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The royal smiles of colonisation as a “charm offensive”: a joint response to the royal tour to the Caribbean

This article was originally submitted on April 7.

Keisha Frimpong and Victoria Gothard wrote a joint response to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal tour to the Caribbean.

The Royal Smiles of Colonisation

William and Kate’s trip to Jamaica was not innocent, it was motivated by power and a hunger for control over the Caribbean. I have seen too many reports of the controversy surrounding the trip giving the Royal couple the benefit of the doubt, claiming that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, falsely defending the royals attempt of commemorating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. In reality, the nation’s favourite celebrity couple went to Jamaica in an attempt to reclaim their colonial power over the island.

Whilst the British government and the Royal family have easily forgotten about the Windrush Scandal, the people of the Caribbean have not. The Windrush generation refers to people who travelled from the Caribbean on the ship MV Empire Windrush, between 1948 and 1971. After being wrongly labelled as illegal immigrants, this hardworking generation has been threatened with deportation. Though this scandal is a product of the Home Office’s incompetence, many of the Windrush generation have already been deported to their respective Commonwealth nations. A day before the Royal couple arrived in Jamaica, one hundred Jamaican individuals and organisations signed an open letter addressed to Will and Kate stating that in response to the British government’s “offensive and insensitive statements” regarding the transatlantic slave trade, and the lack of an apology from both the British government and monarchy, the Jamaican people will not participate in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebration. Unsurprisingly, the Royal Family were not pleased to hear of Jamaica’s rebellion against the British monarchy.

But who can blame them, why should a nation that still carries the burden of their colonial inheritance celebrate a monarch whose family and government made it their mission to buy and sell innocent Black Africans, sail them across the world and force them into unpaid labour, a life full of torture all at the expense of the British and Colonial Empire? In addition to this, the open letter refers to former PM David Cameron’s harsh words in the Jamaican Parliament where he told the people of Jamaica to “move on from this painful legacy”. As if the trauma of racism in the colonial empire does not still exist today. The Windrush Scandal is a clear example of the British government’s unapologetic disregard for the Caribbean and its people.

The Cambridge’s visit is nothing but a kick in the teeth, as with all other royal visits to Commonwealth countries (a politically correct term for Britain’s lost colonies), their Jamaica trip is only to prove that Britain never really lost its control over its former empire. The UK granted the title of ‘independence’ to its colonies, whilst using legislation like migrant paperwork to limit their liberties. The government is not tone-deaf, it’s strategic, why would they grant the nation an apology for the exploitation of indigenous people of Jamaica when that would only undermine their power?

A day after receiving the letter, Prince William said that “slavery was abhorrent and it never should have happened,”, however this is not an apology, neither was this statement unprovoked. The day William expressed his “sorrow”, is the very day the Jamaican government started the process of transitioning from an island nation to a republic, which would result in less British power over Jamaica.

The young royals are not sorry, their statements are ingenuine and insulting as they have only been motivated to show but an ounce of recognition towards the slave trade when their power has been threatened. The Royals attempt to keep control over Jamaica by manipulating the nation and media into believing their false niceties is a trick we have seen time and time again. Only this time, the British are using lies, rather than weapons of ammunition.

The Guardian’s claim that the questions of reparations for slavery is “beyond the royals’ pay grade” just showcases (the majority of) the White British public’s inability to recognise Black humanity. Whilst it’s upsetting that Black people are still striving for the British government and monarchy to recognise the traumatic effects that have followed and been caused by slavery, it is not surprising. Personally, as a Black-British woman it’s at times like these that I find it difficult to even see myself as ‘British’. How can I be part of a land that doesn’t even try to understand Black humanity, but claims to thrive for an anti-racist society?

Ultimately, the monarchy sent their most likeable and media-friendly duo to win back their colonial power over Jamaica, after feeling threatened by the Bahamas new republican status. The British monarchy and government have done little to show recognition for their monstrous role in the transatlantic slave trade, and they will continue to do so. Whilst this trip is an embarrassment for White Britons, in my opinion it is only clarification of the British government and monarchy’s obsession with their ‘lost’ empire.

