Britain has its own Aryan Brotherhood, a brotherhood of white supremacists that reside in a network of heavily fortified residences across the country, high fences, razor-wire, armed guards: The Royal Family.
The high level of blindness to Britain’s own racism, its own historic and contemporary role in the system of white supremacy, in constructing it as an ideology and in constructing it as a system of laws and as an enforcer, through its Empire and the apartheid states that it spawned (USA, South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Northern Ireland), means that in this article I will have to refer to pretty much the only phenomenon that most Westerners will accept categorically as racist and villainous: the Nazis. In fact, the Nazis explicitly sought to emulate the ‘achievements’ of the British Empire and of the USA – achievements that included genocide and legal systems that institutionalised racism. They were even a model for the eugenics programmes that the Nazis imitated. In reality, the British Royal family should be used as a byword for racism, and this article wouldn’t be necessary at all. But all of a sudden one of them married a person of colour (Meghan Markle) and people are actually arguing and believing the argument that somehow the Royals are not only not racist, but anti-racist. This is a sick perversion of reality.
The Royal Family supposedly sits at the pinnacle of a pyramid of genetic superiority. Their whole existence is predicated on the ‘purity’ of their blood and they are obsessed with bloodlines and breeding. ‘Well-bred’ is a word still in currency among them and their circles. Britain, along with other European colonising powers, is the epicentre and origin of modern racism. Racism as we know it was formed during the conquest by European empire-builders of the rest of the world. Racism is a system, not just a personal prejudice. Racism was a (pseudo) scientific endeavour on the part of European elites seeking intellectual and moral justification for their colonisation projects. In competition with each other, they sought to divide up the world between them, seizing land and enslaving populations en masse. Enslavement and seizing land tended to involve genocide: the slaughter by one means or another of untold millions. The British monarchy were at the centre of all this, wielding enormous power as Emperors and Empresses, commissioning colonisers, slavers, conquistadors, buccaneers, to wreak havoc for non-European people. They amassed untold riches stolen from far-off lands: gold, jewels, works of art, diamonds, you name it. They had cash-flow from huge landgrabs, slavery, and the biggest drug trafficking operation the world has known, with Queen Victoria in the role of Pablo Escobar. The contemporary Royals continue in these traditions with their war-profiteering and enthusiasm for militaristic aggression towards populations of dark-skinned people.
European elite scientists constructed a set of ideas, categorised people by what we now know are fairly arbitrary characteristics and attributed them with a hierarchy of values. Conveniently, ‘white’ people were sat atop this pyramid of races. Even by bourgeois standards it is now discredited – the system survives in an attenuated form as a cultural hierarchy (you know how the liberals justify their wars now, it’s still ‘the white man’s burden’: they need to teach those ‘savages’ about human rights and democracy… by bombing them back into the Stone Age!).
The British Empire and its descendents (i.e. the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, apartheid South Africa) have been the foremost promulgators of the system of racism, and the Royal Family have stood at the apex – as beneficiaries, as ‘the model’ and supposed paragon of whiteness, and as part of the leadership of the whole system. They participated in slavery and still to this day are not the slightest bit regretful (the Queen has pointedly refused to apologise for her family’s role), and even if they did perform the charade of an apology, they would show by their actions their lack of remorse by clinging on to their ill-gotten gains. The day they renounce their titles and powers, and give the entirety of their wealth away as reparations, is the day they’ll deserve any credit.
Meghan Markle has written that slavery is a ‘shatteringly recent’ event (her own great-great-great grandfather, named Wisdom, was a slave). When her husband, Harry, toured the islands of Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines (which all count the Queen as head of state), #notmyprince was trending on Caribbean Twitter and there was widespread demand for some acknowledgement of his family’s role in institutional slavery. Surveying the surviving infrastructure of empire; ports where slaves were shipped in and plantations where they were worked to the bone, Harry ignored such demands. When Elizabeth II visited Barbados in 1966 she stayed with her cousin, Lord Harewood, on a sugar plantation that had been in the family since 1780. Present-day Royals have a strong connection to their slaver past.
