In the aftermath of the royal family’s saga – Meghan Markle revealing her suicidal thoughts, Prince Harry standing with his wife, and a baby whose skin colour was to raise eyebrows – we are made to reflect on the question of race and racism.
Of a thousand conversations that have dominated the media, race continues to be a major contender right next to economic hardship and recovery. The pandemic hasn’t helped us set aside this monster, as some would have hoped it would. Again, humanity and the lines created by skin colour come to bear when we think of a mother, a wife, her child and the royal family of the United Kingdom.
Is race really that important?
“People felt a silence around racism in the Royal Family was being broken…This is a deeply white institution…so for someone who has actually gone into the heart of whiteness as it were, and comes out with a story to tell, and the story doesn’t surprise you—I think people will feel vindicated about something that they always suspected, but couldn’t really, in a sense, prove.” – Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire.
Meghan and Harry, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said a royal family member expressed concern about how dark baby Archie’s skin color might be. There are several attempts to think of our world in its ideal state, and in all these attempts, racial segregation will continue to play a significant role in the chasm between communities, people and society.
For a lot of Africans, racial conversations are a constant backdrop to issues of economic inequality, corruption, political instability and almost every challenge that diminishes quality of life. The British monarchy happens to be an emblem of a torturous journey to “civilization” which rode on the back of the segregation and exploitation of black people.
“We have existed in Britain and been pioneers, inventors, icons. And then colonialism happened, and that has shaped the experiences of black people – but that is not all we are.” – Lavinya Stennett, founder of The Black Curriculum. In his BBC article, Kameron Virk explores a long history of black people who have been a part of the British empire and even the royal family.
The suggestions by some thoughts that it is strange for a black person to be connected to the royal family is a product of imperialist ideals. Since a child is unable to choose which skin they come out in, it’s the greatest injustice to determine their significance based on that fact. However, in the words of Michelle Obama responding to the racist comments about Meghan’s baby, “Race isn’t a new construct in this world for people of color, so it wasn’t a complete surprise to hear her feelings and to have them articulated.”
More importantly, we are faced with the reality that blackness will always be scrutinized. What does it mean to be black? What tone of blackness is truly black? What does heritage have to do with racial identity? More importantly? How should Meghan’s child identify?
Going a little further on the significance of this comment about the royal baby’s skin colour, we must realize how far-reaching this revelation by Meghan and Harry is about the racial discrimination in the British monarchy. In South Africa, the ownership of large chunks of economic resources by a minority population is blamed on racial injustice. Nigeria has a long history of colonialism and still struggles under the influence of neocolonialism. Jerry Rawlings at the 2019 World Summit asked, “How do we engender peace and security when some of the very forces that seek to impose their moral compass on us are no apostles of international political morality?” The words of the former President of Ghana try to address the continuous subterfuge and domination of African and black people simply as a result of who they are by skin colour.
That we will continue to have these conversations, and similar ones in times to come is sure. There will be reasons to question the way our societies are formed and driven for some and against others. Why humanity is a question answered by how much melanin you have in your skin, will lead us closer to a resolution of quite a number of the ills of the world we live in.
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