The Duke of Cambridge delivered a powerful speech this week, but even the future king cannot ignore the ghosts of the past.
In retrospect, a white suit was not a good idea.
On Tuesday this week, William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, got back to business helping to unveil the new national monument at London Waterloo Station.
So what did the duchess choose for this occasion, having recently shown a cheerful penchant for business attire? A vibrant two-piece ensemble from Alexander McQueen that was dazzling white.
Then one online publication quickly appeared with a dizzying headline: “Kate Middleton Looks Business Chic in White Suit to Celebrate Windrush Day.”
The problem here is that a) the term “white power” is clearly a very problematic term, and its use only gets worse when you realize that b) Windrush Day celebrates the thousands of people from the Caribbean who migrated to the UK after the World War. II and were sometimes horribly treated by the British government.
The thing about Kate’s costume is that it symbolized one unpleasant thing: the couple has a problem with racism.
Before anyone starts screaming, let me be very clear: I am not accusing the Duke and Duchess of being racist, of holding any racist beliefs, or of knowingly doing something that would bring them the praise of the maga crowd.
However, when it comes to anything remotely related to skin color and prejudice, the Cambridges are at sea.
The specter of racism has hung over the entire House of Windsor since last March, when Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, appeared on the world’s television screens to denounce their treatment at the palace.
The Duchess said that when she was pregnant with her son Archie, there was “anxiety and talk about how dark his skin might be when he was born.” She also told Winfrey about her unborn child: “They didn’t want him to be a prince or a princess. He wasn’t going to get protection.”
In the meantime, Harry revealed that “more than 70 female MPs, both Conservative and Labor, spoke out and called out the colonial overtones of articles and headlines written about Meghan.”
“But no one in my family ever said anything. It hurts,” he said.
Buckingham Palace’s reaction to the interviews and their claims was deathly silence for almost two days before releasing a silent statement saying that “the issues raised, especially racial ones, are disturbing”, however “memories may vary”.
The only HRH who actually publicly commented on the stinging allegations was William, who unexpectedly told reporters later that week, “We are not a racist family at all.”
In the 15 months since then, not a single senior Windsor has spoken a word about it.
The royal strategy seemed to be to treat the situation like a bear attack; lie still and hope the danger passes. But as much as the Palace could have hoped that the world would move on and simply forget the Sussexes’ claims of racism, this is clearly not the case.
In a post-Orrah poll, ethnic minority Brits said they thought the royal family was racist by a margin of 43 percent, as opposed to 27 percent who disagreed.
Meanwhile, according to a study conducted in June this year, almost equal shares of 18-24-year-olds believe that the UK should become a republic.
The fact is that the comments of the Sussexes were not made from scratch, but against the racial reckoning of the Black Lives Matter movement, which loudly reached British shores. The statues have been toppled, and in the 69 months since then, tributes to slave traders and colonizers in the UK have either been removed or changed.
Against this background, it would be a serious mistake if William and Kate continued to turn a blind eye to the fact that, thanks to the Sussexes, the royal family has become synonymous with bigotry for many.
Again, I’m not saying they’re racist, but now that the charges have been made, they can’t just hope they magically disappear on their own.
The longer someone with HRH fails to adequately and meaningfully respond to the Sussexes’ claims, the worse they all look.
Moreover, how can William or Kate morally or intellectually try to portray themselves as egalitarians when the family and organization they represent are accused of modern racism?
How can they hope for credibility on this issue when Meghan’s statements are still at the center of the public consciousness?
Obviously, there is a much more serious situation here.
Even if the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had not uttered a single provocative word, centuries of colonial rule presided over by British kings and queens can hardly be swept under the rug or politely ignored.
Over three million men, women and children have been abducted and sent to the Caribbean. Between the 1660s and 1680s, the British in Barbados instituted a Slave Code which defined slaves as non-humans who, according to the UN, were “pagans” and “animals” not fit to be subject to the same laws as Christians.”
This is about the same time, namely 1689, when William III, who owned half of the Royal African Company and made huge profits from the slave trade, bought a modest “cottage” and converted it into Kensington Palace.
This, of course, is exactly where the Cambridge family currently lives.
Or take the Imperial Crown, which Kate might wear when she becomes queen, and which is adorned with a 186-carat Koh-I-Noor diamond.
There is no object that better illustrates what has been called the British Empire’s “state-sponsored theft” campaign. Both the Pakistani and Indian governments have repeatedly requested the return of the jewel.
In 2020, campaigners called for a redesign of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, one of the highest royal orders, as the image on the gong depicts a white angel with its foot on the head of a black angel.
None of these – the palace, the diamond or the honor – are things created by the current members of the royal family, but for which they are still responsible, at least speaking of the more problematic aspects of the monarchy’s past.
They can’t all pretend that echoes of colonialism and racism are still not woven into parts of royal life.
I can predict the arguments many people will make at this point: it’s impossible to prove that you’re not a racist or that the empire has long since collapsed; it’s not that the Cambridges themselves subjugated millions by plundering assets. Why do the duke and duchess have to pay for the sins of their ancestors?
However, if William and Kate want the monarchy to become a meaningful and useful institution in British public life, that is, to survive, then they cannot pretend that the previous heads of the same body did not benefit enormously from the mistreatment and suffering of people. colors.
Stubborn silence is not an option here.
Obviously they cannot change the past, but they can more openly acknowledge it.
Similarly, Harry and Meghan’s accusations. I’m not suggesting a war of words between the two, but the royal family still needs some sort of substantive response.
If William wants to be a leader, he can’t just leave the issue of racism aside and hope that everyone will be duly dazzled by how well he handles climate change or homelessness and forget about it.
A minor seven words—”We’re not a racist family at all”—simply won’t help.
The Duke cannot overtake, ignore or condescend to the fact that a very clear line can be drawn between the horrors of the monarchical past and the present.
It would be incredible to see William take part in some kind of nationwide conversation about race in the UK and/or agree to a very candid public discussion about the dark past of the monarchy. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?
Or the Duke and Duchess could start much closer to home, given that on their team, “diversity” means people who went to public school. None of the senior Cambridges employees are of color. (Overall, only 8.5% of royal employees belong to ethnic minorities.)
Perhaps if they had had non-white advisers, their Caribbean tour earlier this year might not have gone as spectacularly as planned, with the couple being photographed shaking hands with black children over a fence and inspecting Jamaican troops dressed as two extra from From Africa.
The week-long adventure has only reinforced the view of many that the royal family is, at its core, an outdated and worthless relic that has no place in 21st-century life.
During his speech at the unveiling of the Waterloo monument this week, William said the Windrush generation was “deeply offended” before saying that “discrimination remains an all too familiar experience for black men and women in the UK in 2022.”
It was a persuasive speech, but future kings cannot survive on impassioned speeches alone.
William and Kate need to seize the moment somehow; they have the opportunity to be remembered by history for all the right reasons, not the wrong ones.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with over 15 years of experience working with a range of leading Australian media outlets.