As the world mourns the death of Prince Philip and embraces Queen Elizabeth II, Africa remembers the British monarchy’s racist legacy

The loss of Prince Philip was mourned Saturday at St. George’s Chapel in London after his passing away at the age of 99 on April 9. During this service, the royal family paid tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh, highlighting his “kindness, humor and humanity.”

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Funeral took place at Windsor Castle. 
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Funeral took place at Windsor Castle on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Photo: The Royal Family

While the United Kingdom and many people around the world celebrate the life and legacy of the prince and his wife of over 70 years, the legacy of the royal family may be more complex to Africans and to Black people around the world.

Concerns regarding the royal family’s commitment to racial activism go much deeper than simply examining Prince Philip’s many gaffes or culturally insensitive comments, like the time he told Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was clad in traditional robes, that he looked ready for bed.

Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth dies at 99 
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth died at 99.

In a recent bombshell interview, Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle opened up about the immense prejudice and criticism that she faced as the only biracial member of the British royal family.

Markle lamented that when she was pregnant with her son Archie, she was told that “He won’t be given security. He’s not going to be given a title”, going on to reveal that a member of the royal family even raised concerns about “how dark” he would be when he was born.

Meghan Markle 
Meghan Markle

The royal family seems to have a history of staying silent on issues of racial justice. Notably, the Queen and the rest of the royal family have failed to take a stand or even comment on the Black Lives Matter movement that was re-ignited across Britain by the killing of George Floyd in the United States in May of 2020.

How can the royal family be celebrated or even respected by people of color when it refuses to take a bold stance and condemn racism? It is incredibly concerning that Meghan Markle, the only biracial royal, left the royal family in 2020 because she did not feel welcome.

The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 
The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 1921-2021

Considering the royal family’s habitual silence on racial issues and the fact that there has never been and may never be a non-white head of state in Britain, the monarchical system seems to be a hindrance to social justice and to racial progress.

In a 21st century world that is increasingly striving toward democracy and a more equitable society, the British monarchy is an outdated relic from a past time and is tainted by its many ugly scars of injustice.

Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth dies at 99 
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth died at 99. Photo: The Royal Family

While there are concerns about prejudice in the royal family today, the monarchy’s legacy gets increasingly uglier when its long history is closely examined.

It is certainly right to give respect to the passing of Prince Philip and pay tribute to his successes. However, it would be wrong to paint him as though he was an infallible perfect angel, and we would be remiss to turn a blind eye to the institutional and systematic injustices of the British royal family.

Though it is understandable to want to avoid speaking ill of the dead, the world must not neglect the complicated history of the British royal family which has a history of disrespecting other cultures and causing lasting damage across Africa.

The British monarchy’s most blatant tie to racism is its engagement in the slave trade. The history of the royal family is closely intertwined, perhaps beyond separation, with the institution of slavery.

The British Empire and British merchants were the driving force in trans-Atlantic slave trade, which spanned multiple centuries and fostered the shipment of some 12.5 million slaves from Africa.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Funeral took place at Windsor Castle on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Photo: The Royal Family 
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Funeral took place at Windsor Castle on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Photo: The Royal Family

The existence of the British monarchy has a history of racism and human rights violations, highlighted by its ties to colonization. At its height in the early 20th century the British Empire controlled roughly 25% of the world’s population, including much of Africa- where it showed a lack of respect for the inhabitants of the land it conquered.

British presence in Africa is hallmarked by its exploitation of resources and disregard for pre-existing native cultures. The impact that British imperialism had on Africa did not immediately disappear in conjunction with decolonization but left lasting effects that are still problematic today.

For instance, many historians have gathered that ethnic rivalries and tensions were not serious issues in precolonial Africa. Yet today, they are responsible for much of the conflict and violence throughout the continent.

British imperialism undoubtedly went hand-in-hand with the absolute worst of human rights abuses, including mass enslavement. Even long after the abolition of slavery, the United Kingdom maintained a selfish and disruptive presence throughout Africa. The long-term effects of this occupation can be seen today in many forms and many of the problems that Africa faces today can be attributed at least partially to European colonization.

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While many of these atrocities were committed long before the reign of the current members of the royal family, British occupation of Africa is not quite as far removed from the present as some may think. For example, the United Kingdom did not officially and ceremonially grant independence to Zimbabwe until 1980, well into the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Despite the many historical atrocities that have been committed by the British monarchy and royal family, Queen Elizabeth II, who has held the crown for nearly seven decades, has never publicly apologized or expressed remorse for these injustices.

The monarchy’s unwillingness to face up to past injustices combined with its ongoing silence on current social issues raise many questions about how the system can possibly be an agent of change.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Funeral took place at Windsor Castle on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Photo: The Royal Family 
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Funeral took place at Windsor Castle on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Photo: The Royal Family

The monarchy is not only an antiquated system from another age but also a hindrance to change, and for many, a symbol of normalized and systematic institutional racism.

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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