By Godknows Igali
Any royal event of the class of a coronation, a wedding or a funeral, by itself, comes with great visual and commemorative attraction; often capturing the greatest of human attention. When it concerns a ‘major royal’ of no other prompting as the British Royal Family, which had worldwide colonial possessions in the past and almost permanently, Heads the 53 member Commonwealth of Nations, it becomes a global franchise. Indeed, such an event is more vaunted when we remember that the House of Windsor, the current British ruling family, was, during the rather prudish Victorian Era, also renown as ‘Britannia Rules the Waves’, euphemistically reaffirming the elasticity of its global dominion and territoriality.
Global watchers from all parts of the world, therefore, beheld when Prince Harry, the second son of the ever loved Princess Diana and the sixth in the line to the British throne got married to his heartthrob, Ms. Meghan Markle on Saturday, 19 May, 2018. Beyond the protocol and pageantry, is the fact that this marriage is peculiar in many respects. Many have mentioned the fact that the new entrant into the that royal family, now Her Royal Highness Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex is an American, of course not a royal nor an aristocrat, was indeed previously married and herself comes from a family of divorced parents. Some others also comment about the fact that she is older than the prince, she is a career woman (indeed an actress) and she, ‘technically speaking’, gave herself out in marriage; without the traditional presence of a father, or some other male figure who should have “given out the bride in marriage
These are already old news and royal chroniclers would say indeed, no big deal. After all, just few years ago, Crown Prince Frederick, the Heir to the throne of Denmark, the only surviving monarchy that traces ancestry to the once dreaded Vikings, got married to the graceful Mary, now Crown Princess of Denmark and Countess of Monpezat, an Australian-Scottish commoner, after they met in 2003 in a pub in Sydney, Australia, which she previously visited regularly. Similarly, the heiress to the nearby Swedish throne, Crown Princess Victoria, the Countess of Vastergotland, and a descendant from Napoleonic military chivalry, got married to an ordinary man of Finnish descent and indeed her personal gym instructor, now Prince Daniel, the Duke of Vastergotland.
Despite all such observations, and gossips which dominated the global media space, the most significant headline from that eventvrom the point of view of historicity and humanistic impact is the fact that the bride was of negroid decent. Some have been kind to use the metaphor “a lady of mixed races’ in describing her. Though it may be a perfect grammatical rendition in British Society, across the Atlantic were the new Duchess comes from, this is a sort of misnomer as her American origin does not have such a characterization of people. In the United States people are categorized as follows: i) White, which means there is no blood of any other racial group besides being Caucasians, ii) Black or African Americans, meaning people with the minuscule droplets of negroid blood iii) Hispanic, meaning persons from Latin American-Spanish speaking origins, iv) Asian Americans, meaning all from that continent and finally; v) Native Indian/Alaskans or American Indians, Hawaiians and Pacific.
From when the first “20 odd Negroids” arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 and in 1624 when William Tucker, the first black child was born on American soil, a clear distinction was made of who the Blacks are in that country. The lines of separation have been very clear and the rest is history. More than any other part of the world, the United States became the hotbed of 400years of slave trade and slavery even though, they received only 338,000 or about five percent of the recorded 11.2 million Black Africans who arrived the Americas as slaves (of course a large number of slaves died in course of the voyage across the Atlantic to the ‘New World’). Although the intendment of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the American Constitution of 1789 all clearly spelt out that “all men are born equal”, this was not the case in deed and practice, as the Protestant Christian doctrine of the time, clearly approved Slavery and the sharp discriminatory lines that came with it. The Duchess alluded to this from accounts of personal experience during her adolescent years.
