Already reeling from suggestions of racism in the royal family from Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, Buckingham Palace was confronted Wednesday with explosive new allegations of decades of systemic discrimination against people of color – and with documentation to back it up.
The Guardian, Britain’s left-leaning newspaper and a leader in the longstanding movement to get rid of the monarchy, published a report declaring that Queen Elizabeth II’s top courtiers banned “coloured immigrants or foreigners” from serving in clerical roles in the royal household until at least the late 1960s, according to documents the paper discovered in the United Kingdom’s National Archives.
“(The 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,” The Guardian reported.
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Over the same period, the top positions advising the monarch mostly went to white, upper-class or aristocratic males, many of whom were Oxbridge grads and/or served in high-ranking positions in the military.
The paper also reported the documents show that in the 1970s, the queen and her aides were able to negotiate with government officials to exempt the royal household from laws prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices, which to this day keep royal employees from suing for alleged discrimination at work.
USA TODAY sought comment from Buckingham Palace about The Guardian’s story.
The Guardian suggested the news, coming after the near-national nervous breakdown in March over what Harry and Meghan said about racism in the family and the media in their interview with Oprah Winfrey, would surely “reignite the debate over the British royal family and race.”
Among other things, the queen’s grandson, 36, and his biracial American wife, 39, claimed she had been a target of racism in the media and on social media, and that a member of the royal family had wondered about the color of her baby’s skin.
In what might have been coincidental timing, the news in The Guardian came on the same day Buckingham Palace announced plans to celebrate the queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year marking her 70 years on the throne – an unprecedented milestone for any British monarch.
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Initially, the palace declined to respond to The Guardian for its report. Later, the palace issued a statement to E! News, suggesting that claims based on a “second-hand account of conversations from over 50 years ago” might not be relevant to contemporary operations.
“The Royal Household and the Sovereign comply with the provisions of the Equality Act, in principle and in practice,” the palace statement said. “This is reflected in the diversity, inclusion and dignity-at-work policies, procedures and practices within the Royal Household. Any complaints that might be raised under the Act follow a formal process that provides a means of hearing and remedying any complaint.”
After Harry and Meghan went public with their complaints in conversation with Winfrey, the palace waited two days to issue a typically careful statement saying the couple’s accusations of racism and lack of support are taken “very seriously” and will be addressed by the royal family “privately.”
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning,” the statement read. “While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
Since then, the palace has remained silent. However, Harry’s brother, Prince William, responding to a reporter’s question during an engagement a few days later, tersely declared that the royal family is “very much not a racist family.”
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Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have been pilloried in Britain by the media, members of Parliament and millions of Britons, according to multiple polls and a deluge of social media comments. They declined to issue a statement in response to The Guardian’s story on the National Archive documents.
The couple, now living in California after giving up their royal roles to achieve more financial independence and freedom, stunned a global audience three months ago by alleging that a member of the royal family they would not identify expressed concern about the possible color of their mixed-race baby’s skin.
They also claimed that Meghan became suicidal over the pressure of being in the royal family but was turned away when she sought help from the royal household.
But the Daily Mail tabloid, a leader in the campaign against Harry and Meghan after their explosive interview (and on the losing side of a privacy lawsuit filed by Meghan), was among media outlets that recognized the potential impact of The Guardian’s report.
“The discovery (of the documents) is likely to be embarrassing for the Firm as it grapples with charges of systemic racism” made by Harry and Meghan, The Mail concluded Wednesday.
It’s also likely to amp up The Guardian’s campaign against the parliamentary mechanism known as “Queen’s Consent,” which allows the Crown to secretly lobby the government to amend laws it does not favor or to exempt the Crown.
Republicans, as anti-monarchists are known in Britain, consider this practice non-transparent and unconstitutional, and have used it to argue that Britain should abolish the monarchy and elect its head of state.
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