Harry mar­ry­ing Meghan: Sym­bolic or mean­ing­less?

Mixed-race royal union stokes de­bate on Bri­tish di­ver­sity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - BACK PAGE - JONATHAN SHENFIELD

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

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