Accordingly in the past, certain persons like HRH the Duchess of Sussex of mixed parentage were really never accepted as some sort of whites. Let us also not forget, that is why certain very great Americans, suspected to have had some droplets of Black imprint are subtly underplayed or outrightly denied. These include John Hanson, who was actually the first President elected by Congress on the signing of the Articles of the Confederation on 1st March 1781 and stayed in office till 1782, during which period he adopted the Seal of the President of the United America and declared 4th November as Thanksgiving Day; both in place till today. Indeed, subsequent Presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, all unbelievedly, but suspectedly had bits of negroid sanguinity. However, all these cases were vehemently refuted and arrogated to the class of mythology and rumour-mongering. In a particular case, the twenty-ninth President, Warren Harding, who was in office 1921 to 1923, who was fairly tanned, once replied a probing journalist thus: “Jim, how should I know whether or not, one of my ancestors might have jumped the fence?” Geneticists would therefore seem to have unfinished work to do on the true genealogy of these people.
The situation in South America and of course the Caribbeans (which are predominantly Black) was much different. From when the first Blacks arrived in various parts of the continent at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century, their Spanish overlords and colonists, had a more indulgent relationship with them. The Catholic Church which had moved in en-mass into the area, in an era of evangelical pursuit had allowed close mixing between the indigenous population and the Spaniards. When Blacks, a more rugged, brute and resilient breed started coming to obviate a near genocidal impact of European mineral prospecting and plantation activities on the native American population, the church equally turned a blind eye to the cross racial mixing. By the time nationalist fervor started to build up against Imperial Spain and the small population of colonists started to fight for autonomy, the population of mixed persons or better called ‘Mestizos’ were dominant in almost all the countries. Brazil which received about thirty-five percent or about four million slaves, is therefore the most mixed on the continent. Similarly, film producer, Henry Louis Gates Jnr, explained that every Mexican has an “African grandma hiding in the closet”. This situation is true for almost all other countries on the continent with the exception of places such as Argentina and Paraguay, were Whites were in comfortable majority. Other exceptions are Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala, where indigenous America population are very strong.
Back in Europe, the reality of Black infusion in society, sometimes in very uncomfortable circles was managed in a rather denialist manner. So those who could pass as White were cleverly, packaged and allowed to pass. In those societies, persons such as The Duchess could have easily passed. In retrospect, this was the case of Queen Charlotte who lived from 1744 to 1818. A princess from an exclusive German royalty, Queen Charlotte’s whose past ancestry was traced to a Black member of a Portuguese royalty who was a product of King Alfonso III (1210-1279) and his Black mistress, named Madragana. Queen Charlotte got married to King George 111 in 1761 at the tender age of seventeen years and went on to give birth to gave to fifteen royal offsprings. Two of her children later successed to the British throne – King George IV and his younger brother King William IV. She was also known to have supported the abolitionist campaign in its early days. Others who were not so lucky and obviously possessed more noticeable negroid features were treated as some kind of second tier in society.
When Jessie Jackson and General Collin Powell, thought of becoming American Presidents in recent times, many thought it was a far way dream. That is why the sporadic and exponential rise and eventual coming of forty-forth President, Barrack Obama took many by surprise. The feeling began to occur, that at last, none could deny the fact that the African was fully part of the American society and not just an appenditure to that “land of the brave and home of the free”. The coming of Barrack Obama had been foreseen by many great people of African descent who in the midst of hundreds of years of servitude and total denigration of their humanity prophesied the day of freedom.
Booker T. Washington, who lived from 1856 till 1915 was one of the fathers of Black Rights movement and negro emancipation especially in the face of the ‘Jim Crow’ Law which made segregation official in the South of the United States. A direct descendant of slaves, he ensured his proper educational advancement and used it as a platform to lift up other Black people. In 1901 when he published his second autobiography ‘Up from Slavery’, he also became the first Black person ever to be invited into the White House, not as a servant, steward, cook or other domestic aid, but to dine with President, Theodore Roosevelt. He did so midst pejorative jeers and attacks as to why a ‘nigger’ and his family could dine with the President of the United States. With other attacks coming particularly coming from the Democratic opposition party, Dr. Washington continued his good work and ended as Adviser to three American Presidents. He kept seeing Black acceptance far off and hoping that one day, one from his stock would also sit to rule over Whites, Blacks, and other racial groups without a need to camouflage his identity. Unlike many other early educated Blacks who fantasized with the idea of return to Africa, he believed in Blacks remaining in the United States and becoming recognized as critical stakeholders in the American project.
