I am not a monarchist and neither is Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Opposition Labour Party, and many other British people. I believe that heads of state should be elected. I hasten to add that if elections were held in Britain for head of state, Queen Elizabeth would win hands down. Not being British, my views are of little consequence.
Guyana has had a sympathetic view of the British Monarchy which is long, enduring and remains alive. We were indoctrinated into loyalty and support for the Monarchy during 150 years as a colony. The Queen is head of the Commonwealth, of which Guyana has been a member since Independence, and soon Prince Charles will be the Head. In recent years Queen Elizabeth and members of the Royal Family, including Prince Charles, Prince Andrew on a private visit and Prince Harry, have visited Guyana. So, like probably many Guyanese, I watched the spectacular wedding ceremony on TV yesterday.
The entry of Princess Diana into the Royal Family by her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 added a dash of glitter and glamour to an otherwise conservative, reserved, unsmiling, emotionless operation, enormously wealthy and living in stratospheric isolation, referred to by its members as the ‘firm.’ This was how it sought to preserve its ‘mystique’ and longevity. Princess Diana’s life modified all that. The causes she embraced, both before and after her acrimonious divorce from Prince Charles in1996, catapulted her into international popularity. She shook hands with AIDS victims and highlighted the dangers of land mines. Her iconic life and tragic death, immediately after baptized by former Prime Minister Tony Blair as the ‘Peoples’ Princess,’ was followed by much criticism of the Royal family and the way they treated Princess Diana in life. The changes have culminated in the acceptance of Meghan Markle.
Her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, to whom she was close and openly affectionate, unlike any parent in the Royal Family before, helped the process of modernization. While not revolutionary, Prince William married a commoner. They are a modern couple and are engaged parents to their three children. Prince Harry in his teenage years and early adulthood appeared to be a rebel, wearing a Nazi symbol on a jacket, drinking and carousing openly. We now know that much of that rebellious behaviour was as a result of the painful loss of his mother at a young age, which the brothers talked about openly, hitherto unheard of, in an effort to destigmatize mental illness. After joining the British Army in which he spent 10 years, Prince Harry appeared to have overcome his early difficulties and enthusiastically embraced his Royal duties. His organizing of the Invictus Games for disabled veterans, supported by Barack Obama and Michele Obama, was a signal achievement and a great success.
He appeared publicly for the first time with Meghan Markle, an American actress of mixed African and White heritage, both casually dressed in jeans, at the Invictus Games. It was publicly known that they had been in a relationship and the media was full of comments and speculation, some racially motivated. Prince Harry was prompted, unusually, to castigate the press for its racially tinged reporting.
Meghan Markle is an accomplished woman of progressive views. She began earlier than most, before she was well known, to embrace causes of importance to the disadvantaged in Africa, India and other places, not merely for photo opportunities, but as a committed activist, available to the communities which she is assisting through the long haul, be it water projects in Africa or girls’ education in India. Ms. Markle is an established supporter of women’s causes and is enthusiastic about the #Me Too movement. She has said that her support will continue after her marriage. It would advance the Princess Diana Revolution if Ms. Markle is able to introduce the open advocacy of progressive ideas that have grown uncontroversial, into the Royal Family’s agenda, despite its enormous wealth, privileged existence and conservative views, which Ms. Markle will now experience.
I have left the most important issue for last. It really ought to be of no importance, but we don’t live in that kind of a world as yet. Ms. Markle has said that she is proud of both parts of her heritage, Black and White. Members of the British Royal Family have not been known as understanding of ‘the other’ and for decades, derogatory insinuations of other peoples and heritages have flowed forth liberally from some, including Prince Phillip. Only a month or so ago, Prince Charles told a Guardian journalist of Indian (Guyanese) descent that she does not look as if she comes from Manchester. He had asked her where she is from. “Manchester,” she replied. The suggestion appeared to be that only if you’re white you can come from Manchester. While Prince Charles may not have intended to cause offence, the remark demonstrates how ingrained the prejudice is and how difficult it is to eradicate it.
Ms. Markle brings a bright and sparkling presence to the British Royal Family that, if allowed to flourish, can only enhance its image, help to eradicate the cobwebs of conservatism and backwardness of all kinds and enhance its prestige among the British people, including Black Britons.