Speaking during an interview for Channel 4, Sir Ken Olisa, the first black Lord-Lieutenant for London said the “hot topic” of racism had been discussed between himself and members of the royal family since the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police in the US in May 2020, sparking a historical wave of anti-racism protests across the globe under the banner of Black Lives Matter.
He said that the family cares “passionately” about removing racial “barriers” in the UK.
The comments come after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused the royal family of racism in their Oprah Winfrey interview earlier this year.
In the wake of the recent movement against racial injustice following George Floyd’s death last May, a senior palace aide has stated that the Queen and many other royals support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kenneth Olisa, the first Black lord-lieutenant of London, spoke on how the race had become a “hot conversation topic” among the royal family, especially after George Floyd’s death. The issue was also touched on following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey earlier this year. Olisa went on to say that “the question is what more can we do to bind society to remove these barriers. They [The royals] care passionately about making this one nation bound by the same values.”
When asked about whether the royal family supported the Black Lives Matter Movement, Olisa answered in the affirmative and was later supported by a Buckingham Palace spokesperson who told NBC that they had nothing to add to the comments. The statement comes as a shock to many especially since the Queen has stayed silent on such issues in the past. The question left to answer is: why does the Queen support Black Lives Matter and what does this mean for the monarchy?
The recent allegations of racism from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have emboldened royal critics’ claims that the monarchy is outdated. Historically, the Queen has represented Britain, the Church of England, and the Commonwealth. It could be argued that the royal family continues to represent a version of Britain that no longer exists and therefore needs to adapt its image in line with more secular, ‘politically correct’ and united values in order to stay relevant.
The Queen’s support of Black Lives Matter can be seen as a way of reconfiguring the royal family’s image to mesh with modern-day values. Also, pledging support for a movement that claims to champion the rights of ‘black people across the globe’ could perhaps reverse the reputational damage caused by Harry and Meghan’s racism claims in the Oprah interview earlier this year.
For many, this may seem like a good step forward for the royal family. That being said, it is still a very random statement for the Queen’s aide to make. The royal family fails to realise that they cannot overturn decades of colonial history with a single statement. Although the intention seems to be positive and some may even go as far as saying that the monarchy understands the direction it needs to take in order to reform its image, the support still comes across as somewhat insincere and cursory in light of recent events with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Black Lives Matter has also become heavily politicised. Supporting the organisation disrupts the monarchy’s politically neutral stance and potentially sets a new precedent for the royals to live up to when it comes to contentious issues like race and class, making it even more difficult to understand why the palace would endorse such a statement.
This has to be ‘tin can’ support
Adjoa, a spokesperson for BLM UK, said: “We were surprised to learn the Queen is a BLM supporter. But we welcome anyone that agrees with our goal of dismantling white supremacy. Of course, actions speak louder than words. The Queen sits on a throne made from colonial plunder. Until she gives back all the stolen gold and diamonds from the Commonwealth and pays reparations, these are nothing more than warm words.”
This is what many reading the story may be thinking. Perhaps the Queen was simply expressing her support for the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ something, almost everyone would support. Support BLM, the organisation would require the queen to go a little further.
Patrick Vernon, a cultural historian and co-author of 100 Great Black Britons, said if the Queen truly embraced BLM “the next logical question would be what is she going to do about it, in terms of allyship, which is no different to conversations I’ve been having with people in the private sector when I’ve done talks on this issue in the last couple of years.
“What is she going to demonstrate through allyship around supporting black and brown people and also acknowledging her privilege? In many ways, she is the ultimate in privilege.”
He suggested several actions she could take, including:
- Making an explicit statement supporting BLM.
- Increasing the diversity of staff employed by Buckingham Palace.
- Ending the Queen’s personal exemption from equality laws.
- Acknowledging the Windrush scandal and supporting a proper compensation scheme for its victims.
In June, the palace said it “must do more” after publishing figures that revealed its proportion of ethnic minority employees stood at 8.5%, against a target of 10% by next year. It declined to comment on Olisa’s remarks.