Thursday, May 6, 2021

Meghan racism allegation threatens to tarnish Global Britain brand – POLITICO

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ADDIS ABABA — Global Britain needs friends around the world, so allegations of racism among the royal family could prove damaging to the country’s post-Brexit reboot.

In Africa, where the country is making efforts to forge deeper ties now that it has left the European Union, the revelations from the duke and duchess of Sussex in an interview with Oprah Winfrey have brought to the surface old wounds about Britain’s colonial history.

Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, told Winfrey that there had been “concerns and conversations” from one member of the royal family about her son Archie’s skin color before he was born. The couple said they were disappointed at the lack of “protection” they had received from press attacks on them with strong racial and colonial undertones.

“The British royal family represents the Commonwealth. It stands for very positive things such as unity and equality,” said Winifred Alobo-Agogo, a Nigerian-born British corporate lawyer currently working in Abuja, Nigeria.

“So having a member of their family come up at this time with these sorts of comments could potentially be damaging for how we feel as members of the Commonwealth.”

One former Tory minister said the alleged remarks could have “pretty major long-term ramifications” and that “the position of the constitutional monarchy, the position of the union, the position of the Commonwealth all would be thrown into some jeopardy.”

The palace issued a brief statement Tuesday aimed at deescalating the situation while hinting that there was another side to the story. It acknowledged that the issues raised by the couple, “particularly that of race,” were concerning and would be “addressed by the family privately.” But it added that “recollections may differ” over the incident.

Colonial baggage

For African members of the Commonwealth, the interview was not only a reminder of what many observers feel are outdated attitudes that still exist inside the monarchy, but an indictment of British royalty a few months ahead of the Commonwealth Summit in June in the Rwandan capital Kigali under the theme of “Delivering a Common Future.” Nearly three years ago, Meghan, then the fiancé of Prince Harry, attended the Commonwealth Summit in London, meeting youth leaders from across Africa and other countries that make up the 54-member group.

But for some, the image of a multi-racial royal family has been tarnished by the interview. “My view is that the royal family have been pretty good at hiding racism. Meghan and the prince will continue to face more backlash from the royals,” said Zeeter Oliver, a Nigerian singer based in Abudja. 

So far, politicians and leaders in Africa have steered clear of commenting on the interview. In the Commonwealth more broadly though, Republican campaigners have seized on the remarks. Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the interview should boost his country’s argument to cut ties with the British monarchy. “After the end of the queen’s reign, that is the time for us to say: OK, we’ve passed that watershed,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment on the interview but said it should not have a bearing on his country’s constitutional status. “The answer is not to suddenly toss out all the institutions and start over,” Trudeau said, according to AP.

“I wish all the members of the royal family all the best, but my focus is getting through this pandemic. If people want to later talk about constitutional change and shifting our system of government that’s fine, and they can have those conversations, but right now I’m not having those conversations.”

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said the monarchy “is in no way beneficial to Canadians in terms of their everyday life.”

“And with the systematic racism that we’ve seen, it seems to be in that institution as well,” he added.

Still, there is growing pressure to know which member of the royal family brought up the issue of Archie’s skin color and in what context the issue was mentioned (Winfrey confirmed on Harry’s behalf after the interview that it was not the queen or her husband).

Alobo-Agogo called on the royal family to provide more context. She said, for example, the person could have been speaking out of “positive curiosity” about the tone of the skin color considering the child was going to be mixed race. 

“The dark skin is really beautiful and we have a range of tones and shades: mahogany, chestnut, caramel and cappuccino. These are all beautiful shades of dark skin and everybody is always curious,” she said. “Having said that, however, if it was a case of them being very cautious about having a dark-skinned prince in the 21st century it would be really disappointing.”

Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian-American writer, said that so much in the interview “felt familiar” insofar as Meghan had trusted a system that never wanted her in the first place. “She came in as an outsider and stayed that way. There was no way that she could have ingratiated herself just by the nature of who she was as an American, as an actress, as a divorcee, as someone who’s black or mixed race,” she said.

For her, one of the most shocking revelations from the interview was that the couple and their son had their security protection taken away after their move abroad. By contrast, Prince Andrew, who has stepped back from royal duties over his association with Jeffrey Epstein, the now-deceased billionaire financier who was found guilty of running a sex-trafficking operation involving underage girls, still receives protection.

“If the family protects Andrew for the sake of England, for the sake of family, and yet they attack Harry and Meghan for the sake of England, then I don’t know what England is. What … are trying to protect and keep intact?” she asked.

More broadly, Maaza said Britain still needed to reckon with its colonial history. “It’s not very difficult to speak to someone from Kenya or Nigeria and for them to be able to point out specific family members that they knew or who might still be alive who were impacted by that in negative ways,” she said. “Those are conversations that should be set right next to the royal family.”

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