Charles Windsor's Kipling fantasy

By Jill Segger
April 21, 2018

There could scarcely have been a less opportune time to remark on the relationship of skin colour to nationality. Charles Windsor, apparently oblivious to the distress and anger caused by the Windrush debacle, chose to make a supposedly humorous comment to a speaker at the Commonwealth People's Forum this week.

The writer Anita Sethi, whose mother was born in Guyana, was introduced to the man who is to become head of the Commonwealth. “And where are you from?” he asked her. “Manchester, UK”, she replied. “Well, you don’t look like it!” he said, and laughed as he was ushered on to the next person.

Such casual ignorance and indifference to the sensibilities of UK citizens who are not part of the majority ethnic group is shocking. It is evident that the apple has not fallen far from the tree as Charles’s father is well known for his ‘gaffes’ in this area. It is not unreasonable to expect, however, that the heir to the throne of a diverse and multicultural country might have learned that changing times require changed thinking and that the lazy assumptions of the mid-20th century upper class no longer provide a sound foundation for either the morals or manners of the 21st.

In a sequence of manoeuvres which really amount to nepotism, the current unelected head of state has pressured the Commonwealth to acquiesce in accepting the next holder of that office as head of an organisation which really should realise the dangers of being nudged towards being perceived as British Empire 2.0. That is an outlook more deeply rooted than many who would deny being racist are currently able to accept. There is a ‘Gunga Din’ mindset which deludes itself that recognising the qualities of brown or black people may be, in certain circumstances admirable, even noble, but nonetheless depends on an assumption of de haute en bas superiority – the justification of expecting childlike and uncritically subservient loyalty from people who once called their lawmakers ‘sahib’ or ‘bwana’. It will not serve as an attitude for our times, which are simultaneously more enlightened and yet, unfortunately, still inclined to a self-protective and illusionary sentimentality.

Had Ms Sethi not been so understandably “stunned” by Charles Windsor’s crass remark, she might have offered a riposte which would blown away that comfortable illusion. That she did not, is perhaps grounds for the future head of the Commonwealth to reflect that smart, educated, sensitive and modern citizens do not always have white faces. The Kipling fantasy is over and we need a head of state who understands that.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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