The Deep Roots of Discrimination

Colonialism was inherently exploitative but the British and other European powers projected it as an altruist undertaking for the good of the colonised people.
The Deep Roots of Discrimination

In 1936 an American woman, Wallis Simpson, caused turmoil in the British monarchy. She was a divorcee and married to a second husband but Edward VIII, King of England, wanted to marry her after she divorced her second husband. That pushed the House of Windsor, the country and the empire into a crisis for Wallis Simpson was considered unfit to be Queen. Edward VIII chose love over the crown and abdicated. Now, eighty-five years later, another American woman, Meghan Markle, wife of Prince Harry, second son of Crown Prince Charles, has caused turmoil in the royal family and generated world-wide controversy.

Meghan, is a person of colour, through her mother—her father is a white man. She was an actress and a divorcee. But times change and the Queen permitted Harry to marry Meghan in May 2018. Thereafter, she moved to England and gave up her acting career. A son, Archie, was born to the couple a year later. In March 2020 the couple decided to move away from the royal family and gave up their official duties and live like commoners. They left Britain and now live in the United States. Meghan indirectly alleges that the couple was hounded because of her background; hence this decision.

On March 7 Meghan and Harry gave a long and explosive televised interview to the famous US TV personality Oprah Winfrey about their life in the royal family. What they revealed has greatly damaged the family in many ways as well as the British monarchical institution. Both emerge as insensitive and simply uncaring. But these aspects about them have not been a secret. What is shocking is that an unnamed royal family member comes through as racist. Meghan and Harry have clarified that this person is neither the Queen nor Prince Phillip. It is being speculated that it could be either the Crown Prince or Harry's elder brother, Prince William.

Before Archie's birth the unnamed member of the royal family had "concerns and conversations of how dark" his "skin may be when he was born". He conveyed this to Harry. This disclosure has naturally raised a storm. It is completely inappropriate and shows, the unnamed member of the royal family, is a biased bigot. The monarchy does not, as almost a rule, respond to controversial statements relating to the members of the royal family. On this occasion it was compelled to shed its reticence. It issued a statement conceding that the issue of race was particularly "concerning" and "will be addressed by the family privately".                However, indirectly it sought to give the side of the story of the unnamed royal family member when it stated "Whilst some recollections may vary"; this caveat certainly seeks to give the impression that Harry and Meghan may be carrying a misunderstanding.

Racism is a very sensitive issue and the monarchy is a public institution. Hence, while the royal family may want this issue to be "addressed by the family privately" should it do so? This is certainly relevant because of the speculation of the identity of the unnamed member for Britain and the Commonwealth. It is also so because the grouping has decided that Queen Elizabeth's successor will also be its head. The monarchy and the British government have to be aware that the age of colonialism is long gone along with its inherent racist attitudes which were unhesitatingly and publicly proclaimed.

Colonialism was inherently exploitative but the British and other European powers projected it as an altruist undertaking for the good of the colonised people. Indeed, they went further to claim that it involved great sacrifice by the colonisers for it was that the white man's burden to civilise colonised peoples who were 'without the law'. Since the colonisers were white and the colonised people of colour, they developed elaborate social and medical theories to prove the biological superiority of the white man which was the basis of his superior culture and civilisation.

These theories of inherent biological racial superiority of the white man were completely scientifically flawed and flew in the face of the evidence of the history of the human race but they led, among other reasons, to the growth of prejudice against coloured peoples in white societies and polities. These prejudices went to the extent of their dehumanisation. Ironically, but perhaps an inevitable consequence the view of white superiority did not remain confined to white vs coloured but led to notions of which white races were truly white and which not so. This was taken to the extreme by the Nazis and was one of the theories behind all the horrors they perpetrated.

The advance of science in the twentieth century demolished the theories of racial superiority. This also coincided with the growth of nationalism among the colonised peoples. After the end of the Second World War in 1945 colonialism was in retreat and with its demise by the beginning of the 1970s it became impossible for white people to publicly justify racism. By this time institutional racism in the US which was based on the pernicious doctrine of 'separate but equal' had also been abandoned. The only hold out was South Africa which persisted with apartheid till the early 1990s.

Clearly, while publicly racism is denounced, attitudes have not entirely changed. The Archie incident profiles this. Attitudinal changes have to begin with persons in positions of power and influence. It is therefore essential that the racist member of the royal family is outed and publicly admonished if not shunned.

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