Caroline Davies, The Guardian, March 10, 2021
The Queen missed a crucial opportunity to publicly acknowledge and condemn racism in her response to the allegations made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, equality campaigners have said.
Casting the issue as a “private” family matter meant there was “no public accountability” from a public institution and the head of state and Commonwealth, they said.
In a 61-word statement intended to draw a line under the controversy, the Queen acknowledged that the issues raised by Harry and Meghan, regarding race in particular, were “concerning”. She said that “while some recollections may vary”, the claims were taken “very seriously”.
By contrast, Buckingham Palace’s statement last week in response to allegations that Meghan had bullied staff forcefully stressed that the palace would “not tolerate bullying or harassment”. It also said it would announce any findings on the bullying allegations at a later date.
Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, an equality thinktank, said: “In race space we look for consistency.” She said there was a lack of “equivalency” in the palace statement following the bullying allegations, and the statement on the race allegations.
“The palace is entitled to deal with the matter privately,” she said. “But the public hopes for leadership in tackling racial injustice in this country, particularly given the context of Black Lives Matter.
“We do want to see the royal family take a stand on the issue. Any examination of racism behind closed doors is a lost opportunity, and would ideally need to be matched by an equal commitment to address racism across the country and in the Commonwealth at large.”
She said the palace’s response to the race allegations could be used “as an opportunity for the monarchy to heal the country and play a leadership role”. By choosing to deal with it privately “there is no public accountability on this”.
Begum added: “I want to see proper accountability on racism in this country from its leaders. I do not want this to be a conversation about one family.”
Meghan and Harry claimed in their Oprah Winfrey interview on Sunday that an unnamed member of the royal family had asked about what their son Archie’s skin tone might be. There were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when born,” said Meghan.
She also suggested the fact Archie was mixed race meant he would be denied his birthright of becoming prince when Charles accedes the throne, and there was not parity with Charles’s other grandchildren.
Boris Johnson declined to comment on the Queen’s decision to address the issues raised by the Sussexes in private. His spokesperson refused to be drawn on whether the prime minister supported the decision to investigate the claims within the family.
The Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: “There should be a public condemnation of racism. They did it with bullying, why not do it with racism? The Sussexes went to great lengths to make the point that the Queen was not the issue. There needs to be a response from the institution.
“The monarchy is a public institution that receives public money, and any criticism of the institution should really be met with a forceful response from the institution about what they are going to do. We expect it of any institution, why not the monarchy? Why not the palace?” she said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Tyrek Morris, a co-founder of the student protest group All Black Lives, said: “It could have been a perfect opportunity to clearly condemn racism. We’ve had a whole summer of protests that have highlighted racism within establishments. So I am quite disappointed. But then I didn’t expect anything more.”
By dealing with the matter privately, he said, “it means we the public have no way of knowing, of seeing, what the outcome is. It’s not enough.”
He said it “100%” led to concerns matters could be swept under the carpet. “The fact they have said it will be investigated in private, within the grounds of Buckingham Palace, that means nothing. It doesn’t give any hope it is an issue that will be sorted, it gives no confidence at all.”