Multiculturalism, the Queen and the Future of the United Kingdom

I’ve heard the term multicultural Britain used excessively since arriving in the UK. Britain is indeed multicultural, and has been so even before the ...

Feb 21, 2015

I’ve heard the term multicultural Britain used excessively since arriving in the UK. Britain is indeed multicultural, and has been so even before the arrival of Afro-Caribbeans and South Asians, though there seems to be a forgotten history of migration in the region; the word multicultural is now often used in the context of non-white cultures finding their place in and around the UK more than anything else.
While Britain's diverse identity gets toted around, however, the monarchy’s place in British society raises a few pressing questions. Why should an ancient institution be the symbol of 21st-century Britain? Is it an economic decision? And lastly, my current concern: can the idea of a monarchy be reconciled with a multicultural Britain?
If the country wishes to truly embrace its new, multicultural identity, its monarchy must first be abolished. As a symbol, the monarchy is representative of the rule of white, Anglican elites over the different cultures of Britain. The cultures that royalists want to include in their society have been ravaged by the direct actions of the monarchy. The wealth of the monarchy, and in turn Britain, comes largely from the centuries of colonialism and suppression of those who lived under British rule.
Benjamin Zephaniah, the Rastafarian poet who turned down being an officer of the Order of the British Empire, said in an article for The Guardian: “Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire;’ it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.”
The monarchy is not useless. It generates about 500 million pounds in annual revenue, and while everyone might not agree on the economics of the British monarchy, it is true that the abolishment of the monarchy would be a massive blow to tourism in the UK. The nauseating festivity around royal weddings and royal births generates plenty of fanfare and builds the brand of the monarchy. The royal family is probably the most famous family on the planet, and the UK certainly cashes in on it.
But this isn’t about the economics. If Britain really wants to keep harping on about its multiculturalism, then it is hypocritical to keep feeding the family that symbolizes the destruction of so many cultures. Britain is clearly obsessed with the era of its empire — I’ve already heard more than one person mention that they yearn for the old days — and the country hasn’t really figured out how to move on from the past and accept the future. The monarchy is part of the postcolonial hangover.
There are others that believe that the monarchy can reform itself, yet the British monarchy would clearly want to maintain a certain bloodline. Would the Royal Family, and the UK as a whole, accept Prince Harry marrying an Indian or a black individual? And I wonder how festive it would be if Prince Harry had a biracial son — not very, I assume. There are things central to the idea of the monarchy that cannot be changed; the Queen or King will always be white, Anglican and rich. And so Britain has a decision to make. Either embrace an institution that upheld and exploited slavery, oppressed its subjects and generally undermined the world, or move forward and embrace a new, challenging and multicultural Britain.
Muhammad Usman is editor at large. Email him at
gazelle logo