Time to Shut Up! Racism, Royalty and the limitations of Britishness

Following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to step back from royal life, Dr William Ackah from the Department of Geography reflects on the media discussion around the couple’s decision and the nature of institutional racism in Britain. 

Meghan’s Blackness has lost its sparkle even quicker than I originally envisioned when I wrote an initial comment piece shortly after the royal wedding. As I alluded to at the time and reiterate here, the sparkle of Meghan’s Blackness could not last because at its core Britain is an institutionally racist country. From time to time the country wraps itself in multicultural garments of convenience like at the wedding, but as soon as Black people dare to question or challenge the multicultural facade, the garments come off and the nakedness of the faded empire’s racism is revealed.

The role of broadcast media has been pivotal in this regard. For the most part a multiracial cast of commentators have debated on various magazine and news programmes as to whether Meghan’s treatment has been racist. On the surface the debates seem fair, however a deeper dive reveals the deep-seated institutionalised racism of this form of broadcasting. Whether it is Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr, Robert Peston, Kay Burley, Victoria Derbyshire, Good Morning Britain, Politics Live, Newsnight, Question Time etc, etc all the permanent presenters, and regulators of the debates on these shows are White and the Black people that appear are temporary. White dominated media institutions make decisions about what is discussed, when it is discussed, how it is discussed and by who. Black people by contrast, have no control and are only invited to comment in highly contested spaces about our predicament. Even in these hostile spaces, in scenes straight out of Kafka, White males complain that they cannot speak about race and are victims of racism! This lets us know in no uncertain terms that there is very limited space to discuss on our own terms what it means to Black and British in this country.

As I have watched and read the debates surrounding the issue of royalty and race what has struck me is the stark difference between White British and Black British experience. White Britishness or to probably be more precise White Englishness exudes a sense of permanent entitlement within the fabric of British public life. Whereas Black Britishness even though it has a longer historical presence in Britain than whiteness (e.g. cheddar man) is seen as temporary. Black Britons have no permanent markers of presence in British institutional life, no public memory of our long- term citizenship. As in the current debate we appear and then disappear until the next episode of race and celebrity, race and violence, race and underachievement, race and music, race and sport, race and discrimination, race and culture generates enough controversy to merit a re-appearance. When we protest and insist that institutional racism in Britain is real and therefore Britain and its institutions need to change, then we are told once again to shut up and be grateful to live in the best multicultural society in the world. (thanks so much White people for reminding us we are so privileged!)

What the treatment of Meghan Markle (the tip of a huge underwater iceberg) exemplifies is that there are limitations to Black British citizenship. Ours is a transactional citizenship based on what we are perceived to contribute to the nation. That being the case I think it is time for the British State to be honest and to take appropriate action. In key areas where we are treated differently and adversely, we should be compensated, where the State provides us with a higher-level service than the wider community we should pay more. This should be the transactional basis of our citizenship until equality has been achieved.

For example, Black British citizens should pay a reduced TV license, as we don’t receive the same benefits from public broadcasting as does the wider society. We should pay less for university tuition, as it has been clearly demonstrated that universities provide a poorer service to Black students, so it stands to reason that we should pay less or receive compensation for services not rendered.

More broadly Black citizens should pay a reduced income tax. I can’t think of any institution in Britain that is maintained directly or indirectly by the taxes that Black British citizens pay that has provided a service to Black citizens that is equal to or better than what it provides to its White citizens.

Black British Citizens have cleaned your bums, manned your transport and done the jobs you did not want to do. In response we take abuse and experience racism from the terraces to the boardrooms to the classrooms. Living in an institutionally racist society has been and is a material and existential threat to our positive well-being in this society. So please no more TV debates framed by White privilege, shut up and pay up until genuine equality is achieved.

William Ackah is Lecturer in Department of Geography, Chair of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race .

Share

13 thoughts on “Time to Shut Up! Racism, Royalty and the limitations of Britishness

  1. Yes she did they did not accept her. They are hoping that they fail. The British Media are the most racist in the world. They are saying it nothing to do with race but we know it true. Why we have experience it . They didn’t like the wedding they were only pretend. You could see it on there faces. They are all fake. A little smile but don’t trust it. Sad and wicked people.

  2. Well written William, perhaps you could forward this to Laurence Fox and the question time host.
    From one Ghanaian to another
    Peace my brother

  3. I cannot argue with this. It is the similar here in Australia, except the Black people here owned the place for 60,000 years, until my forebears turned up to plant their Flag on someone else’s continent and say, “All MINE!’

    So being black and indigenous is a double bind in my (stolen from the original people) country.

