Home African Caribbean A Most Enlightening Article By Professor Gus John, ‘Our Ancestors Are Not Amused’

A Most Enlightening Article By Professor Gus John, ‘Our Ancestors Are Not Amused’

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Professor Gus John. Photo courtesy wikipedia

This article is a republication of that which went out in the Gleaner a week before Queen Elizabeth died…

What is it about us negroes that make us so content to lap up crumbs that fall from Massa’s table?  What self-delusion leads us to believe that we are even in the same room as Massa?

The Voice newspaper invited Charles, Prince of Wales and next in line to be monarch, to guest-edit its 40th anniversary edition amid much fanfare and media hype.  Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on 1st September, Paulette Simpson, executive editor of the Voice gave the rationale for inviting Charles to be their guest editor:

‘When you’re campaigning for better society, it’s important that everybody is around the table, not just the people who are affected…. In order to facilitate change, we need all voices around the table…By the very nature of what he’s been doing beyond 40 years, we thought he’s campaigned for the issues we campaigned on, including education, domestic abuse and cohesiveness in society…Sometimes there are more similarities than differences.

‘Through the Prince’s Trust, he has helped young people to realise their full potential, not only to give them a level playing field but to give them finance to support them…. I think it’s important he acknowledges the role The Voice has played for the last 40 years… many haven’t, he has’.

Let’s unpack all of this incredible stuff.  Who is Paulette Simpson talking about?  What is she contrasting when she claims that there are more similarities than differences?

I was born in Grenada in 1945 and had a life experience as a colonial subject of Charles’ grandfather and then of his mother before I came to Britain in 1964.  Charles was born in 1948.  Black people have lived in this country and endured systemic racism for considerably longer than either of us has been alive.   I am a descendant of enslaved Africans who were transported in shackles to the Caribbean to be sold as property and create wealth for Britain and its monarchy.  My ancestors served Massa as if they were mules and horses.  No wages, minimum or otherwise.  No families, royal, aristocratic or otherwise.  No land to call their own, no language to call their own, no name to denote their ancestry, no spiritual traditions to sustain them.  And when finally, the system of enslavement was abolished, they were considered lost assets for which their owners were entitled to financial compensation, rather than enslaved people who had every right to freedom, a freedom which only death had bestowed upon them while enslaved; every right to restitution and to reparatory justice.

Their enslavers were compensated for those lost ‘assets’, leaving the still economically enslaved penniless and landless.  Since then, of course, the wealth they created has multiplied and handed down from one generation to the next, including to Charles, his children and grandchildren. Unlike them, descendants of those enslaved Africans could not entertain any notion of generational wealth and most still cannot do so today.

Throughout my 58 years in the UK, my life, that of my children and now grandchildren and of most descendants of enslaved Africans has been a struggle for freedom from racism, from racial injustice and denial of our essential humanity, a struggle for equity and fairness and against the systemic erasure of our history, a history that did not begin in the hold of a slave ship, let alone on the Windrush and all the other carriers by sea and air that came before and after it.  And lest we forget, there was and is a continuity of that struggle with that of those whom we left behind in the Caribbean, a region that has not recovered from the rape, murder, plunder and pillage that defined colonial life and that have created generations of impoverished people and reserve labour to this day.

We continue to wage struggles against structural, institutional, cultural and personal manifestations of racism, in immigration and border control, in schooling and education, in policing, in the criminal justice system, in employment, in health services and in practically every social interaction in the society.  And when we campaigned relentlessly for equal rights and justice and for legislation to protect our right not to be discriminated against because we are black, the Queen and her royal household made sure that they were exempt from such legislation.

In 2021, a Guardian investigation into how the royal family influences the content of British laws to ensure that they are exempted from legislation they do not want to see apply to them, reported that the Queen’s courtiers banned ‘coloured immigrants and foreigners’ from serving in clerical roles in the royal household until at least the late 1960s. The Guardian found documents in the National Archives that showed ‘how Buckingham Palace negotiated controversial clauses exempting the Queen and her household from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination’.     

Those documents reveal how in 1968, the Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants that “it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint coloured immigrants or foreigners” to clerical roles in the royal household, although they were permitted to work as domestic servants.

Despite the anti-discrimination legislation that was put in place in the 1960s and ’70s as a result of our campaigning and political agitation, the Guardian noted that the Queen has remained personally exempted from those equality laws for more than four decades. The most controversial exemptions ban the Queen’s employees from pursuing sexual and racial discrimination complaints. Even the most modern piece of anti-discrimination law, the Equality Act 2010, is designed not to protect those employed by the Queen.  Crucially, the exemptions that have been granted to the current Queen will, in most cases, be transferred to Prince Charles when he becomes king.

So, when Charles tells Voice readers that he aims to tackle racial injustice and unfairness in society, adding that: ‘You have welcomed me into your communities with wonderful enthusiasm and I am grateful that you have always been candid with me about the issues you continually face and how I might help’, one wonders where he has been these last 60 years and what he has done about racism in the royal household.  Paulette Simpson’s claim that ‘by the very nature of what he’s been doing beyond 40 years, we thought he’s campaigned for the issues we campaigned on’, suggests that she and he must have been in a different country from the rest of us.

In May of this year, the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton was consulting on what our advice and views are about ‘how the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as younger members of the Royal Family, can be relevant to the British Caribbean heritage community and other black British communities’. Now, the Prince of Wales is patting us on the head for always being candid with him about the issues we continually face and how he might help.  He is suddenly our ‘ally’.

But apart from charitable giving through his Prince’s Trust, what has he done to ‘help’?  What has he done about racist policing, deaths in custody that are tantamount to summary executions by the police, chronic youth unemployment, the persecution of the ‘hostile environment’, deportations to the Caribbean?  He told Commonwealth heads of state in June about “the depths of his personal sorrow” at the suffering caused by the slave trade and about acknowledging the wrongs that had “shaped our past”.  He and the royal family have it within their gift to do something about those wrongs and to show evidence of acknowledging that those wrongs are not just in the past.  They also shape their present and will guarantee the life chances of their future descendants, even if the monarchy were to be abolished tomorrow.

So, let the noble prince ‘help’ by championing a campaign for restitution, reparations and the avoidance of repetition in whatever form.

What the Prince’s Trust does as far as the African and Global Majority population is concerned represents no more than crumbs off Massa’s table and, weighed in the balance, is as effective as those MBE, OBE, CBE and the rest that our people are ever so happy to lick off Massa’s floor.

‘Massa Day Done!’

Professor Gus John

Originally published in the Jamaica Gleaner



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