An unusual royal affairThe wedding ceremony broke all the stiff-upper-lip, white gentry-aristocracy-only British traditions
I have always felt some disdain for people on whom, as Shakespeare writes in his play, Twelfth Night, “greatness [is] thrust upon them.” And of all people, royalties everywhere belong by virtue of their birth to this category. And, so, at heart, I have always harbored republican sentiments. In my five years of working in the late eighties at a college in Kingsway in Kathmandu, I can’t recall a single occasion when I rushed to the streets to catch a glimpse of the royal ride in a cavalcade of shiny, black bullet-proof cars.
Yet, this past Saturday (May 19, 2018), I forewent my well-protected habit of a late riser on a weekend and watched live on television Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding held at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. Not only that, I was quick to defend the royal wedding on Facebook, too. And, when I received a picture of Meghan Markle riding with Prince Harry in a carriage from my department colleague who is currently leading the London Study program of our university, I texted back, “Wow! You witnessed history in person! To watch such history-making on television is in itself disorienting but to witness it in person must be a blessing.” My colleague immediately replied, “My thoughts exactly. The ceremony was both traditional and innovative. Plus there were people from all over the Commonwealth to watch. A very interesting and complex spectacle!”
Like never before
What was so interesting and complex about the royal wedding? Why did I forego my beloved morning pillow to watch the wedding live? I can’t speak for the 1.9 billion people who watched the ceremony live but for me the wedding was loaded as much with drama as the complexity and irony of history. It spoke volumes about the present moment. It represented the complexity of the United States of America and of the forces that shape American identity; and, most importantly, it set a symbolic milestone in the history of modernity/coloniality by taking a decisive break from the past.
We are living in a dichotomy between great possibilities and disturbing signs on the world stage. Massive global migration from South to North and increasing global inequality, xenophobia (as evidenced in the Brexit vote), white nationalism (in the United States and Europe), a feeling of otherness toward the immigrants and Muslims—all are on the rise in many countries. At a time like this, a Royal has embraced a biracial (according to the one-drop rule, a Black) foreigner as a spouse who carries with her the legacy of slavery as well. Therefore, the royal wedding came as a most powerful symbolic antidote to the resurgent poison of hatred and racism and fear of the other.
What’s more, the wedding ceremony broke all the stiff-upper-lip, white gentry-aristocracy-only British traditions. Be it the African American Episcopal Bishop Michael Bruce Curry’s loud and dramatic invocation about love in the best traditions of the African American church sermon, the rousing rendering of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” by the Kingdom Choir—the Christian gospel group of South London whose members were almost all black with unique hairstyle and clothing representing the sophistication and complexity of the Afro-British and African American cultural heritage; or the magical solo performance of the Afro-British teenage cellist, Sheku Kenneh-Mason. Everything about this royal wedding was something never seen before.
The fact that the British Monarchy has willingly accepted all this makes it especially poignant and resonant because it is unlike any other monarchy in the world. The institution of British monarchy had been the source of colonialism and racism for the past five hundred years. It represented the prime and height of colonialism. Its monarchs (Henry VII’s letter of patent to John Cabot is but one example) issued orders to confiscate and appropriate the lands of the heathens; it authorised slavery and profited from it; in its name, the British aristocracy and the middle class practiced racism in order to maintain and expand its empire in the Americas, Asia and Africa.
And, finally, the wedding also once again demonstrated the power of American institutions in the self-fashioning of an individual, as it had done in the prominent case of Barak Obama. Meghan Markle was born in a middle class white-black biracial family that broke up when she was but a child. Biologically Markle was born to a middle class family, but she has become who is today because of the American education system.
She double majored in theater and international relations at Northwestern University in Chicago. Her school and college taught her not only the course curriculum but also how and who to be. She became a Hollywood actor, founded her own lifestyle website and released a line of women’s fashion work wear. Eventually, she found her passion in promoting women’s rights and children’s welfare in India and Africa. And most recently, Time magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people of 2018.
America, despite its many flaws, made an ordinary biracial Meghan Markle the extraordianary Meghan Markle—a woman in her own right and a feminist for whom being a divorcee is not a stigma but an ordinary event in the course of living life. An event that even the British Royals had to overlook unlike in the past.
Yet, her father, Thomas Markle, declared bankruptcy in 2016 and her half-siblings, like Cinderella’s half-siblings, are not only jealous and mean but less than admirable people, who were making cheap public statements to make a few bucks. Character is truly destiny. And for all these reasons, it was worth waking up early in Chicago to watch live the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Mishra is the Department Chair of English Studies at Lewis University in the United States