If you support the inauguration of the US’s first black president, you must call for an end to the British custom of a heredity head of state
The United States is celebrating the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the first black person to hold the title of American head of state. But as the race barrier to highest office is broken in the US, it remains firmly intact on this side of the Atlantic. For the foreseeable future, as in centuries past, no black or Asian person will be eligible to assume role of British head of state.
Under our constitutional system, the head of state is the monarch – at present Queen Elizabeth II. The position of monarch and head of state is inherited, lately through the Windsor family line. The Windsors are white and only their descendants are eligible to be King or Queen; only their first-born can be the British head of state. This feudal system strikes me as totally out of step with the democratic, egalitarian and meritocratic ethos of modern Britain.
Our head of state represents the nation and its people, and symbolises our values and culture. In a diverse multicultural society, surely it is wrong to automatically, a priori deny this honoured, revered role to our non-white citizens?
The system of monarchy is, by default, racist. Although it was not devised with racist intent, racism is its effect nonetheless. Drawing on the analysis and conclusions of the
MacPherson report, you could say that the current system of appointing our head of state is institutionally racist.
Whichever way the defenders of royalty try to spin it, there is no escaping the fact that non-white people are excluded from holding the title of British head of state – at least for the foreseeable future.
When the Queen dies, her role as head of state will pass to her first-born son, Charles. When he is dead, the head of state title will pass to his first-born son, William and so on. From white person to white person to white person. No blacks need apply. The all-white Windsor family has the exclusive franchise on the office of head of state.
One day, in generations and centuries to come, descendents of the Windsor’s might marry a non-white person and their first-born could become head of state. Might, could. No guarantee at all. In any case, why should we have to wait generations?
The current monarchical system of determining our head of state is premised on the assumption that the most ignorant, stupid, immoral white Windsor first-born is more entitled to be our head of state than the best-informed, wisest and most moral black or Asian Briton. This is a truly repulsive racist assumption.
Non-white people are, of course, not the only ones denied the highest office in the land. All non-Windsors are excluded, even if they possess far greater integrity, merit and wisdom. This is the problem with deciding on a head of state via a hereditary monarchy: you get whoever the dynastic blood-line throws up – good or bad. If Prince William was killed in a helicopter crash, we’d eventually end up with King Harry, notorious for his Nazi fancy dress and “Paki” jibe. And we could not get rid of him, no matter how many more insults he hurled and no matter how badly he did his job.
This week, far too many British people will hypocritically applaud the inauguration of the first black US President while remaining content to support an implicitly racist monarchical system that denies black and Asian Britons the opportunity to hold the office of head of state.
If they were consistent they would join the call by Republic for a democratically elected and accountable head of state, open to British people of both genders and all races, classes and faiths or beliefs.
Ireland offers a practical, popular model of the kind of elected head of state that I would like to see in the UK: low-cost and purely ceremonial (without the executive powers of the US President).
President Mary MacAleese of Ireland, like her predecessor Mary Robinson, is an honourable symbol of the nation and enjoys huge public support and respect. Her presidency costs one-twentieth of the official cost of the Royal Family, and one hundred times less than the actual cost when you factor in security and other costs excluded from Buckingham Palace’s partial accounts.
If Ireland can have a successful democratic presidency, why can’t we?
Good luck Barack Obama. May the day come soon when the British head of state is also chosen by the people, based on the quality of their character and not on their pure white royal parentage and aristocratic blood-line.