. Likewise, it will be tough for Prince William, second in line, who said publicly in response to Harry and Meghan's racism allegations that the royals were "very much not a racist family."

All of this matters because of the unwritten contract that exists between the monarchy and its subjects. The royal family can only be guaranteed its existence if the public supports it. In the Oprah Winfrey interview, Harry revealed how "scared" members of his family are "of the tabloids turning on them." While the prince might have overestimated the influence that newspapers have over the public, his view of the importance of public relations to his family is correct.

The point at which this all becomes dangerous for the royals is when the public demands greater transparency and accountability, but the palace digs its heels in. Unlike the claims of racism and neglect made by Harry and Meghan, these employment practices are provable. However, they do not paint the current monarch in a favorable light, and it's also worth noting that these policies existed during the lifetime of the first in line to the throne, Prince Charles, who is supposedly a more modern royal than his mother.

Worse for the monarchy, there is a chance it could give those on the fence about the Sussexes' contemporary allegation pause for thought. Suppose current senior royals were able to turn a blind eye to racist policies. These debates are not about rational thinking or evidence. Instead, people will probably put it into the context of its history and of its time, Andrews told CNN. "The royal family has a terrible record on race, but no incident has radically changed thinking before, so why would it now?

As stated in an event hosting Kehinde Andrews, author of The New Age of Empire: Colonialism and imperialism are often thought to be distant memories, whether they're glorified in Britain's collective nostalgia or taught as a sin history classes. This idea is bolstered by the emergence of India, China, Argentina, and other non-western nations as leading world powers. In addition, multiculturalism, immigration, and globalization have led traditionalists to fear that the west is in decline and that white people are rapidly being left behind; progressives and reactionaries alike espouse the belief that we live in a post-racial society.

 

Queen Victoria's curse?

Historians believe that Queen Victoria's public image of her family is primarily responsible for today's monarchy and public perception of the Royal Family. However, her reign was also imperial; by the time she abdicated the throne in 1901, the British Empire had expanded to include almost 20% of the Earth's area, and the "Queen Empress" ruled over 25% of the world's people. According to historians, the first royal tours across the Empire took place during Victoria's reign, when her sons were dispatched to visit the empire's territories to "create a rapport between the monarchy and the regular people across the Empire." Visits to Commonwealth countries have continued to this day, including the Australia and Africa trips mentioned by Harry and Meghan in their interview with Oprah.

The notion of the Commonwealth was codified in 1926 when the leaders of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, the Irish Free State, and Newfoundland signed the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference. As former colonies in Asia and Africa battled for independence from an Empire that had long enslaved them as part of an established racist hierarchy, the Commonwealth grew to embrace this postcolonial network of nations throughout the course of the twentieth century. The Commonwealth is now an international organization with 54 member countries and a population of 2.4 billion people, led by the Queen, and seeking to promote "development, democracy, and peace."

If we look back in time, we can see how the royals have a complicated connection with people of color because, during their journeys to the Commonwealth in recent decades, the monarchy has felt most popular and loved. Despite the British Empire's turbulent and white racist history, the Queen is mainly a revered figure across the Commonwealth and enjoys high popularity ratings within the United Kingdom. Meghan only admired the monarch in the interview. As a biracial woman, Meghan also mentioned the role she would have wished to continue performing as a working royal, showcasing the Commonwealth's diversity and its people of color. 

However, some scholars and pundits have criticized the Commonwealth, calling it useless, "Empire 2.0," or simply serving the interests of elites inside its member countries according to Prime Minister Mia Mottley; for example, According to Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Barbados stated last year that it would remove the Queen as its head of state to "completely leave our colonial past behind," according to Prime Minister Mia Mottley Some see the Commonwealth as an example of changing the name to change the brand, with the brand being the British Empire and the monarch at its helm. “We still have Asian and African countries that are largely impoverished, with few if any reparations from slavery or colonialism, and no awareness of the harm that enslavement and colonialism caused,” Gopal says. “It's time to evaluate exactly what the Commonwealth represents, and I would add that this applies to Harry and Meghan as well since they've portrayed the Commonwealth as if it were some innocent institution, which it isn't.”

In terms of the power systems that govern global inequity, nothing has actually changed. What has changed is how racism is perpetuated. It's not like it was back when Elizabeth I was launching slave ships when it was all really violent. And, in some ways, this more subtle racism connects back to Meghan's experience as a member of the monarchy's institution. From beginning to end, the whole event is a wonderful example of how racism is concealed. This is most likely the first time the monarchy has been publicly chastised on the issue of racism. When you consider what it is, where it gained its wealth, its history, and its heritage, it makes sense.”

Many in Britain hailed the couple's wedding in 2018 as a watershed event to represent people of color at the heart of the country's establishment, but others had mixed sentiments or cynicism. Many Black people in the United Kingdom didn't feel connected to Meghan at the time, not only because she is American but also because of the benefits she carried with her to the palace as a wealthy, light-skinned biracial woman be marrying into the Royal Family.

However, following Meghan's increasingly unfavorable coverage following the wedding, which included racist headlines that fueled even more racist comments online, more Black people began to identify with her due to those shared experiences. The interview's allegations about "concerns" about Archie's skin tone, as well as the institution's lack of support for both the media hounding and security detail, echoed the experiences of many Black people in the United Kingdom who don't receive institutional support across the board, whether in the workplace or the palace.

The image of being an outsider, alone and alone, and the detrimental implications on one's mental health, has made her a very sympathetic figure. She's an excellent illustration of modern-day racism, in which no one calls you the N-word, but you have to argue that [microaggressions] are racist.

The case has also resonated with individuals because it demonstrates how pervasive racism can be, at the family, social, and institutional levels. In this situation, all three of them are in play. The monarchy, in the end, is an institution that is inextricably linked to the notion of blood and bloodlines. The race is a boil that has been pricked open, as well. This isn't about whichever family member it was or their personal racism, we're talking about a system that is fundamentally entwined with Empire and white supremacy.

Most recently, Magdalen College Middle Common Room (MCR) members deemed the image a symbol of "recent colonial history. "Education Secretary Gavin Williamson branded the move as "simply absurd" However, the president of Magdalen said the decision was one for the students, not the college. 

According to the minutes of Monday's MCR committee meeting, the motion was tabled to make the common room more welcoming and to recognize that "for some students, depictions of the monarch and the British monarchy represent recent colonial history. "The vote ended with 10 in favor of removing the portrait, two against, and five abstentions.

Some of the latter attitude of the student might also indirectly have to do with the anti-racism protests in June 2020 when (among others) the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and a year later went on public display in Bristol.

And while the toppling looked aggressive there was a history behind it were before 1620, just after Raleigh’s execution, there were more Englishmen in North Africa than North America.1

The forced migration of African captives relied upon three complex, intertwined systems that married the interests of European and American investors, traders, and planters with those of African merchants and leaders with investors in such as in the port city of Bristol.

As the long sixteenth century was lurching to a close, London (while competing with Madrid) was at a crossroads: bright new horizons replete with colonial and enslaving booty beckoned.

 

1. Daniel Vitkus, ed., Piracy, Slavery and Redemption: Barbary Captive Narratives from Early Modern England (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 2.

 

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