Sun | Jul 25, 2021

Carolyn Cooper | British monarchy a royal pain

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2021 | 12:30 AM

Oprah Winfrey’s classic interview of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, seems to have definitively confirmed the pathological nature of the British monarchy. Racism appears to be genetic. It does look as if the royals have inherited an incontestable entitlement to the perceived privileges of whiteness. And this has been reinforced by centuries of social conditioning.

The disclosure that a member of the royal family asked a malicious question about the likely skin colour of Harry and Meghan’s unborn child provoked an incredulous “What?” from Oprah. I suppose she was surprised only because the question was asked out loud. Oprah must have known that Meghan’s mixed-race identity was an issue for the royal family long before she became pregnant.

On March 9, USA Today published an article by Kim Hjelmgaard with this headline: ‘Black Britons never trusted the royal family. Meghan and Harry’s interview made that easier’. Professor Kehinde Andrews, an activist scholar in Black Studies at Birmingham City University, in England, was quoted: “The British royal family is probably the premier symbol of white supremacy in the world. It is deeply linked to colonial violence through the British Empire, which was responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths. It has a mystique that is completely distorted.”

DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS

The aura of reverence surrounding the British monarchy is legitimised in the political and religious doctrine of the divine right of kings and queens. And this belief is validated in the British national anthem, which is a shameless appeal to God to perpetuate the monarchy:

“God save the Queen!

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us”

I can’t think of another anthem in which there is absolutely no vision of the nation united for the advancement of all. The identity of Britain is defined exclusively in terms of paying homage to royalty.

On ceremonial occasions, it’s only the first verse of the anthem that is sung. Perhaps, this is an act of discretion to avoid revolt. The second verse seems to focus on divinely ordained material benefits: “Thy choicest gifts in store/On her be pleased to pour”. Though gifts are not always financial, the Queen of England has certainly been blessed with much wealth poured on her, presumably from God above.

Actually, the queen’s portfolio “spans everything from art and diamonds to wind farms and horses”, according to a May 2020 news story published in the Evening Standard. It reveals that, Forbes estimates the British monarchy is worth around $88 billion (roughly £72.5 billion). The Sunday Times Rich List reports that Queen Elizabeth is estimated to be personally worth £350 million.”

GUILTY WITH EXPLANATION

Confident in her God-given right to rule lesser mortals, the Queen issued a remarkable response to Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan. The unofficial motto of the British monarchy is “Never complain, never explain”. But Harry and Meghan had complained about racism. And the Queen was forced to explain. Her statement reminds me of the familiar Jamaican legal defence, “Guilty with explanation”:

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”

This rather brief explanation is not convincing. Was the interview really the first time the whole family learned about the challenges Harry and Meghan faced? Hardly likely! Did only some of the family know? And was the issue “the full extent”? Meghan and Harry’s repeated complaints against the invasive media should have been a big clue. The most disturbing revelation in the interview was Harry’s fear that history could repeat itself. His wife seemed to be destined for the same fate as his mother: alienated from the royal family and hounded to death by the relentless media.

The relationship between the monarchy and the tabloid press is truly scandalous. The monarchy depends on the press to create the illusion that the institution is relevant in a supposedly democratic society. And the sensational press needs royal scandal to sell papers and keep readers entertained. This contract between the press and the monarchy often requires sacrificial victims. Meghan and Harry were not prepared to give up the ghost. So they revolted. The decision of the Sussexes in 2020 to resign from the job of working royal should have been another unmistakable clue that they were suffering through terrible times.

MORE CONCERNING ISSUES

The choice of the word ‘concerning’, in response to the charge of racism, is revealing. The use of concerning as an adjective is relatively informal, as the Queen ought to know. After all, it is her English that’s the gold standard of the language. Furthermore, in its ‘Notes On Usage’, the Merriam Webster online dictionary highlights “the word’s softer and less threatening connotation in contrast with analogous words like alarming, troubling, and distressing. When an issue is said to be ‘concerning’, it’s worrisome but the notion of an alarm calling for immediate action doesn’t usually come to mind”.

The Queen’s claim that “recollections may vary” suggests that Harry and Meghan’s word cannot be trusted. And addressing the issue of racism privately does not require a public admission of responsibility. Sure, Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be loved. But what does that actually mean? The Queen’s language betrays the fact that the monarchy does not intend to do anything about its racist image beyond issuing a cunning statement. And keeping a stiff upper lip!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.