Remember that time that “palace aides” went on the offensive against Meghan Markle, alleging that the Duchess of Sussex had bullied them just ahead of her and Prince Harry’s televised sit-down with Oprah?
While the race of said aides has never been disclosed (or doubted, to be honest), one can’t help but raise an eyebrow in renewed wonder after documents recently unearthed by UK-based outlet the Guardian confirm that Queen Elizabeth II’s courtiers “banned ‘coloured immigrants or foreigners’ from serving in clerical roles in the royal household until at least the late 1960s.”
Yeah, yeah—we know. How is that revelation, if we can call it that, any different from Jim Crow laws in the United States? (Would those be renamed “James Pheasant” laws in the United Kingdom? #QTNA.) Well, according to the Guardian, “the documents also shed light on how Buckingham Palace negotiated controversial clauses—that remain in place to this day—exempting the Queen and her household from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination.”
Yikes...but that tracks. More from the Guardian:
The papers were discovered at the National Archives as part of the Guardian’s ongoing investigation into the royal family’s use of an arcane parliamentary procedure, known as Queen’s consent, to secretly influence the content of British laws.
They reveal how in 1968, the Queen’s chief financial manager informed civil servants that “it was not, in fact, the practice to appoint coloured immigrants or foreigners” to clerical roles in the royal household, although they were permitted to work as domestic servants.
It is unclear when the practice ended. Buckingham Palace refused to answer questions about the ban and when it was revoked.
Just like in the States, the issue came to a head in the 1960s, when members of Parliament began introducing laws making discriminatory hiring practices—including those based on grounds of race or ethnicity—illegal. The palace claims to have records of people of color employed in office roles as of the 1990s but also claims to have not kept records on the racial demographics of its staff prior to that time.
But let’s double back to those anti-discrimination laws, because here’s the kicker:
The Queen has remained personally exempted from those equality laws for more than four decades. The exemption has made it impossible for women or people from ethnic minorities working for her household to complain to the courts if they believe they have been discriminated against.
In a statement, Buckingham Palace did not dispute that the Queen had been exempted from the laws, adding that it had a separate process for hearing complaints related to discrimination. The palace did not respond when asked what this process consists of.
We’re assuming the palace also didn’t disclose the proper forum for an actual member of the household to complain if she felt she’d been discriminated against.
Again, none of this is exactly what Oprah would call an “a-ha moment,” but it does put further context on Meghan and Harry’s claims that there was concern expressed about the skin color of their then-unborn first child. If the Windsors had an issue with ‘coloured immigrants or foreigners’ working desk jobs at the palace a full 15 years into Elizabeth II’s reign, it’s not hard to believe that the possibility of introducing a dark-skinned child into the fold (especially via a coloured immigrant and foreigner) could be perceived as a genuine threat within this “very much not” racist family.
As the Guardian further reminds us:
The documents are likely to refocus attention on the royal family’s historical and current relationship with race.
Much of the family’s history is inextricably linked with the British empire, which subjugated people around the world. Some members of the royal family have also been [criticized] for their racist comments.
However the issue extends far beyond the royal family, as the documents also put into context use of “Queen’s consent, an obscure parliamentary mechanism through which the monarch grants parliament permission to debate laws that affect her and her private interests.
“The newly discovered documents reveal how the Queen’s consent procedure was used to secretly influence the formation of the draft race relations legislation,” reports the Guardian, further noting that the Queen seemingly blocked the 1968 bill until she was ensured that it could not be used against her.
A key proposal of the bill was the Race Relations Board, which would act as an ombudsman for discrimination complaints and could bring court proceedings against individuals or companies that maintained racist practices.
As a result of this exemption, the Race Relations Board that was given the task of investigating racial discrimination would send any complaints from the Queen’s staff to the home secretary rather than the courts.
Coincidentally, this brings us full circle, as the issue of Meghan’s harassment was also alleged through the palace communications secretary, rather than any court of law—where the burden of proof would undeniably be greater.