Royal Family Accusations Raise Race Issue in Commonwealth Nations

    13 March 2021

    In countries with historic ties to Britain, recent accusations by Prince Harry and Meghan have raised a difficult question: Do those nations still want to be closely connected to Britain and its royal family?

    In a recent interview, Meghan said that an unnamed member of the royal family had raised "concerns" about how dark the skin color of her baby with Harry would be. At the time, she was pregnant with the couple's son, Archie. Meghan's mother is Black and her father is white. She also claimed in the interview that the palace failed to help her when she experienced suicidal thoughts.

    Buckingham Palace said Tuesday the accusations of racism by Harry and Meghan were "concerning" and would be dealt with privately by the royal family.

    It was expected that Harry and Meghan's interview would uncover more divisions in the royal family.

    But now, it also seems to be risking divisions within the "family" of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a group of 54 countries, most of them former British colonies. For many years, Queen Elizabeth II has been the driving force behind the Commonwealth.

    Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in this undated handout photo. Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in this undated handout photo. Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

    After the TV interview, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was another reason for the country to cut its constitutional ties to Britain's royal family.

    "After the end of the queen's reign, that is the time for us to say: OK, we've passed that watershed," Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Watershed is a term that means a time when an important change happens.

    Turnbull added, "Do we really want to have whoever happens to be the head of state, the king or queen of the U.K.... our head of state?"

    The value of the Commonwealth has been debated before, with critics questioning whether countries and people colonized in the past should remain in such a group.

    Its stated aim is to improve international relations. But Britain's relationship with the members has been clouded by diplomatic issues and the long-term effects of colonization. In a speech to mark Commonwealth Day on Monday, the queen spoke of "the spirit of unity."

    The interview this week "opens our eyes further" on issues related to the Commonwealth, wrote Nicholas Sengoba, a newspaper writer in the former colony of Uganda.

    He questioned whether the heads of Commonwealth countries should still be "proud to eat dinner" with members of the British royal family.

    Reaction to the interview was especially strong in Africa.

    In Kenya, news of the interview appeared widely in the country's newspapers. "We feel very angry seeing our fellow African sister being harassed because she is black," said Nairobi resident Sylvia Wangari, about Meghan's claims of mistreatment.

    One Twitter user in South Africa wrote: "It's Britain and the royal family. What did you expect? They oppressed us for years."

    The interview was not shown on television in India, the Commonwealth's largest member country with 1.3 billion people. But it still was covered by the media and drew criticism from the public toward the royal family.

    Fashion writer Meenakshi Singh used the term elegant -- a term that means showing good taste -- when sharing her thoughts on the issue.

    "Behind that whole elegant facade are thoughts that are not so elegant," Singh said.

    I'm John Russell.

    Gerald Imray reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    interview – n. a meeting between a reporter and another person in order to get information for a news story

    reign – n. the period of time during which a king, queen, emperor, etc., is ruler of a country

    harassed – v. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way

    facade – n. a way of behaving or appearing that gives other people a false idea of your true feelings or situation