By Aymen Sherwani, February 2 2023—
The British Royal Family is not a foreign and far off concept to me — it’s been less than a century of independence for both Pakistan, the nation where I was born, and Canada, the nation where I was raised. The family as an institution has been at the helm of oppressive, assimilatory practices that have permanently altered the psyches of those who have suffered in countries all across the Global South. Being forced to learn English and being shamed for wearing traditional clothes have existed in both societies — with residential schools in Canada still very much remaining to be a dark stain on an already bloody past for the nation.
What I find so odd, however, is that there has been a surge of support for Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, from the same people who recognize their family’s harmful history — the kind that puts them up on a pedestal alongside people who have risked their lives for their voices to be heard. Just last year in 2022 the couple were awarded the Ripple of Hope Award for fighting against racism and oppression around the world, while past recipients of the award have included Desmond Tutu, Colin Kaepernick and Volodomyr Zelensky.
Since then, the couple has branded themselves as champions of racial activism — as seen in their Netflix docuseries — and have pushed the narrative that they are facing racial injustice from the British media and the royal family as an institution. While their experiences of being an interracial couple may be valid, conflating their positions with those of social justice is dangerous because they are anything but that.
First and foremost — to be a prince, or a duchess or any position where you assume a divine right to rule over others simply because of your blood is diametrically opposed to the pillars of racial justice. It suggests an idea of blood purity that simply does not align with equality. What I find fascinating, however, is that, while sticking to his very public stance against racial injustice, Prince Harry’s new tell-all Spare reinforces his love for the monarchy and his reverence for past rulers like Queen Victoria — who’s 19th century rule saw severe assimilatory crackdown on Canada’s Indigenous peoples and starvation in then-British India. To Prince Harry, the horrors of post-colonial realities are faint suggestions that he apparently has nothing to do with because he considers himself to be the runt of the litter.
“At the centre of the cross was a diamond the size of a cricket ball…the great diamond of the world, a 105-carat monster called the Koh-i-Noor, the largest diamond ever seen in human eyes,” the prince said referring to the British monarch’s crown. “Acquired by the British empire at it’s zenith — stolen, some thought — I’d heard it was mesmerizing and I heard it was cursed.”
South Asian diasporas have been calling for the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond to the region for decades, as its continued use is a reminder of just how severely British India was plundered by the royal family. For Prince Harry to act as though he’s a mere passive observer to a colonial institution rather than a senior royal family member feels like an easy way out of the harsh reality of the entitlement that exists within the institution. To refer to an oppressive colonial regime as being at its zenith when it’s plundering another country is the anti-thesis of the racial equality narrative Harry is attempting to pedal and, at this point, I don’t really feel bad for him.
“I’d met someone years earlier, a girl from South Africa,” he also mentions. “Chelsea, born in raised in Zimbabwe now living in Cape Town, loved it — her father owned a big game farm and that was the fulcrum of her world.”
The exploitation of Zimbabwe’s resources and animal population has also been a controversy in the past, especially considering the country banned the hunt of big game animals such as leopards and elephants. It seems a little distasteful to only mention glimmers of such exploitation in passing — only bringing it up because the girl that the prince happens to be dating at the time has a father who makes his riches in the region — but it’s no consequence to you because he’s the “Spare,” right? That seems to be the common denominator here.
The memoir itself is about the life of Prince Harry, how he was affected by the death of his late mother, as well as how his marriage to Meghan Markle and disputes with the British press have caused a seemingly unresolvable rift. His narrative tells us about the way the monarchy thinks about inequality underneath all of the PR — meaning, that they don’t consider it at all. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, the Duke of Sussex maintains an implicit position that — had it not been for the way that he and his wife were treated by the British press — he would still be a strong adherent to the monarchy. That level of conditionality just does not sit right with me.
After listening to his audiobook — which, to his credit, he does a very good job of narrating — it’s not that I don’t feel bad for the trauma Harry and Meghan have experienced. I do. I simply question the motives of a biracial woman that felt as though there was nothing wrong with marrying into a family who endorsed the slave trade until she was rejected from it and a man who claims to be a newfound racial activist as a means to remove himself from accountability for his past. The position Prince Harry is taking here isn’t that of a racial activist — it’s of a man who feels snubbed and is only speaking out because of this. I can’t support that.
This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.