The British royals may be set to welcome a Black member into their family, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook for hundreds of years of colonizing and enslaving Africans and dark-skinned people around the globe, all while amassing a ton of wealth in the process.
Sorry to be the one to throw cold water on the recent announcement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle‘s engagement, but somebody has to do it.
For one, despite the media craze surrounding Markle, a biracial African-American actor, would not be the first royal of African descent. There was Philippa of Hainault (1314-69), the Queen-Consort of Edward III, and Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), who was descended from the Black branch of the Portuguese royal family, and whose namesakes are the cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia. Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Queen Charlotte–the first Black Queen of England.
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
— Doris Brown (@brownpoodle1) November 27, 2017
One should not overlook the optics and symbolism of having a woman of color as a member of a family that represents a most conspicuous and potent symbol of white European wealth and power. Surely, the white supremacists that Trump retweets–the Britain First crowd, those who embrace Brexit and assassinated a member of Parliament–are reacting to the news with horror and rage.
There’s something to be said for breaking down traditionally white spaces, whether the White House or Buckingham Palace, but the conversations cannot stop there, lest we praise the symbolism and lose sight of the substance.
The British royal family presided over the exploitation of untold millions of people in Africa, India and around the world. Britain’s national wealth, and the riches of the royal family were built off the backs of slaves, making the Industrial Revolution possible.
The Duke of York and his brother Charles II, founded the Royal African Company, an English slave-trading company, was founded by the Duke of York and his brother King Charles II. Britain dominated the international slave trade, and its raping and pillaging of West Africa was highly profitable for the royal family. According to the National Archives, between 1640 and 1807, Britain transported an estimated 3.1 million Africans to its colonies in the Caribbean, North and South America and other countries. Of that number, 2.7 million arrived.
When Britain abolished slavery in 1833, the country paid its 46,000 slave owners the modern-day equivalent of £17 billion (US$23 billion) in compensation, representing 40 percent of the government’s annual expenditures and the largest bailout in British history until the 2009 bank bailout. Those families and their present-day descendants became wealthy from the enslavement of Black people. Meanwhile, the 800,000 Africans, mostly working in the Caribbean plantations, received not a penny, and were forced to work as low wage apprentices for their former masters until 1838.
According to Dr. Robert Beckford, a British academic theologian, Britain owes the Caribbean a total of £7.5 trillion (US$10.1 trillion), which includes an estimated £4 trillion (US$5.4 trillion) it stole from the region in unpaid labor, £2.5 trillion (US$3.4 trillion) in unjust enrichment to the British economy, and another £1 trillion (US$1.3 trillion) in pain and suffering.
The British do not want to pay reparations, opting for an emphasis on trade and cooperation with Jamaica and its other former colonies in the Caribbean. The CARICOM member states have a ten-point plan to seek slavery reparations from European nations for “the region’s indigenous and African descendant communities who are the victims of Crimes against Humanity (CAH) in the forms of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.”
The British royal family owes Black people untold wealth for African slavery and colonialism, and the millions of Black lives lost. These debts are not wiped out simply because Meghan Markle is wearing a crown.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.