Will and Kate’s colonial nostalgia tour is about more than disastrous photo-ops
Kehinde Andrews is professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and the author of the book “The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World.” The opinions in this article belong to the author. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)The torrential downpour that greeted Will and Kate in the Bahamas on Friday was the perfectly fitting end to their Caribbean excursion. If ever there was a parade that needed raining on, it was the couple’s colonial nostalgia tour.
Whilst Caribbean countries are demanding reparations and finally deposing the British monarch as the head of state, the future King and his wife thought it was fitting to recreate a scene from 1962, with William in full military dress waving from an open top Land Rover. Talk about not being able to read the room.
But we should expect nothing less from a couple so sculpted by their royal duties that when they awkwardly posed with a lifesize model of Bob Marley at a museum on Tuesday it was almost impossible to tell who was the statue.
It really is testament to the unrepentant conservatism of the royal family that Harry and Meghan have opted out, while Will and Kate are wrapped in royal linen. But for this we should be eternally grateful.
Meghan laid out the dystopian vision of her and Harry being sent out as ambassadors to the former colonies to modernize the image of the monarchy. It makes my stomach churn to imagine the adulation that might have greeted the black princess and her husband visiting the Caribbean.
The problem isn’t the disastrous photo-ops, which are so horrendous they evolved from offensive to farcical. Will’s grandmother wears gloves to shield her from the masses, whilst he and Kate greet children through a chain link fence.
But the real issue is the monarchy itself, which is an institution that should have been run out of the Caribbean centuries ago. There are no better representatives of the true nature of the monarchy than Will and Kate, who Marley would likely have branded ‘stiff necked fools.’
Queen Elizabeth I endorsed England’s first forays into the slave trade that turned the population of the Caribbean black, through kidnap of countless African people. The Royal African Company, which had a monopoly over the English trade until giving way to the free market, is the business responsible for enslaving more Africans than any other.
The royal family is swimming in money made from the exploitation of African flesh in a region which is still languishing in poverty due to the same legacies. We often imagine that the end of slavery meant the dawn of freedom. But while the slave owners received the largest government transfer of wealth in British history, the formerly enslaved were forced to work for free for three quarters of their time between 1834 and 1838, and left in grinding poverty depending on the same landowners who had enslaved them.
As colonies the Caribbean nations were pillaged for resources and left underdeveloped. It is estimated the UK owes its former colonies £7.5 trillion ($9.8 trillion) in unpaid labor and traumatic damages. When Britain needed labor after the Second World War, the Caribbean answered the call and many moved to the mother country seeking opportunities unavailable to them at home.
The result of seeing so many ‘darkies’ in Britain was to try to keep Britain white by limiting immigration from the Empire. But the Caribbean was just as integral a part of the nation as the north of England.
I recently found the passport my dad traveled on to Britain from Jamaica in 1960. I only knew it wasn’t a regular British passport because the word Jamaica was on the front, and had a lower status. The Caribbean is the British equivalent of the American South — the only difference is an ocean that means Britain can pretend these are foreign countries they bear no responsibility for.
It is no coincidence that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act that sparked the anti-immigration legislation we are seeing in full effect today was signed into law in 1962, the same year that the two largest British colonies in the Caribbean — Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago — became independent.
For some of the founding fathers of the US, the most desirable solution to the so-called race problem caused by emancipation was to deport the formerly enslaved Africans back to Africa. Britain just needed to keep us on the prison islands they had created.
Independence was always a farce as the economies of the Caribbean remain dominated by the former empires. The region is kept afloat in part by tourism, which depends on friendly relations with the countries who are rich enough for the citizens to afford exclusive beach holidays.
But remittances are the most important part of many Caribbean economies, the money sent back from those who have migrated out. The Caribbean is entirely dependent on exploiting nations to survive, to the extent that the island region is even a net importer of fish!
The farcical nature of the royal visit brought to mind the time in 1985 when the Queen visited Antigua and they only paved the roads she would be driving around to see her loyal subjects. Even after independence, the Caribbean nation was still kowtowing to the royal family.
Thankfully there have been protests marking the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit, with the couple having to cancel a trip to a village in Belize after the residents demonstrated and both the nation and Jamaica indicating they want to remove the British monarch as head of state.
But such calls are way too little and far too late — the fact this is even up for debate in 2022 reveals the rotten state of the situation. Likewise, disbanding the Commonwealth, headed by the Queen, obviously makes sense but only because of how absurd it is that the former colonies joined the rebrand of empire in the first place.
The British Empire, sorry, Commonwealth Games will be held in my hometown of Birmingham, England this summer and whilst we should be lying across the streets in protest, we are busy celebrating. We have somehow arrived at a place where William can go to the Caribbean and express ‘profound sorrow’ for slavery without apologizing, let alone taking some responsibility.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of smiling natives happy to line the streets and salute all that the royals represent and the region remains in thrall to the mother country. In 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron caused an uproar when he told the Jamaican parliament it was time to “move on” from slavery, rejected calls for reparations and instead offered to help build a state-of-the-art prison so that Britain could more easily deport Jamaican nationals.
A big show was made of the nation rejecting the proposal, but five years later they announced not only that the prison would be built but Jamaica is footing the bill. I’m not sure this is what first national hero Marcus Garvey had in mind when he advocated self-help.
So, for all the noise we have heard after the disastrous royal visit we should not expect any meaningful change. The absurdity of the situation means that Caribbean nations cannot rock the boat too hard or it will capsize.
One important (though often neglected) part of the ‘development business’ committed to principles of partnership is the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 independent countries, almost all of which were formerly under British rule. This paper focuses on the Commonwealth’s contemporary sense of ‘responsibility’ for shaping African development through ‘partnership’ and by promoting ‘good governance’ and examines the particular example of Mozambique, which joined the Commonwealth in 1995.
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