Dear Prince Harry,
So, this time tomorrow you’ll be here in Guyana. The final stop on your tour of “Her Majesty’s Realms where The Queen is Sovereign, in addition to Guyana”. Please note the ‘in addition to’. Granny’s shiny crown may as well be made of tin foil here for all the power it has.
As you lay your wreath at the Independence Monument (item two on your agenda, keep up), do remember that becoming a sovereign nation was a moment of celebration for Guyanese people. People lay wreaths at funerals. Couldn’t you swap it for something more Christmassy? Like a big sack of sugar – a reminder of all the sweet stuff Britain carted off during slavery times.
Or, even better, a big sack of money as reparations for the descendants of the Guyanese forced to work for England under slavery and then indentureship. You know, the kind of compensation that British slave owners were given after abolition (they’re all in the University College London’s handy database. Go on, do a search, see if you recognise anyone).
This isn’t a personal attack. Except it is. You’re here as a representative of the Queen, who personally served as the unelected sovereign leader of this country, and so you’re the one this letter is addressed to. Sorry. I know you’re just doing your job (btw, well done on getting through the interview process).
Fun fact: Did you know that as well as being Guyana’s Golden Jubilee, 2016 also marks 220 years since Britain took control of the three Dutch colonies (Essequibo, Berbice and Demerara) it went on to rename ‘British Guiana’. That’s 170 years of squatting in someone else’s land. Followed by just 50 years of independence. Maybe if we had £20million in compensation (£20billion in today’s money), like those slave owners, things would be a bit further on here and we too might have a £55bn budget deficit, a divisive referendum result and cream tea.
And while you may find it quaint that remnants of colonialism persist. Perspiring workers stuffed into suits to meet dress codes described even by the president as “archaic”. Familiar-sounding towns named after former plantations, like Windsor Forest, Anna Regina and Blenheim. And of course English, the official language (ignoring the nine different indigenous languages and Guyanese Creolese). Remember, there’s a reason the bootprint is still visible – it wasn’t a step, it was a stamp.
While the British High Commission may lay out some Union Jack bunting for you, not everyone will welcome your visit with such pomp and circumstance. My dad, like many of his generation, was born into a country called British Guiana. As a British subject, he was able to travel to the UK as a twenty-something and build a life there. I’ve now come to Guyana and feel home enough to (very tentatively) say “we” not “they”.
I guess, as a British subject myself, I should be one of the ones waving a flag when your plane touches down tomorrow. But I’m not proud of what the Royal Family represents here. Or anywhere. Superiority. Privilege. Exploitation. It’s the textbook case of wealth gap, the model of inequality, the epitomy of birthright.
(Ironically I have a smidgen of respect for you since you called out the press on its treatment of your mixed race girlfriend – or issued a statement doing so through the press office. I’m sure Martin Luther King would’ve done the same if email had been around at that time, you know when he was having quite a few dreams.
That doesn’t quite make up for the Royal Family’s years of racism and imperial bulldozing. Not to mention your reported comment to comedian Stephen K Amos that “you don’t sound like a black chap”. Or calling a member of your platoon your “little Paki friend”. But it’s a step in the right direction, and hopefully a signal of an increased awareness of what it’s like to not grow up in the belly of wealthy, white privilege.)
I’m well aware that I’ve benefited from and been damaged by Britain’s imperialism and wealth too. That I am as abhorrent as you to many people here in Guyana. That I represent colonial privilege and wealth and superiority. I write this blog as if this is my battle, but who am I to do so? I’ve only been here ten months. There are plenty of other Guyanese writers who could do it – and far better. But I’m going to say my two cents anyway. And so should you. Tell people to invest in Guyana. Tell people to visit Guyana. Tell people what Guyana gave to the UK, not the other way around.
And when you get home, tell granny to hand in her notice won’t you?