The Guardian • Issue #1954

Royal racism no surprise

The mainstream media have sensationalised the most recent British royal family racism scandal, despite the monarchy’s long history of colonialism which has seen millions of people suffer and die across the globe. The outrage was sparked after Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, participated in a two-hour interview with American talk show host Oprah, where they revealed that members of the royal family had concerns about how dark their son’s skin would be. It should come as no surprise that the royal family at the centre of an inherently racist empire would be concerned about a non-white prince in the family, given its white supremacist roots.

The brutal expansion of the British empire has left lasting devastating effects across Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia and the Pacific. As typical of expanding empires, racism has been a tool used by Britain to “other-ise” non-white ethnicities, to treat them in barbaric inhumane ways and exploit their land and labour, justifying the behaviour through unfounded exceptionalism.

In particular, in the 19th century, Britain plundered India and left the people in a state of abject poverty, looting a whopping US$45 trillion worth of resources. The British East India Company originally drove this expansion, further enriching the British royal family, and after it was dissolved under direct British rule, Queen Victoria was titled Empress of India. The stripping of India was largely used to fund the expansion of its other colonies, particularly Australia.

The Chinese describe their colonial period as the One Hundred Years of Humiliation, where opium was forced on their people by the British to maintain control on their region. Over time, the average age of a Chinese man was reduced to thirty-five, when a quarter of the male population became addicted to opium. The Chinese were named by the British as “the sick man of Asia.” Fortunately for China, they struggled against their oppressors and took back sovereignty of their country. However there are still lasting impacts of this period, particularly in Hong Kong.

While racist policies are well documented in the United States and across the Americas, the outrage coming from the liberal press about the racism of the British royal family makes it seem as though the the slave trade does not trace its roots back to the British taking African people to work as slaves in the Caribbean. The riches from these plantations were sent back to England, and amongst the growing opulence, sugary sweet desserts became popular off the backs of suffering Africans. King Charles II brought more enslaved African people to the Americas than any other institution.

So not only did the British monarchy directly fund and profit from the slave trade, but plunder and steal from African nations. To this day, African nations fight for the right to govern their own lands, and many remain in extreme poverty due to the devastation they continue to endure after colonisation.

In what became the anglo-settler colonies, Indigenous people continue to struggle for sovereignty after hundreds of years of oppression and exploitation under racist policies. Some of the worst treatment by British colonists was inflicted on First Nations people in Australia, including massacres of whole communities, stealing land and slave labour, as well as thousands of children being taken from their families. Regardless of the existing outcomes of intergenerational trauma and continued systemic racism, the Australian government refuses to sign a treaty to negotiate on issues such as welfare, employment, education, health and land ownership.

Racism was, and has been since, a useful tool used by the British monarchy to justify the enslavement and the stealing of land and resources from non-white peoples. It should be no wonder that members of the royal family are concerned about their newest member having dark skin after using white supremacy as an excuse for the plunder of people of colour for centuries.

This is not to say that other European countries did not participate in colonialism and racist policies to justify their actions, however, no colonial empire has spread as far and wide nor been so brutal as the British empire. The only argument could be for the US empire, however, this could be considered an imperialist continuation of the British empire.

There is a common misconception that the West brings wealth and civilisation to poor countries to help develop them, and that therefore colonisation is actually helpful. This could not be further from the truth. In the words of political author, Michael Perenti, “These countries aren’t poor. These countries are rich. Only the people are poor. They’re not under­developed, they’re overexploited.”

It is impossible to fully express the sheer loss and pain suffered at the hands of the British empire in one article, and it is outrageous for Prince William to insist that “the royal family is not a racist family,” as he casually commented in passing recently. Just one look at the British Royal Museum with artefacts on display stolen from cultures worldwide should be enough evidence of this, if not the countries and territories that remain under British rule today.

The Commonwealth of Australia remains a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II reigning as the head of state, taking advice from the governor-general, who has powers which may be exercised beyond the prime minister’s request. This means that regardless of how strongly Australians claim to live in a liberal democracy, elected leaders can be dismissed by the monarch.

The most notable example of this was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975. Before this, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had implemented a large number of new programmes and policy changes including the termination of military conscription, universal health care, free university education, and the recognition of Aboriginal land claims. Whitlam also aimed to close the US military spy base, Pine Gap, which continues to assist in imperialist violence against Middle Eastern civilians today.

Whether Australia should become a republic and drop its ties with the United Kingdom remains an important one. The move would require meaningful and genuine consultation with First Nations people, in full recognition of the long-lasting effects of colonisation, along with a full examination of Australia’s shift towards supporting United States imperialist aggression and political inference. There is no question that the British royal family are racist when looking through a historical lense, and any argument to clear their name should be deemed laughable.

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