A First Royal Baby with an African Heritage? Not Quite, but This Is Still a Great Step Towards Modernity
With the birth of Meghan Markle’s baby boy, the Royal family has taken a giant leap forward in reflecting modern Britain.
The United Kingdom has been an ever more multiracial society ever since the war. But the new arrival will still be the first major member of the Royal family to have African-American blood.
The Sussex baby won’t be the first member of the Firm to have African blood, though. Queen Charlotte, George III’s wife, almost certainly had African genes, thanks to her ancestor, Alfonso III of Portugal, who took the city of Faro back from the Moors in the 13th century and had a son by the daughter of the Moor governor.
But that was a link shared across the span of half a millennium. With the Sussex baby, you have something much more remarkable: a monarch’s great-grandchild who is not only of African descent but also descended from African slaves.
Critics of monarchy have scoffed at the idea that this is exceptional news.
White British people have been intermarrying with black British people for decades. Why should the arrival of the Sussex baby boy be any different from the arrival of millions of other babies with mixed heritage in this country?
Yes, it’s true that the Royal Family are behind the times, as they have always been.
In 1923, the Queen Mother was the first commoner to marry a future king since Anne Hyde married James II 250 years before. In 1937, the former Edward VIII was the first king, albeit an ex-one, to marry a divorcee — an American divorcee, too, like Meghan, though, unlike Meghan, his wife, Wallis Simpson, never had children. And in 2011, Prince William was the first direct-in-line heir to the throne to marry a bride without a title in the modern age.
Kate Middleton had to face some shockingly snobbish remarks then, as Meghan Markle has had to deal with some dreadful racism — either through evil trolls online or through racism masked as snobbery or raised eyebrows at her supposed misunderstanding of royal conventions.
In each of these breakthroughs, the Royal family has been late to repeat what had become commonplace in everyday British society. That isn’t surprising. The Royal family is, by its very nature, a conservative institution; not least because it has managed to maintain itself and its institutions for 1,000 years.
It also tends to be led by a fairly old figure, given the clan is led by a hereditary ruler until death. Progress made by younger generations, like the Sussexes, will tend to be at several generations’ remove from the monarch.
But even when the Royal family adopts a progressive measure decades after the people at large, it acts as a rubber stamp, giving the highest end of society’s approval to a shift in values.
Britain may be a multicultural society and it may be one where relations are more harmonious than in many other countries. But it would be foolish to deny there are still racial divisions in this country. Only last week, Nigel Farage sought to make political hay for his Brexit party by exploiting racial divisions in the North of England.
Only last week, too, I was told by a black friend that she could still hear a momentary pause in conversation when she walked into an all-white restaurant in Cornwall recently.
The birth of the Sussex boy makes a significant blow against that kind of shocked reaction to a non-white face in a white place.
In a very short period, Meghan Markle has had a seismic effect on the Royal family, as a mixed-race, American TV star. And yet, barely a year since her wedding, she has become part of the royal furniture. She has created a new royal normal.
And the new baby will, in time, also utterly change global perceptions of our ruling family. Many congratulations to the new parents and welcome to the latest addition to the most successful, adaptable Royal family the world has ever seen.