Harry marrying Meghan: Symbolic or meaningless?
Mixed-race royal union stokes debate on British diversity
LAWYER Gaile Walters has no time for the British monarchy but still believes the wedding of American actress Meghan Markle to Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry marks an important moment for Britain’s black community.
“I’m still not pro-monarchy at all because I don’t think anybody is born to rule. However, I do understand symbolism and this is very powerful.”
The marriage this coming Saturday of the British prince, sixth-in-line to the British throne, to Markle, whose father is white and mother is African-American, has been heralded as demonstrating how Britain has become more egalitarian and racially mixed.
Just 60 years ago, marrying a divorcee was considered unacceptable for a British royal, and only in 2013 did it become permissible to wed a Catholic without being removed from the line of succession.
So Markle’s entry into an exclusively white royal family, who wield hugely emotional symbolic power in Britain, should not be underestimated, said Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging.
“It represents a real change in the messaging to young people growing up in Britain and that idea that blackness and Britishness are mutually exclusive,” she said.
“I think for me when I was younger, that would have made a huge difference to me psychologically in my sense of legitimacy and confidence that this is my country.”
The wedding comes at a time race issues have been prominent in Britain. Last month saw the 25th anniversary of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence by white racists, which led to London’s police force being labelled institutionally racist by an inquiry.
The British government has also found itself mired in a scandal about treatment of some descendants of the “Windrush generation” of Caribbean migrants who were invited to Britain after World War II, but have been left without documents and denied basic rights.
Markle, whose maternal ancestors were slaves, and Harry attended a memorial service to mark the Lawrence anniversary and there has been much commentary about how attitudes have changed since the days of Powell. But others say the Windrush episode betrays the true picture.
“(The wedding) means nothing. It really is a non-event in terms of what it means for society,” Kehinde Andrews, an associate professor of sociology at Birmingham City University and author on race issues. He described racism “as British as a cup of tea”.
“That’s for me the problem with a lot of the coverage of this wedding. The monarchy is an institution. Adding a black face, one black face, one very light- skinned, pretty black face is not going to change the institution.”
A survey for the British Future think tank last month suggested most Britons would barely notice Markle’s ethnicity and the vast majority welcomed it. – Reuters