His Royal Highness Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his brother Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, are expected to divide their shared household and create separate courts in the next few weeks to reflect the changing responsibilities of their roles. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge face the reality of William’s future role at the helm of the British Monarchy, the Duke & Duchess of Sussex will play a prominent role as figureheads of the British Commonwealth.
Alleged frictions on a soap-operatic scale between the two families have been reported in recent months. All the rumors orbit around Harry’s new spouse Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. Rifts between wives, clashes between brothers, awkward gaffes involving bananas, an alienated family, dismayed courtiers, as well as a string of staff departures over the ‘Duchess Difficult,’ including a Scotland Yard bodyguard, a revolving door of long-serving aides and a private secretary. Today’s announcement of a divide of communications teams, along with a formal announcement of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex’ move out of William and Harry’s childhood home of Kensington Palace, once shared with their beloved mother Princess Diana, is an effort to ease tension and reflect their changing responsibilities.
It would seem Queen Elizabeth has Meghan’s back. Reportedly she was delighted with the Duchess of Sussex’ “Commonwealth” wedding veil. A few months ago, after weeks of palace rumors about tensions between Prince Harry’s American bride and ranking members of the royal family, the Queen gave Meghan, her first official royal role. Buckingham Palace announced that the Duchess, the first American member of the Windsor family as well as its first member of African descent, would become the patroness of four charitable institutions. She will become Royal Patron for a number of patronages, one of which being the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
Smoothing her way into a public role will test the capacity of the British Monarchy to broaden its appeal to include the 53 countries of the British Commonwealth. But it’s not clear yet whether the British backlash against Meghan and her ‘change all’ and overt social justice views will enable the couple to promote the goals of the Commonwealth or create new ‘Brexit level’ divide of opinion.
In her new role as patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Meghan has backed a campaign by black academics to ‘decolonize the curriculum’. She told scholars: “Just open up that conversation so we are talking about it, as opposed to continuing with that daily rote … sometimes that approach can be really antiquated and needs an update.”
The “decolonization” movement wants to confront the ‘male, pale & stale professors’ and ensure there is more diversity among teachers in higher education. As British universities have struggled to make progress in promoting black and other minority staff to senior positions, an expected reaction from the Establishment or the tabloids might be to ‘fail, jail and derail.’
The American media and Meghan’s celebrity friends have rallied to the defense of their American Princess, but it fails to understand the British modus operandi. Meghan’s chagrin at the perceived inadequacy of the UK’s racial equality programs in universities is arguably an irony. It’s not as if racially-based social justice programs in American universities have been a resounding success. Putting social justice at the heart of the British Monarchy may be the start of a new civil war.
Dr Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, is skeptical that Meghan can change views on racism and diversity in the UK. In a recent article, Dr Andrews argued that she will not be allowed to be a “black princess.”
“The Royal Family is probably our premier institution of whiteness if you look at the idea of the Empire, the Commonwealth, the time when Britain was great and Britannia ruled the waves.”
It’s not a coincidence that 68% of people think that colonialism was a good thing and about 68% of people believe that the monarchy is a good thing as well. So the monarchy is this kind of symbol of many of the problems with Britain and how it relates to race.”
In 2015, Meghan wrote an article for Elle magazine talking, about her own experiences of having a black mother and white father, and the “undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America.” She added: “While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from to voice my pride in being a strong, confident, mixed-race woman.”
If the Duchess does not overreach, she will have an important voice. Among the Duchess’s new Patronages, there’s a grand platform to connect with all women, plus 30% of the world’s population of which 60% are under 30 (the world’s most connected generation). The Association of Commonwealth Universities, the voice of higher education across the Commonwealth, which supports the development of higher education, is excited to have Meghan as their royal figurehead, across more than 50 countries, including Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Singapore.
As Britain teeters on the brink of a great fall out of the European Union, the thoughts of the royal family turn to the former British Empire, and most of all to Asia, where a post-Brexit Britain will seek its future. More than economics is in play; a majority of members of the Anglican Communion are now Africans from former British colonies, a fact that bears on the Queen’s role as head of the Church of England.