BONNIE GREER: Baby Archie has changed Britain’s story
- Credit: Archant
BONNIE GREER discusses the cultural importance of the birth of royal baby Archie.
The arrival of Master Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor comes like that ancient theatrical device known as the deus ex machina. Literally the 'god from the machine', a mechanism created by the Ancient Greeks in which a resolution, or change, is reached in a play.
An event would happen, something unexpected, that solved the issue of the drama or raised the game. And this is what Archie is. By arriving now, in Brexit Britain, he asks the question: What kind of country am I happy to live in and what do I think that country is?
Of course, we know that Archie was born with a unique heritage, the most unique that any person born in this country has ever had. On his mother's side, he is descended from enslaved Africans, first brought to the United States in mass numbers in 1619. The incredible irony of the birth of one of their descendants into the British royal family in the 400th anniversary of that tragedy cannot be overstated. Or be more beautiful.
On his father's side, he comes from generations of royalty, with links to the Tudors and the Stuarts, the Normans and all the way back to the Saxon kings who ruled here. The new baby has relatives in royal houses across Europe. Historical records know of no-one who has been born like Archie, and this cannot and should not be understated. Neither should the crisis he presents. He is a game-changer to the very idea of nationality. And that cannot be escaped.
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The overwhelmingly juvenile response of the broadcaster Danny Baker to the royal birth flags up a deeply disturbing tendency in the UK. His tweeted picture - with the caption "Royal baby leaves hospital" - of an aristocratic couple accompanying a chimp dressed in smart clothing seems like the sad vestiges of a superannuated 'lad' appealing to his followers. The personal explanations I received on Twitter from Baker's fans for his behaviour were as complex as the proof for Fermat's Last Theorem. They ranged from my not knowing anything about his humour all the way to that ancient response to anything... "it's political correctness gone mad".
These desperate attempts to exonerate him caused me to ask Twitter how old Baker was. When I was told that he was two months short of his 62nd birthday, you do have to sit back and ask why and what is going on.
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The BBC had to fire him simply because he was bringing one of the world's biggest broadcasters and most high profile brands into disrepute. That a man of his experience and seniority could not step back for a moment and see and understand the possible ramifications of his prank tweet is sufficiently serious to be a sackable offence on its own. That he is defended by so many points to the mood of the land: defiance and a push-back against what the country is evolving into and what it will, in time, become: a multicultural nation. Like many other European nations will be.
Baker and his acolytes are left out in the cold of the 21st century; people adrift in the sea of the great questions of the day. Whether he is a racist or not is moot. The effect of what he did was racist. What he did could have given permission and a trigger to racists, in the same way that Brexit is being used as a flag of convenience by them.
But a more subtle factor is being revealed as a result of the birth of baby Archie: the submersion and denial of agency to communities of colour and of African descent. For us, the birth of this child is much more than another royal birth. For us born in America, it says something much more profound than the fact that his mother is from California.
Archie, his mother, his grandmother - and me - would have had a category 200 years ago. This category was not based on our status at birth, or our intelligence. The category we all would have been given was based on how close we were to the continent of Africa in our genealogy.
The so-called issue of 'African blood' was the definer as to whether a person was free or enslaved; whether they worked in the house or had an education or could walk the streets; or whether they were worked to death in a cotton field or on a sugar plantation, housed in overcrowded cabins where diseases and violence could break out; whether they had their children placed on an auction block; their spouse taken away. Life itself existed at the whim of a white person. Any white person.
The American Civil War was not fought to free the enslaved, but to state that the United States could not exist as two nations: one in which black people could walk the streets at will and one in which a black person was seen as property and could be arrested by anyone and taken into oblivion.
The categories of 'Negro', 'mulatto', 'quadroon' and so on, would, 200 years ago, be applied to the Duchess of Sussex, her mother and her child. Communities of colour know this. Many of us have in our own families the reality of so-called 'mixed identity'.
In my own family I have flesh and blood who are also Jewish and Latino, and the newest will have white ancestry. One of my little grand-nieces, while her class was reading The Color Purple in a way that she thought was incorrect, loudly announced that she knew what was going on and how to say the dialogue because her mother is black. Not a fact that most people looking at her would know. But that she said it, said it proudly, is a testament to her own identity. That is something new. And that this is the direction of travel for much of the world.
We of African descent and other communities of colour must be given space to talk about the reality of Archie and where he comes from and how he fits into the past and the future. We must not be prevented from telling his story and our own. There are so many children being born not only with dual heritage, but with dual passports. Archie is American, British and European.
And even when he becomes a prince, when his grandfather becomes king, the fact of his being, of who he is, will never vanish. I trust that his parents will raise him and any subsequent siblings to understand their unique place. And that they will use that position for the good.
So Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor literally becomes that deus ex machina, that being who changes the story. And at this time of our crisis of national identity, we are lucky to have him.
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