    I cannot comment on the experience as I am not Black and I do not speak for others. But as a descendent of the original thieves (well, on a prison ship, there was not much choice for some individuals) it is time we faced up to the facts and get on remediation, mediation, reconciliation, compensation and working out how we all can live with dignity and pride as fully equal people.

    A good start here would be sharing the wealth stolen from the lands, and shipped overseas as mining and farming products, with the people who have taken care of it for 60,000 years before Britain moved in.

    Australia has a lot of work to do. For instance look at the ongoing arguments about ‘Australia Day’ being held on January 26th. Why do so many white people insist on celebrating the day we stole this land and set no treaties, no compensation, not even a set of beads and few blankets that some Native Americans got. The Maori people at least got a treaty for New Zealand. First Australians got nothing but tragedy, death, disease and displacement. But we cannot do anything even symbolic like changing Australia Day to another date so as not to rub salt into the wounds.

    I totally agree with you and as an aside I am f#cking sick of oppressing people. (Yeah I know, I just made it all about me aka using White Privilege).

    I can only do what I can do as one person, but the least is that I can say you have hit the nail on the head.

    • I’m a black person living in Uk and I totally agree with all you’ve said. Meghan could have done so much for Britain but they turned on her, sad. Right decision they made to leave with their son.

  4. A very interesting perspective which I agree with; but I think it goes further in terms of other minority groups and class, as this is a component of the ruling capitalist class hegemony.

  5. I could easily ignore this ridiculous post, but I think it wouldn’t be fair.
    I’ve been living in London for the last 5 years, and when I say living in London a mean, taking public transport almost every single day, working for state school in East, West, North and South London, living in Tooting Broadway and South Norwood (Croydon), taking my children to a Catholic school… So I guess I know more or less what living in London means.
    Institutions are nothing by itself. They say/do what their boards/ Chairs say. We call that POLICIES, which from my very personal point of view are, in the most of the cases, an outfit for the personal ideas or desires of those individuals previously mentioned. Therefore, dare to call Her Royal Majestic racist.
    Following this childish argument against the Royalty, how would you call all the Royal Family scandals back in the 1980’s or 1990’s? Same kind of problems, different names, different people. Royalty has have problems in most of the countries around the world, Spanish Royalty might be another good example of Royalty issues. The real problem, and the common problem for all the Royalties is that no many people is welling to and able to cover all the Royalties needs. Being King, Queen, Duke, Duchess… Are not time limited position. They are live long responsibilities.
    Finally, I’d like to say that Britishness may be something you like or not, but something you must respect and accept while living in British countries. As Spanish citizen, this is something that I clearly understand. Whenever I don’t feel happy with British Values I can freely go back to Spain, move to Germany, France, Italy, or give it a go down to Morocco, Nigeria or Iran.
    Yes, UK has got a problem with its Britishness. But we are looking at the wrong side. The problem is that it shouldn’t be necessary to remind at Primary and Secondary Schools what British Values are by using children handmade posters: human rights, men and women equality, Universal Suffrage, no discrimination for sexual orientation, religion, or race.
    Is it really necessary to keep reminding that on the XXI Century? Maybe somewhere else, but definitely not in UK, or at least, not to British borne people.

    • Well said, Jonas. Ironically, by *privileging* black people or any person of colour for alleged social injustices, commentators like this are perpetuating social inequalities that encompass *all* people. Social attitudes based on colour came to the fore so that European property owning elites could divide-and-rule ordinary working people of all colours, including ‘White’. Megan is excluded not just by the media but also by ordinary people not because she’s of mixed heritage – not just ‘black’ by the way – but because she doesn’t represent those people’s idea of ‘their’ royal family, a bit like the way Fergie was disliked. There are so many ironies in this kind of argument – so many who are supposedly ‘black’ are in reality of mixed heritage; without the genuine horros of slavery and imperialism, many of us would not who we are today because so many of us are of mixed heritage – it doesn’t make those times in history ‘good’ it just means they happened; there are as many if not more so-called ‘privileged white people’ who are disadvantage by their background but are doubly overlooked because of their class and their colour (white); the idea of ‘white privilege’ holds within it the hidden message that black people are institutional losers – that last irony, articulated at the Battle of Ideas last December by a black man – is to me the most telling of all. Time for all of us to move on. Communities are formed by holding common values and supporting each other regardless of colour. That’s why a person of Celtic-Anglo-Saxon origin can feel friendship for a multi-ethnic Barbadian who is part of their community, but not so much the incoming Rumanian seasonal worker despite the Rumanian being white. So many of us are of mixed heritage and come with and without all kinds of ‘privilege’. I love being a mongrel Brit!