An Embarrassingly Offensive “Charm Offensive”

In the past I would always have described myself as a fan of the royal family, especially the younger members like Kate and William; I would argue the good they did outweigh the cost to the taxpayer, and that they were actually profitable for the UK. But more recently, my views have changed, often the press coverage of the family has been shocking at best (racism and pedophilia do not make great headlines) and the most recent Caribbean tour highlighted just how out of touch they, or at least the institution they belong to, seems to be.

Jamaica and the Bahamas have recently expressed a very justifiable interest to become independent and remove the Queen as their head of state. A public letter was even signed by leading politicians and academics in Jamaica prior to the royal couple’s arrival that they saw “no reason to celebrate” the Queen’s coronation “because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind”. It seemed as if sending Kate and William, smiling, charming, and looking glamorous, as the most popular and well-liked members of the royal family, was an attempt to quell this movement of independence. This is an old trick – a colonial method used to give those revolting against the empire something to appease them, to retain control at large. This time, Kate and William were set in to do the job, except society has moved on. Maybe ten years ago this might have worked, but in the wake of the George Floyd murder, and the white world waking up slowly to its systemic problem with race and empire, it no longer appears quite as charming. The optics of Kate and William standing in an open-top land rover, parading as past heads of empires would have done, certainly did not help change this impression.

The fact that this sort of trip, and the Foreign Office’s aim with this trip, is no longer acceptable is long overdue. But the fact that the trip even went ahead is shocking, especially after the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the Windrush scandal in the UK. It speaks volumes of the UK government’s tone-deaf approach to race relations both domestically and internationally.

The UK monarchy has also done little to make amends for its role in the slave trade. It was the pinnacle of the empire that created a system of suffering for anyone who did not fit into their category of ‘white’ and ‘British’. For far too long the UK has not addressed or taken responsibility for its morbid history, instead deciding to adopt the narrative of national pride regarding the empire, with far too many still quoting that ‘the sun never set on the British empire’. And the UK has yet to pay a single reparation for its role in the slave trade. The entrance of Meghan into the royal family was its golden opportunity to address its issue of racism, within the family, but also within the UK and within its commonwealth. Instead, she felt the need to step back from the role, after receiving no support from the family following vile racist attacks in the media. William described slavery as ‘abhorrent’ during his time in Jamaica, but if he really is committed to tackling this issue, as his ‘reflection’ on his Instagram post seems to indicate, where was his public condemnation of the way Meghan was treated during her time in the UK? Not only would this have been the right thing to do, but it would also have been powerful to see a white member of the royal family be an ally on this issue.

The Caribbean tour highlighted the lack of understanding the couple, or at least the Firm, has for the nuances of the issues around racism, slavery, and the commonwealth. They have consistently failed to address the issue, and clearly struck the wrong note on this tour. Instead, they have adopted age-old tactics to pacify rather than address the needs of the people in Jamaica, or at the very least that is how it seems to any onlookers. It makes it appear as if the UK does not understand the issue, which is sadly true, but it’s mortifying to see our collective ignorance paraded on the international stage. The government’s approach to the tour is hardly surprising given that it is made up of the very elite of British Society, and some no doubt would like it to remain so. The tour not only reflected the ignorance of the government but also of vast swathes of British people that have not engaged enough with Britain’s past and therefore how to treat others, both domestically and internationally. The British media coverage of the trip is testament to this ignorance. The mainstream tabloids are filled with how Kate ‘dazzled’ in her array of perfectly put together outfits, rather than addressing how outdated the purpose of the trip was, and how William saying how ‘abhorrent’ the slave trade was does not really cut it to address the depth, complexity, and pain this global human tragedy caused.

Upon reflection, this at large is what makes the trip so embarrassing, because it is highlighting the truth about British society, that we have failed to reconcile and educate ourselves on our past. That being the case, it is no surprise that these diplomatic cock ups are made. So maybe this tour has demonstrated how it is long overdue for Britain, its government and its too often ignorant citizens, address its past and start to make amends. And it has highlighted how downright embarrassing it is, that we have not started this process earlier.

Image ‘Flag of Jamaica’ by Dickelbers is licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0.