As the near constant media frenzy over the royal wedding reaching its climax today, the lack of critical discussion becomes all the more astounding. Across the right and the left of the political spectrum, newspaper coverage has been largely indistinguishable: almost universally celebratory, vehemently royalist, and naive in its racial analyses.
Whilst the marriage of a Black mixed-race woman into the royal family has been framed as the ultimate symbol of racial progress, this is a certain and dangerous misnomer. We should not be duped by the pervasive and pernicious myth of the ‘post-racial’: that is, the widespread but wildly misguided belief that race and racism are a thing of the past. We have seen this myth before, and there are certainly lessons to learn.
Obama’s election in 2008 was widely touted as the realisation of racism’s great demise. Liberal white America patted itself on the back, finally able to project the global image it had long since desired – progressive, tolerant, and equal: the home of the American dream. But this was little more than a facade. Under Obama’s watch, that so-called ‘post-racial’ nation was dropping bombs on Black and Brown bodies in Libya, allowing its police to murder unarmed African Americans, and incarcerating Black people at more than five times the rate of whites. Could it have been a backlash against a Black president that gave us Trump?
White supremacy is alive and well. It is woven into the very fabric of our society. It is embedded within our core institutions and enacted upon the everyday lives of racially minoritized people in the UK and globally. Let us therefore not see the royal wedding for anything more than it is: a distraction from the vast racial inequities that pervade contemporary society, a carefully crafted illusion of a ‘post race’ Britain.
Whilst celebrations of the royal wedding grip the nation, let us not forget that just weeks ago the government was under fire for the racist deportations of Windrush generation British citizens. Will those who have been deported, and the communities that continue to live in fear of the Conservative ‘hostile environment’ agenda, feel any benefit of the royal wedding? What about the majority Black and Brown women struggling against the inhumanity of detention in Yarl’s Wood detention centre? What does Meghan’s marriage mean for their situation? Very little, one would imagine. And let us not allow the royal wedding to distract from the fact that 11 months after the Grenfell Tower fire, up to a third of residents have not yet been re-homed, or that Palestinians are being massacred by the Israeli state – a state our government has failed to hold to account too many times.
Whilst the royal wedding is set to cost tens of millions of pounds, earlier this month research for the TUC found that over 4.5 million children in the UK are growing up in poverty. Far from a symbol of equality, the monarchy is a symbol of the disgusting economic inequality that sees huge segments of the population (particularly Black and Brown communities) struggling to survive. To be sure, the abolition of the monarchy – the epitome of inherited wealth and privilege – will be a necessary step if we are ever to truly see a fair and equal society.
Members of the Royal Family seem continually entangled in scandals which many claim display a real racist ignorance. Whether it’s Harry’s remark about his ‘little Paki friend’, his swastika fancy dress, Princess Michael of Kent’s racist brooch, Prince Charles‘ or Prince Phillip‘s infamously insensitive comments on race, the Royal Family have given racially minoritized people little to celebrate. But it’s not just about the personal foibles of a particular family of extraordinary power and privilege. Let us not forget that the monarchy as an institution is deeply tied up with histories of white supremacy. It was in the name of the monarchy that Britain colonised, brutalised, murdered and profited from so much of the world, and particularly the Global South. Even the attempted erasure of that past has not stopped the royals revealing their racist dispositions.
As much of the media coverage has accidentally shown, Markle’s marriage cannot protect even herself from the effects of structural racism. The (patriarchal) notion that marrying a prince can bring an end to one’s individual problems is foolish and patronising. But more crucially still, the notion that this heralds an end to such structural inequalities is deeply offensive, and dependent on a profound misunderstanding of how entrenched those inequalities are – in ours law, in our economic structures, in housing and education, in our foreign policy and beyond. Harry’s match with Meghan Markle may have given white liberal Britain an image that it highly desires, but this is in no way a meaningful step towards racial equity. We must learn from Obama’s legacy and reject ‘post-racial’ mythology. We cannot afford to let the illusion of progress stunt our fight for racial equity.