Is the British Monarchy Cool?

In my history-related posts, which comprise basically all of this blog, I tend to focus on the American Civil War because I spent a very long time being fascinated by it. There are so many myths surrounding American popular views of the Civil War, born from pervasive and blinding anti-Blackness, and I’d like to do my small part to combat ignorance and destroy these misconceptions.

But now I’d like to switch gears a bit. The world has erupted with feelings about the monarchy after Meghan Markle’s rather explosive interview with Oprah. My mother was horrified at the amount of American support pouring in for Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of the royals, even in the face of their blatant racism. She saw comments in the New York Times lauding Elizabeth II as a totally non-racist feminist icon, which is morbidly hilarious considering she was roughly 21 when India and Pakistan became independent nations. If my dad had owned an entire subcontinent of human beings (including women) when I was 21, I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to call myself anti-racist or feminist.

Meghan and Harry’s interview indicates racism of royal family lingers,” reads a headline in the Washington Post, as if this is a surprising new fact and not something practically any non-white person could tell you. Elizabeth II and most of the other royals are absolutely, one-hundred-percent, raging old-school racists. To claim otherwise is laughable. Multiple royals have been called out for saying horribly racist things, as well as casually ignoring the effects British colonisation had on millions of Black and brown people. Click those links if you want to be horrified by Phillip, Andrew, Elizabeth, and… yeah, basically all of them except Meghan and Harry.

The question begs: why do many liberal white Americans rush to defend Elizabeth and her kin? Is it from some long-buried Tory instinct which has lain dormant since 1783, only to resurface now? Is it because it’s trendy to hold Western Europe up as a shining pinnacle of anti-racism, even though it is in fact deeply and violently racist, Islamophobic, and antisemitic? A quick summary of those links, by the way:

  • French doctors wanted to test COVID-19 vaccines on Africans, because they think more melanin makes your life worth less.
  • Denmark puts immigrants in ghettoes, and forces babies and young children in those ghettoes to participate in a form of re-education emphasising Danish values. Now it wants to get rid of immigrant-heavy areas. Those darn immigrants, having the audacity to be brown-skinned and non-Christian in public!
  • COVID-19 anti-masking protests in Germany got antisemitic real quick.

And none of these even touch on Britain, which is just as virulently racist as the rest of them. Historically, Britain once headed the Atlantic slave trade. Britain labelled Indigenous South Asians “criminal tribes” and persecuted them on their own land, causing generations of suffering. The modern day is hardly much better: a full 18% of Britishers surveyed in the poll mentioned in the previous link believe that some ethnic groups are born less intelligent than others, an argument which was used enthusiastically by pro-slavery politicians and doctors just 150 years ago. Racist attacks on Black and Asian Britishers persist, sometimes with fatal consequences, like when a Black British woman died of COVID-19 after being spat on in a racist aggression.

Liberal and leftist Americans both seem generally aware that when such prejudices and bursts of violence display themselves here, they are symptoms of the larger, deeper systemic racism which is rooted into our government and lawbooks. So why don’t liberal American defenders of the Queen apply that same concept to the British monarchy? It’s not the tiniest bit surprising that Meghan faced racism from her in-laws, because Britain has problems with systemic racism too – problems which the monarchy barely speaks up about. Queen Elizabeth II refused to apologise for Britain’s role in the Atlantic slave trade. Do we really believe that she’s incapable of being a right arsehole to Meghan Markle? Do we really believe the white woman who acts as the face of a massive former colonial power over the Black woman who says that she was subject to dangerous racism at said white woman’s whims?

I, for one, don’t. I fully believe Meghan Markle. Because, given British history, given the monarchy’s history, what’s not to believe?

––Aditi Ramaswamy