Another great Black pioneer was Dr. WEB Du Bois, who lived to good old age of 97 years (between 1868-1963), despite his many years of civil activism, intense traveling and educational pursuit. The father of Pan Africanism, he read to obtain PhDs in Sociology and History, from some very prestigious schools in the world, including University of Berlin and Harvard University. At Harvard, he became the first Black man to obtain a PHD and was indeed a philosophical mentor to the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the First President of Nigeria and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the First President of Ghana. As a matter of fact, he lived and died in Ghana. In one of his most memorable quotes, he stated that “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of color line” underscoring the parlous state of the Black and African people.
In more recent times Dr. Martin Luther King himself expressed his hope in that great ‘I have a Dream” Speech, that one day the child of a negroid American and the child of the white will seat together. But in it was not a matter of sitting together but actually becoming accepted as a full and equal member of the global community.
If we recall at the opening of the Inaugural Session of the African Union in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on 23 March, 1963, it was the then Head of State of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie, who stated whose much hackneyed words: “until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned. And until there are no first and second class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man’s skin is of no significance than the color of his eyes. And until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war….”This great speech was made popular by the Jamaican Robert Ernesto Marley better known as Bob Marley.
The world has seen all kinds of injustice penetrated by one group of humans against others. The world has recorded all kinds of bloody wars. Equally, the world has also seen profiling of human beings along skewed racial, ethnic, religious, and gender lines and used as the bases for the perpetuation of the greatest levels of denial of basic human rights. For example, it is a truth that even in the United States whose independence was founded for the propagation of freedom, the Right for Women to vote was not entrenched until 1920 and for racial minorities in 1965. Until today, no woman has been found worthy to rule that country. This is also true for many other countries around the world, including Nigeria.
In many cultures and traditions around the world, including Britain, male primogeniture was practiced which gave sons precedence over their more senior female siblings. This is becoming gradually amended, including the ‘The Succession to the Crown Act of just 2013. Sweden, one of the most modernized country took an early dive at it in 1980 when constitutional amendment was effected by current monarch, King Karl Gustav XVI to enable his daughter, Crown Princess Victoria succeed him.
The world also saw the reign of Apartheid and white minority race as a political ideology for over nearly 100 years in Southern Africa. While this was particularly in the case of present South Africa, it was also extended to Zimbabwe and Namibia; and indirectly to Mozambique. Under Apartheid, some racial groups, particularly the majority Blacks were virtually treated as subhumans. Different regimes of development were put in place for people of different racial groups. It was not expected that there would be any meeting lines and the Blacks will remain in permanent state of subjugation and mere enslavement. At last, in 1994 the monster called Apartheid which appeared impregnate and unyielding was decapitated.
The British royal family largely symbolizes rigid conservatism of the past, which indeed most traditional institutions display the world over. The entry of the Duchess Sussex and the lavish blending of negritude in the usually orthodox Anglicanism milieu are unarguably an affirmation of that fact that a great barrier has been broken. It is no longer a secret, but it is now a a reality that there is Black member of the royal family, and must now be accepted as one of the most respected persons in the world. Hopefully, she will procreate, children with droplets of black blood in their veins. Though a very senior royal, neither the Duke nor his Black Duchess are immediate on the line up to rule Britain and the Commonwealth. But they obviously are in the front role and hopefully her future children will have their names within the first ten in the line.
