The dust around Buckingham Palace is yet to settle following the ruinous disclosures made by Prince Harry and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle in the recent televised interview with Oprah.
In less than two hours, the former senior royals shook the foundations of the 1,200-year-old institution when they alleged that race played a major role in the scathing attacks Markle was subjected to by the British tabloids in addition to the lack of protection and title granted to her son by ‘The Firm’.
Whether the allegations of racism were an epiphany or simply a “ah dat me did know” moment for Caribbean people, most can agree the Harry-Meghan interview and resulting press coverage has fueled renewed discussion about the relationship between CARICOM and the British monarchy.
Such conversation is not new territory for the former British colonies who have been released from the shackles of Britain since the era of independence. Most recently, the issue of sovereignty has reared its head on the island of Barbados when government signaled their intention to move toward a republican form of government by November 2022. They will be joining their regional counterparts, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and the Commonwealth of Dominica, who have taken the words of caution expressed by the late Errol Walton Barrow about “loitering on colonial premises.”
Considering the claims of racism levelled by Harry and Meghan and against the backdrop of friction between the UK and the region caused by the Windrush Scandal in 2019 and the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest which saw the fall of British imperialist monuments- there should be a melting pot of Caribbean citizens keen to ditch the Queen. Instead, what exists, is an assortment of people possessing lukewarm views about continuing with the Queen as the Head of State.
Political scientist and Director of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) Peter Wickham has put forward reasons for the mixed-monarchy views during an interview with Caribbean Heritage Magazine. He said there are a spectrum of people who recognize the value of sovereignty and others whose “day to day struggle to live and eat really don’t give them a lot of time to think about these kinds of issues.”
“For some of us [the Queen] is a bigger deal than for others,” Wickham put forward. Wickham pointed to several failed referendums in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda as well as Grenada, which included proposals to remove the Queen as Head of State and the rejection of the Privy Council. The proposed constitutional reform did not achieve the desired result not because the citizens hold the British monarchy in high regard but rather because of the electorate expressing their vote in favour of or in opposition to the government.
“If the argument is to hold water that we are so angered by the racism, then I would be able to say with confidence that the referendum will pass but I am pretty sure that if you hold a referendum to become a republic tomorrow in any of those OECS islands, it will fail.”
So, after Barbados turns their back on the Queen, the question remains: which Caribbean country, if any, is most likely to follow?
“My sense is that after Barbados [becomes republic], that it is for a while because I don’t see which Caribbean island can win a referendum, maybe Jamaica. They need a referendum where two-thirds of the people support the change, but I don’t think they are the stage where two-thirds will support the change to become a republic.”
For Jamaican youth activist and Deputy National Coordinator of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network, Adrian Henriques as well as many other Jamaicans, the issue of sovereignty, first raised by former Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller in 2012, has since taken a backseat to more pressing issues.
“Citizens on the ground will tell you that [a republic] is not a real priority for them. For them, the priorities right now are regarding crime and the COVID-19 pandemic and most importantly economic opportunities.”
This is not to say that those in the land of wood and water are deaf and blind to recent events. As Henriques pointed out, “Jamaicans strongly detest the idea of racism in any form from Britain or the United States.” This point was evident when, in June 2020, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the suspension of the British royal insignia, the Order of St. Michael and St. George, due to its racist connotations. The badge shows a white angel standing on the head of Satan, depicted as a dark-skinned man. An online petition calling for it to be redesigned was launched by Change.org.
This fervour, however, does not extend to the views of the Queen, Henriques explained to Caribbean Heritage Magazine, pointing to a national survey carried out in 2011 which showed that 66% of Jamaicans stated that they preferred to stay under the coattails of Queen Elizabeth II. “The whole idea of Jamaica being a republic has been talked about as far back as 1976” and up to 2021 most of the conversation has been just that–talk with no action,” Henriques said. He explained the benefits of being part of the Commonwealth of Nations continues to be a strong buy-in for Jamaica.
“… [Prime Ministers] have all floated the idea of leaving the monarchy and becoming a republic but there has not been any strong push by politicians to leave the monarchy. I believe that is because the Commonwealth has been of massive benefit to Jamaica in terms of youth opportunities, funding for different developmental programs such as anti-corruption efforts, justice reform, sports and youth leadership,” Henriques added.
As Barbados prepares to get its house in order for the move next year, those with vested interest in the affairs of the region will continue to keep eyes on any developments arising out of the Palace. The most recent news indicates that a change may be on the horizon following the announcement that a “diversity review” is underway aimed at increasing the presence of persons from different ethnic backgrounds in the royal households.
Christina Katrina Smith is a freelance writer in Barbados.