Every member of the Commonwealth has the memory of a family member obsessed with the royal family. Mine is of my great-grandfather, who, I hear, had a huge poster of King George VI plastered to his wall — it was practically wallpaper. My dad doesn’t remember much of it, except that it was very red, and that my grandfather was very serious about what a strong and powerful leader George was. I never knew my great-grandfather, but I like to imagine him following recent royal events in the newspaper very carefully, commenting on them like he was directly involved.
The people’s history with our colonizers is a complicated one. I spent my youth romanticizing the lives of Karen Blixen and Beryl Markham —both female British settlers— while at the same time sneering at the derogatory depiction of the Kikuyu people in “Out of Africa.” I knew that there was a Lord Delamere who would sit in the balcony of the Norfolk Hotel downtown and shoot Black people with a shotgun. Still, I spent years applauding the work of the East Africa Women’s League — a group of white settlers who spent their days doing what is now considered white savior work. All this is to say that I knew the kinds of atrocities British settlers committed in Kenya, but I still fantasized about being a settler.
For years, the Commonwealth’s admiration of the Crown has existed in tandem with our knowledge of the atrocities that they committed. At my Anglican prep school, we got two days off to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton get married. When I moved to an American international school and expected the same for Meghan and Harry, I was sorely disappointed. The royal family manages the space of both the cruel former master and the beloved fairy tale with a proximity that only those who carefully create and manage a century-long mythology can employ. The Crown is our enemy, but also our best friend: Calmly, we straddle the line in between.
We all thought that Meghan Markle was a miracle. Finally, there existed someone to validate our feelings of warmth toward the Crown. Years of unrequited love were finally being returned in the best of ways: marriage. Suddenly the distant fairy tale was at our doorstep. Meghan, a Black woman, a working woman, a cosmopolitan woman, a real woman — someone just like us — was as close as we always wanted to be.
But in the back of our minds there is always reality. Did we really expect Meghan to safely exist in British culture and media? The same Britain that forcefully seized our lands, massacred us by the thousands and created the very myths that oppress us today? While watching Meghan’s demise was saddening, it was certainly not unexpected. This is what the Crown — and the world of imperialism it represents — does to people like Meghan. It demonizes them, hurls racist comments at them and their kin and eventually, through a carefully curated media bonanza, casts them out of their homes. This was always her destiny.
Yet the very public fiasco that is Meghan Markle’s departure has never been seen before. For the first time, the entire world has been forced to reckon with the true reality of the British Crown. The fairy tale, although wearing thin in the rest of the Commonwealth, has lasted a little longer in America, where the royal family has always been viewed with the gentle fondness of a distant cousin or a next-door neighbor. Now the truth is out: Britain is racist. What are you going to do about it?
Gone are the days of my great-grandfather, when Britain and the royal family were deemed an integral part of the world order. Are we brave enough to stand up and call it out for what it really is? Out of all the former colonial powers, Britain is the only one that has managed to shirk responsibility, even suspicion, for the monsters it has created. France has done away with the West African CFA, the currency that centralized West African currency in the French treasury, and begun to return stolen artifacts to their home countries on the continent. King Philippe has become the first Belgian king to apologize for the atrocities committed in the Congo. These other colonizers still have a ways to go, but they’ve made a start.
Whatever happens after this, one thing I am sure about is that this is the beginning of the end of our fantasy. It’s time to face the truth about what the Crown truly means to us, even if that truth destroys a perfect image. Even while admiring the royal family, I have always been perfectly clear on where they stand with me, a dark-skinned Black woman from a former colony. While Meghan’s story is sad, maybe it’s also a wake-up call.
It’s time for the British Crown to have a reckoning. Meghan Markle’s exit is just the tip of the iceberg. Are we willing to uncover the whole lot?
AWUOR ONGURU is a first year in Berkeley College. Her column, titled ‘Wild West,’ runs every other Tuesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.