Looking at the whole scenario, God’s deep purposes always come to pass at his own time. As individuals have the times of their lives, so are nations, peoples and even all of humanity. So the Black world has a lot to learn; the chiefest of all being the fact that our seeming relegation to backwardness cannot be permanent. After all, there was a time when the cradle of humanity and indeed civilization were both traced to Africa. Specifically, Olduvai Gorge in Kenya was the first place where archeologists and evolutionists believe that the first ancestors of man lived several thousands of years ago. At the same time, there was a day when Egypt in Africa was the center of world affairs. The words of William Shakespeare that “there is a time in the affairs of men, when taken at the right time, it leads to fortune and success when neglected leads to misfortune and mystery”!
Seen more spiritually, the good old book says that “in his own time God makes all things beautiful”. So certain kinds of favor like that which has come upon the Duchess have divine underpinnings, beyond human comprehension. It is what we typically refer to in Nigerian religious parlance as “uncommon favour”. Regardless of these, the truth is that from Barrack Obama to the Duchess of Sussex, we have not fully arrived at the promised land. If any lessons learnt, is the clear pointer to the fact that God is no hater of the Blackman, neither is Africa, our homeland, a forsaken continent. In other words, there is nothing inferior or less human about being Black or African. The types of blood groups which define the hematology of humanity are the same, Black, White, Asiatic, etc.
It took the people of the Asian continent hard work and progress in human security and well-being to be more relatively accepted in a deserved matter within the community of nations. Although, Asiatic civilizations were several centuries older than Western civilizations, the various peoples, like the Chinese, Japanese and even Indians have gained their present global respect not from historic laurels or spot achievements by one or two of their people. No, but by building stable modern and prosperous democracies. Even the Arab world has come to be accepted to a large extent as members of the human relative to the Blackman.
Africa is a continent that has over thirty percent of the world’s natural resources on land and on sea. In terms of Human Resources, Africa has the most potent endowment of young middle class people who are ready to lead the world into the next frontier of human progress. All that would be needed to bring us to true global respect and appreciation could only be elicited by show of proper use of our abilities and footprint of our steady achievements and contributions to human civilization. Black and African people cannot therefore continue to rest on our oars.
We must consciously work the more, to earn our respect as a people, through good governance and show of true humanity. A situation where African states still continue to epitomize all the most absurd depravities of human failure, will still leave us being considered with historic disdain. Until African countries break from the largely self inflicted chains of backwardness and set themselves to become respected players in the global scene; until we are able to place our common humanity over primordial considerations such as ethnicity, religious bigotry and idolization of ineptitude and mediocrity, the Blackman will always be consigned to the much familiar place of second class citizens of the human race.
This is more compelling because institutional barriers are in place, and the notion of a true global meritocracy is hard to evidence. A true stamp of success of the Blacks is therefore to collectively transcend the limits prescribed for us by our Western counterparts and their stereotypes. How? Achieve truly sustainable success. A success defined by prioritization of our common humanity, utilization of our extraordinary capabilities and assume a new direction as author of its own destiny.
A country like Nigeria has no doubt had its ups and triumphant moments, but clearly could be more stable, more peaceful and much more prosperous. Nigeria, by manifest destiny, is the most populous and most endowed black nation in the world. In every area of human accomplishment, Nigerians, individually, are creating eye-catching impacts worldwide. In academic institutions around the world, Nigerian students are leaving behind records never seen before. Yet, at home, government after government, year after year, we are like the much dramatized ‘Fuji House of Commotion’. Lately, this has taken the most absurd turn as high level political bickering,
nosedives into a macabre dance of sorts. It must be a very interesting time for resident diplomats here as we choose to scandalize, most unjustifiably ourselves before the global community. Sadly, our story is much soared as Nigerians are being auctioned in slave markets in Libya, two hundred and eleven years after slave trade was abolished 1807. These will keep us stagnant in our journey of solidifying our own narrative and enjoy desired acceptance in the eyes of the world.
More than ever, is time for Nigeria to get its acts together and lead the Black world into true global respect and appreciation.
Dr. Igali, a diplomat, historian, is an award winning author.