By the time you read this, the Duchess of Sussex’s allegations of racism and victimization in the British Royal Family – more correctly in the bureaucracy that surrounds them – will have been headline news around the world for a week.
As a Namibian with some – increasingly tenuous – links to the United Kingdom, I’m saddened but not surprised.
Firstly, it lays bare the kind of subtle racism which Europe (as opposed to Southern Africa or the United States) specializes in. You’ll commonly find white Bits or Germans or Frenchmen as cleaners or gardeners, and it’s extremely rare to hear them utter a racial slur. But the racism is still there.
It’s in ‘polite’ conversations about what someone’s ‘heritage’ means for ‘the nature of an institution’. It’s why you see immigrants derided as lazy slobs in the British tabloid press when in fact they’ve been the backbone of the National Health Service.
Secondly, the Royal Family is a bad joke. As well as being an anachronism in a country that prides itself on democracy and arguably a waste of taxpayers’ money, the British Royal Family are up to their ears in colonialism.
For sure, there were Kings of England a thousand years before the British Empire, but colonialism greatly increased the wealth, prestige and stability of the Royal Family. During colonial times Buckingham Palace became the monarch’s official residence, attempts to usurp the House of Windsor became a thing of the past, and monarchs took titles such as ‘Emperor of India’. Colonialism is the reason that Queen Elizabeth the Second is still titular ruler of countries as far away as Australia.
Did we really think a family with this kind of heritage was going to open its arms to someone of African-American descent? I suppose we hoped for the best.
The British don’t hesitate to pontificate about democracy to people in Zimbabwe or Libya or Venezuela or Myanmar, so I reckon it’s fair game for a Namibian to comment on their governmental system, too.
Maybe with his country being a global disease epicenter, the UK Prime Minister has more important things to deal with, but if I were him I’d look in due time at truly democratizing his country. A first target would be second chamber of Parliament, the unelected House of Lords, which has close historical links to the monarchy.
And what then? Most Brits – and probably many Dutch, Danes, Spanish, Norwegians and Swedes – would say that having a non-executive Head of State, removed from the grubby world of party politics, adds stability to your country, gives you a figurehead to rally behind.
Certainly, you might find it difficult to admire as national symbol a statue of a man who a little while ago was flinging insults across the floor of the National Assembly.
What, then, is the answer? For me, I would implement a kind of ‘jury duty’.
In many countries, criminal cases are decided by 12 people chosen at random from a list of taxpayers or social security records. If the police and prosecutors can’t put together a decent enough argument to convince 12 ordinary people that a suspect is guilty, he walks free. But mostly, prosecutors do their jobs and criminals go to jail.
So, make it the same with the Head of State. Pick someone at random every week to get five days’ paid leave, stay in Buckingham Palace, have the Prime Minister bow to her and explain his policies, officiate at whatever public building needs to be opened, and sign whatever bills Parliament has sent up to her.
Have Boris Johnson address a school cook, traffic policeman or curry house owner with the formality and dignity owed to a Head of State.
I mean, it’s random, but no more so than the randomness of being born to a certain family or a certain race – or the randomness of having fallen in love with a Prince.
Hugh Ellis – First of his Name – has no royal blood in his veins, is a Namibian citizen and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Follow his blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com