  6. Hello William,
    Thanks for your well-crafted and most perceptive piece re: racism and royalty.within a British context.

    Here is my quick take–if I may (and sorry for the somewhat lengthy posting): it matters not how long and how loud we shout for Afro-justice in the diaspora–be it in the US or any place else in the Euro- and Euro-descendent-controlled Afro-diaspora (call it: Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean, UK, Europe (assuming, of course, as some seem to do such as the so-called hard BREXITAIRES (the correct spelling of the neologism?), perhaps, that the UK is not part of Europe) or wherever–including, increasingly, in the East–call it China or India or wherever–or in Oceania–call it Australia or wherever (and I would include South Africa here) –where our Afro-experience is essentially the same [just variations on a common theme, as it were])–we will never ever experience the justice and human flourishing we desire and deserve as Afro-descendant human beings unless and until we find ways to create and consolidate meaningful and sustainable pan-African coalitions of Afro-solidarity driven by the fundamental conviction that our only “salvation” rests in unapologetically embracing Mama Africa as our real home (and not being brainwashed into thinking that our home lies somewhere else in the Afro-diaspora) and then contributing our collective minds and means to her liberation/development and the refurbishment of her tarnished global image. That is, there can be no meaningful liberation/meaningful experience of justice of/by any chunk of the Afro-diaspora (however much it might be living in close proximity to wealth and power [and so-called development–such as in the US, the UK, Canada or wherever and, again, however long and lout it shouts]) until, ultimately, as Afro-descendant human beings (made in the image of God as King Jr and other Christian preachers [including some of us] are wont to say–and President-turned-“Preacher-in-old-age”, Kenneth Kaunda here in Zambia too, loves to say, by the way), we are driven by the creed and conviction that (drawing on the maritime metaphor of the European-driven Trans-Atlantic slave trade) that, existentially, “we are all in the same boat”; that, paraphrasing the memorable words of MLK Jr. (but applying it specifically to our global Afro-experience and struggle), we are all inextricably linked to each other—be it here in Africa or throughout its diaspora. In short, we need to learn and live-out the fundamental lesson that we either hang together as Afro-friends or be hung separately as Afro-fools—again, be it here in Mama Africa or there in its global diaspora. I see the Trans-Atlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race (TRRR) to which you and I and others belong being driven by that fundamental conviction and consciousness.

    Herein endeth my rather rambling “sermon” for the day (smile). See the PS below as a sort of “Benediction” where, as an Afro-descendent person myself, I briefly outline my “inalienable right to preach” such a sermon (smile again).

    Gosnell
    “TRRR-ly” yours
    The Copperbelt University
    ZAMBIA
    (Having opted to settle permanently in Zambia in the Motherland but born in the African diaspora—the Caribbean)

    PS: 1. As a “Naturalized Canadian” (and South African too, by the way), I wrote essentially what William wrote about but in a Canadian context—way back in 1985—in spite of Canada’s “Official Policy” (as of 1971) of “Multiculturalism within a Bilingual [English and French] Framework”—and heard essentially the very same story some thirty-four (34) long years later (in June 2019) when I returned to Canada to attend the wedding of my “Canadian-born daughter”, etc.
    2. I was at the well-attended high-powered conference on behalf of a Euro-controlled US University where I once taught in the Northeastern US. Title of conference: “Blacks in Higher Education” held at Kinnesaw College, University of Georgia, and heard essentially the same consistent complaint about the racist mistreatment being meted out to our Afro-sisters and brothers “in high educational places” and in every place else in the body politic–way back in 1990.
    3. As one who is linked as an Extraordinary Professor (Academic Associate) to the Institute for African Renaissance Studies at UNISA out of which comes the peer-reviewed Journal of African Renaissance Studies (co-published by UNISA and Routledge), I am aware that the anti-racism complaints and laments have already begun to come from our Afro-sisters and brothers living in Asia as well—especially China and India—but elsewhere as well.
    4. I continue to hear the very same sad song and story ad nauseam in the UK from young and old Afro-relatives alike whenever I visit there and where I happen to have umpteen relatives (of various kinds) including a retiree/pensioner/father who migrated to the UK way back in the 1950’s, etc.
    AMEN!!

  7. Thanks for this, it breaks my heart when people close their eyes and cover their ears to racism in this country. A family member (who is non white) is adamant that Britain is the best country in the world and we don’t have racism here, so we should stop being ‘spoiled’ and be grateful for what we have. Talk about internalised oppression.

    Sadly, we have come to expect racism and denial from white people, but when it comes from minorities themselves (see the current administration), it is even more harmful. Unfortunately, we seem to hold black and brown people in office to higher standards. I would be interested to hear your take on this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *