The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Prince William and Kate’s royal tour: “How colonialism become the focal point of this ‘tone-deaf’ visit to the Caribbean”

As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge continue their tour of the Caribbean, it’s clear to see that attitudes towards the Commonwealth have changed  and it’s time they took notice.

If you’ve been on social media or any news site this week, you’ve probably seen images of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their royal tour of the Caribbean in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee.

Photos of the tour, which has so far seen the pair visit Belize and Jamaica before they move onto the Bahamas in a few days, show Kate playing maracas and the couple tasked with making their own chocolate in Belize. But among the thousands of carefully choreographed images that have surfaced across the internet, there’s one in particular that stopped me in my tracks. 

William and Kate in Kingston, Jamaica
William and Kate in Kingston, Jamaica

Prince William and Kate are photographed smiling and in conversation with young Jamaican children. The royals and children are separated, however, by a wire fence.

It struck a chord with me. I can’t help but feel that it is an incidental representation of what the monarchy represents to many of the countries Britain once colonised – restriction and limitation. It’s an image that illustrates a tone deaf approach to a tour taking place during growing unrest both here in the UK and overseas, about colonialism and its lasting effects.

Discussions around race and colonialism have permeated the public consciousness significantly over the last couple of years and we are beginning to see more Caribbean countries free themselves of the shackles of Britain’s Commonwealth hold.

Barbados removed the Queen as head of state in November 2021, prompting discussion among the Black diaspora and Caribbean countries, in particular, to look at the role Britain plays in their societies. This latest tour marks the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and it stings in light of the countries confronting their tragic pasts and navigating how to move forward independently.

When I spoke to three British Bajan women about the positive impact of the monarchy, many said they saw the Queen’s ‘role’ as head of state “as symbolic and a consequence of colonialism”, and that Barbados becoming a republic was a “catalyst towards dismantling the colonial influence on Barbados”.

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Regardless of the countless opinions on the monarchy, there needs to be more visible acknowledgement that we’ve collectively become more aware of Britain’s true history and the devastating role it played in many of these countries.

There’s a disconnect between the smiling faces of Prince William and Kate and the lasting impact of colonialism on communities in countries like Barbados and Jamaica, as well as the UK, and it needs to be given more direct attention.

This is evident from the various protests which have taken place since the tour began, specifically in Jamaica.

The prime minister of Jamaica has even taken a public stance to show that the country intends to become an independent republic and could remove the Queen as head of state, further highlighting that the tone is changing when we talk about Britain’s history and the outdated practices that still rumble on today.

This was briefly acknowledged by Prince William on Wednesday evening, when he expressed “profound sorrow” for the “appalling atrocity of slavery” during an address to Jamaican dignitaries.

“Slavery was abhorrent and it never should have happened,” William said. “I strongly agree with my father, the Prince of Wales, who said in Barbados last year that the appalling atrocity of slavery forever stains our history.”

The statement comes amid great opposition to the royal tour and it is no surprise that William made reference to this given the mounting criticism they’ve faced during the tour so far.

But whether both William and Kate and the monarchy as a whole are ready to continue these conversations is yet to be seen and it’s safe to say the approach that may have worked before is no longer enough. Conversations around colonialism need to become intrinsic to discussions around Britain’s history and its future.   

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Many have taken to social media to echo similar sentiments since the tour started last Sunday.

One said: “#RoyalTourCaribbean is an utter failure. Times have changed and the tide has turned. This #PlatinumJubilee tour is tone-deaf.”

While another user commented: “I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in thinking William & Kate’s 1950s style Caribbean tour is horrendously tone-deaf. Honestly, who on earth [thought] a Colonial tour would look good amid a war and cost-of-living crisis?”

The fairytale perception of the monarchy that previous generations grew up on is slowly withering away – and if this tour isn’t a wake-up call to the need for real change, I don’t know what is. 

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