Here is the first of 3 posts that were on a previous platform. I tweaked a few more infelicities out of it. I wrote this in the full flush of the political trauma of the Trump presidency.
May 20, 2018
The look on Zara Phillip's face summed up the story of her cousin's wedding. The non-royal daughter of Princess Anne, the granddaughter of the Queen, and Prince Harry's cousin, Zara sat up straighter and straighter as she listened to the sermon given by the Reverend Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Her eyes darted back and forth from her right, where the pulpit Curry preached from stood, to across the aisle from her, where Doria Ragland, the mother of Meghan Markle, was nodding in response to the bishop's call. One row behind and a few seats to the right of Ms Ragland, in other words within Zara's line of sight, Oprah Winfrey swayed back and forth in gentle appreciation of Curry's oratory. I could be mistaken, but I believe Zara was among the first in her family -- with the possible exception of Harry and his father Prince Charles -- to realize what was happening. It seemed as though it had just occurred to her: "Oh my God, this royal wedding is --- ETHNIC!" Like the majority of her family, she had been lulled into assuming that, whatever her new cousin-in-law's background might be, Meghan Markle would assimilate into the Royal Family's culture of philanthropic entitlement. The look on Zara's face suggested that she sensed the tremors under the House of Windsor were, in fact, moving in the opposite direction.
The core Royals - the Queen, Prince Charles, William, and Harry - are no strangers to the world's diversity. They all reportedly have strong, positive attachments to the so-called "imperial family" in its modern guise, the Commonwealth. They have all traveled widely. Prince Charles's foundation, The Prince's Trust, has done much good in communities of color throughout Britain. However paternalistic it is, their appreciation of African cultures, societies, and environmental issues appears genuine. I have no doubt they consider themselves worldly, compassionate people. In contrast, the minor Royals behave like updated versions of Bertie Wooster's country house set. They embody a form of entitlement and snobbery that undermines the efforts of the productive members of the family. As far as I could tell, all of them had trouble containing not their “giggles,” as the press account put it, but their sniggers at Curry's rhetorical style, which most Americans of any ancestry, would recognize.
Meghan and Harry’s wedding brought into relief a more particular limitation to the Royals’ cosmopolitan appreciation of non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. The scene in St George’s Chapel showed them that Meghan Markle delivered African American history and culture to the royal table and that African Americans are different from the Commonwealth’s inhabitants of color.
Both African Americans and the peoples of former British colonies share a history of exploitation and oppression. The experience of any one population is not worse or better than another. African Americans nevertheless occupy a special place in US and Atlantic history, because the enslaved people and their descendants live and still live within the same national boundaries as do the people who enslaved them and their descendants. When the US Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery on US soil, the formerly enslaved stayed put and the enslavers not only stayed, they regained the ground they lost in 1864. That persistent co-habitation sets African Americans, their culture, and their impact on white American culture apart from the experiences of former colonial powers and subjects. The accumulating layers of ever intensifying tension infuse our culture because Americans of African and European descent lived together in a state of structural inequity and institutional violence directed at the descendants of slaves. That particular tension has given rise to a powerful and eloquent tradition of social activism grounded in biblical rhetoric that is particular to African Americans. Secondarily, it informs American art, music, and language and distinguishes all Americans as a people. That history diverges sharply from the British (and the French and the Spanish), who never shared their homeland with the people they enslaved and their descendants in large numbers until the mid-twentieth century. I’m sure they did not articulated the situation the way I just have, but the Royal family were schooled in the history of slavery when Harry married Meghan. To this extent, African Americans are exceptional. They live amidst the culture of those who had enslaved them.
I enjoyed the wedding in its entirety. In general, I enjoy the pageantry of the British monarchy. It's a welcome relief for those Americans who want to end this catastrophic spin-off of the Sopranos as soon as possible. We are suffering from a light case of PTSD, so a distraction helps. But more than that, right now, this constitutional monarchy doesn't seem to me to be especially antithetical to our democratic values. The Netherlands , Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Spain all have constitutional monarchs within social-democratic systems. I could live with that. Queen Elizabeth II understands her constitutional role. Prince Charles and his sons show signs of wanting to test the limits of their inherited roles, but the chances of the British monarch usurping power seem no greater than the peril the United States finds itself in since Russia helped put Trump in the White House. Everything looks different after November, 2016. Our republic looks pretty fragile right now. Eliminating the monarchy in Britain will not save them so much money that it would solve Britain's economic problems, even if the current government were inclined to pass on the savings to the NHS.
Saturday, I felt good and hopeful for the first time in a long time. Maybe it's an illusion, but I believe it's harmless one. So, I'm all for letting the forward thinking members of the family -- Charles, William, Harry, and Meghan -- figure out the direction in which to orient the Crown. We have much more important matters to think about.
Postscript: Well, we see now how well that all worked out, don’t we?