What should we make of Meghan and racism?

Perhaps the current rumpus over Meghan and Harry will enable this Country to have a serious discussion about our past and present and like them move on to a new reality

I must admit that I haven’t watched anything about this on the telly and only thought about it at all because of a discussion on the Today programme earlier. My normal take on the Royal Family is polite lack of interest. In many ways we are well served by our royal family and especially Her Majesty the Queen who is the epitome of dignified lifelong service.

In others though I feel sorry for them. They are surrounded by sycophancy and flummery. Imagining being 40 and really having nothing to aim for as so many of them are. There are only so many hands you can shake and ribbons you can cut. With nothing to aspire to it must be difficult to forge a path through life that can provide satisfaction.

If the Royal Family didn’t exist no-one would choose to invent them. The Scandinavian monarchs provide a good example of low-cost monarchies given to society but somehow managing to keep a greater grip on reality than our own. But I wouldn’t abolish them. They are major money earners for the Country and frankly having seen the mess that the USA got into when a wingnut got elected it is possible to feel that a republican way forward might not be ideal.

I suppose that the biggest problem that we have now is that a lot of expectation was raised when the marriage took place about the reality of Britain. It took place against a background when racism was clearly stalking the streets because of the attitudes of some, but not all, Brexiteers. Xenophobia was rampant. Keep Johnny Foreigner out of our Country was the background to many a Brexiteer.

Meghan Markle and her marriage into the centre of the British establishment gave us the opportunity to say, “No, that is not our Britain”. For many of us that is true, I suspect it is true for the majority. But we shouldn’t doubt for a minute that for too many people there is a thin veneer of respectability which separates ‘good people’ from racist, sexist and faith based negative sentiments.

We should be aware always that our society is still dominated by people that look like me. Male, white and ageing. Hopefully I am the last generation where I can get away with things because of my white, protestant background. But things are not changing fast enough. Although women are in a majority in our Country, they find it hard to climb the greasy pole of promotion in many jobs and professions.

If you are a person of colour or have a sexuality that is different from what some people consider to be ‘normal’, or have a faith which isn’t Christian our society still heaps up the disadvantages that you have. A significant minority of people see difference as meaning a lesser status. Strong societies embrace difference and wish to preserve it. I hope that includes me.

I think that Liverpool is a great City because we have people from about 110 Countries living in our City Region in sizeable numbers. They bring different cultures, skills and cuisines to enrich our City and its environment. They often embrace societal norms where a good education is the passport to success and satisfaction.  All teachers I meet tell me that their South East Asian children are very hard workers with very supportive parents.

Welcoming, understanding and using the skills and talents of all those who are discriminated against is good for them, their families and their communities. It’s also good for all of us. Not using those skills is holding back our Country. It’s a huge natural resource that we are blessed with that we do not use. Look at the wealth that these people could create if they could live their lives to the full.

By wealth I don’t just mean economic wealth but community wealth. I love that diversity which brings cultures and music to our Country. The interaction between people of different faiths and beliefs that I just find absolutely marvellous and not threatening in the way that others do.

Countries always evolve. We move around the World to live and study and we do so faster now than ever before. Technology can move around at the speed of thought. A good effect of the pandemic has been the international cooperation on vaccine creation, innovation and production. A static Country is a declining Country which cleaves to the past. I am afraid that is what our Country might become as we close our borders for reasons of history and ignorance.

I’m not going to comment on the intricacies of the Meghan Markle affair. What happens within families is always a matter best left to the family unless it involves violence or law breaking. As I listened to the radio it seemed to me that this has become a he said/she said sort of affair. Best leave it alone altogether.

But some good may come out of it if the debate about the affair does not disappear when the gossip dies down. Perhaps the biggest service that Meghan and Harry will have done for our Country will be to help us confront our past and our present. It may just have removed the rose-tinted glasses with which we have hidden ourselves from the unpleasant realities that too many of our citizens face.

The best thing for the two people is to leave the past behind and get on with their lives based on a new reality. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for our Country as a whole. To learn from our past and our present and move on to a new, compelling and fairer reality.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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