The vast wealth and privilege Harry inherited doesn’t come without guilt for how it was acquired if he does nothing to rectify the wrongdoing. Charles II’s brother arranged to ship 3,000 enslaved Africans to the Caribbean each year, they were branded with a scorching hot iron ‘DY’ to show they were the property of the ‘Duke of York’. Elizabeth has repeatedly refused point blank to apologise, admit any culpability and in a letter to Jamaican Rastafarians she even made the extraordinary excuse that slavery at that time was not a crime against humanity. This is a straight-up justification. Imagine the same excuse being made for the Nazi Holocaust: ‘well it was legal at the time’.
Furthermore, she has shown no embarrassment or disapproval of her husband’s continual use of slurs and racist language towards Chinese, Papua New Guineans, Indians, Solomon Islanders, Jamaicans, Aboriginals, and Bangladeshis. Not surprising for an old Nazi from a family full of Nazis. Three of Philip’s sisters married high-ranking Nazis, Philip attended a funeral alongside many high-ranking Nazis in the 1930s, and as late as 2006 was still defending his family’s attraction to Nazism. I mean, what’s not to like for such people? Racism, check. Anti-semitism, check. Extreme suppression of working class forces, trade unions and communists, check. Regressive patriarchal attitudes, check. Empire-building, check.
It wasn’t just Philip’s side of the family, either. The Queen was taught to perform Nazi salutes by her uncle as a child. Her mother was notorious for her support for apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia and was a big fan of Hitler. So was her husband, for that matter, the King and father of Queen Elizabeth. He was good friends with his cousin, the Duke of Coburg, who was an Obergruppenfuhrer. His brother was a well-known Nazi-sympathiser who visited Germany in the late 1930s and performed a Nazi salute in public to show his support.
The apples don’t tend to fall too far from the tree in this family. When Prince Charles encountered a Mancunian of Guyanese roots, Anita Sethi, he asked ‘And where are you from?’ ‘Manchester’, she replied. ‘Well you don’t look like it!’ he said, laughing. Sethi said she was ‘stunned … that the mooted next leader of an organisation that represents one-third of the people on the planet commented that I, a brown woman, did not look as if I was from a city in the UK is shocking’.
And Charles’s sons, again, have absorbed the family white supremacism and Nazi-sympathising. Harry turned up at a fancy dress party in full Nazi uniform, swastika and all. Not so easily passed off as a sick joke when you know the family history. Footage of his time in the military emerged of Harry referring to other soldiers, dripping with bigoted condescension as ‘our little paki friend’ and ‘raghead’.
William continued in the same vein, with the racist trope of scaremongering about people of colour having children – ‘they’re outbreeding us’, my racist Auntie often used to say. If you say Africans are breeding too much, while expecting your third child, it suggests you believe yourself and your family to be somehow bound by a different set of rules to Africans, no?
Speaking at a Gala Dinner at the Roundhouse in Camden for the Tusk Trust, he said ‘Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 – a staggering increase of 3 and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure’. He’s worried the humans of Africa (in fact, subhumans as far as he is concerned) are crowding out the wildlife, limiting his opportunities to hunt them, I’m sure.
Finally, there’s Princess Michael of Kent the Queen’s cousin’s wife, whose father was an SS officer. Princess Michael of Kent arrived at an event attended by Meghan Markle wearing a blackamoor brooch which fetishizes slavery. She claimed not to be aware of the symbolism, but this is bunk – Dolce and Gabbana had already caused a public uproar in 2012 and 2013 by including it in 2 separate collections. She also has form on throwaway racist remarks – she allegedly told a group of black diners to ‘go back to the colonies’. Weirdly she also ‘pretended years ago to be an African, a half-caste African, but because of my light eyes I did not get away with it, but I dyed my hair black’. Her denial of being racist also sounds really credible and not like someone trying badly to cover up their racism, at all: ‘I travelled on African buses. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted experiences from Cape Town to right up in northern Mozambique. I had this adventure with these absolutely adorable, special people and to call me racist: it’s a knife through the heart because I really love these people’. She really loves ‘these people’. Sure! I believe you Princess Michael, thousands wouldn’t. She even defended Harry’s Nazi costume and has apparently commented that ‘most of the English believe the wogs begin at Calais’.
We don’t need to know all these expressions of prejudice to understand this institution as a representation of systematic racism, but it shows that despite all the PR, the overworked journalists paid to fluff their image, despite the crass attempts to appear tolerant, the reality shows through.
Theodore Allen The Invention of the White Race (Verso: 2012)
Mike Davis Late Victorian Holocausts (Verso: 2017)