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Photography Joey Nicotra

‘Looters and enslavers’: Caribbean activists are done with the royal family

William and Kate’s ‘charm offensive’ tour of the region has been a PR disaster, with many Caribbeans now calling for atonement and reparations

William and Kate’s royal tour of the Caribbean is going perfectly... if you’re an anti-monarchist, anti-racist, anti-imperial republican who wants to see them fail. The couple seem to be lurching from disaster to disaster, from William refusing to apologise for slavery to that video of Kate visibly recoiling from the Jamaican Minister of Culture, Olivia Grange.

Unsurprisingly, many have protested against the royals’ visit. At their first stop in Belize, the couple had to cancel a trip to the Akte’il Ha cacao farm in Indian Creek after residents vehemently opposed the visit. On Tuesday March 22, ahead of the couple’s arrival in Jamaica, activists gathered outside the British Royal Commission in Kingston and called for reparations for slavery at a protest organised by the Advocates Network alliance. Many have also expressed their anger on social media, with one activist writing “it is way past time we relinquish [ties] with the British monarchy”, while another pointed out that the royals “see themselves as the great liberators and are glad to be treated and feted as such. The inconvenient bit about being the looters and enslavers, one of the worst the planet has ever seen, has completely slipped their minds.” Jamaican writer Christina Ivey put it succinctly on gal-dem: “No one in the Caribbean asked for this tour.”

One Jamaican activist, Grace*, tells Dazed that she believes the visit was “a poorly timed and executed” PR stunt. “In a time when many groups of Jamaicans are struggling to survive daily, especially in the aftermath of Covid, it appeared overwhelmingly tone-deaf,” she says. “How can we treat Jamaicans so unfairly, ask some hospital staff to stay away to not get in the way of the visiting royals, shun protestors from our streets and reduce cultural actors to mere spectacle to celebrate an institution that was built on exclusion and racism and the silencing of said people?”

The Advocates Network also penned a letter to the future king and queen. “We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because we believe her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind,” the letter reads. “During her 70 years on the throne, your grandmother has done nothing to redress and atone for the suffering of our ancestors during the entire period of British trafficking of Africans, enslavement, indentureship and colonialisation.”

In this 300-year-long period, the British exploited hundreds of thousands of enslaved people in Jamaica, ruling with exceptional cruelty. Notably, in 1781, the crew of the British slave ship Zong threw 132 live Africans overboard just so they could cash in on the insurance. Even when slavery formally ended in Jamaica in 1834, former enslaved people were still made to work as indentured labourers for their former owners. On top of this, they received no reparations and had limited representation. To this day, Jamaicans are grappling with the social, economic and psychological impact of the slave trade.

The Queen remained Head of State when Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962 – however, a recent poll commissioned by the Jamaica Observer found that over half of Jamaicans would support removing the Queen from this role. Anti-colonial sentiment in the Caribbean isn’t new by any means, but since the 2018 Windrush scandal and worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the movement has rapidly gained traction. “There is no changing the history, dark and damaging as it was,” Grace says. “What is saddening is seeing the lack of contrition and the aversion to any effort to make meaningful amends – we see this with the matter of the Windrush generation and [the lack of] reparations.”

“Reparations are not a favour but a right owed to former colonies. The years of exploitation that undermined our countries’ ability to develop was a grave injustice to even future generations. The economies of countries like the UK thrived due to the blood and sweat of labourers in regions such as the Caribbean,” she continues. “Those years of loss continue to bar progress in places such as Jamaica today.”

“Reparations are not a favour but a right owed to former colonies... The economies of the UK thrived due to the blood and sweat of labourers in the Caribbean” – Grace

The letter from Advocates Network went on to directly appeal to William and Kate: “You, who may one day lead the British monarchy, are direct beneficiaries of the wealth accumulated by the British state over centuries, including that stemming from the trafficking and enslavement of Africans. You, therefore, have the unique opportunity to redefine the relationship between the British monarchy and the people of Jamaica. If you choose to do so, we urge you to start with an apology and recognition of the need for atonement and reparations.”

William and Kate have just touched down in the Bahamas, their final destination on the tour, and a Bahamian committee has already expressed annoyance that the Bahamian people are “footing the bill” for William and Kate’s “extravagant trip”. While the royals might have intended to embark on a ‘charm offensive’ to persuade other Caribbean nations not to follow Barbados in removing the Queen as head of state, it appears as though they’re only succeeding at the ‘offensive’ part.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the Duke and Duchess that the country is “moving on” and intends to become an “independent, developed and prosperous” republic. Grace says she welcomes this announcement from Holness, but stresses that becoming a republic and removing the Queen as head of state is just the beginning. “The real work comes with decolonizing our institutions, systems and processes, and psyches,” she says.

*Name has been changed