The world has been fascinated by the arrival of the British culture wars on American shores with former Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Millions of people watched Oprah Winfrey interviewed them and the show was the highest-rated entertainment special since the February 2020 Oscars ceremony. While some question Markle’s integrity, most of us are we mesmerized by the comeuppance of a former colonial empire.
Harry’s brother William denies any royal racism and the U.K. government issued a report denying any institutional racism in Britain. British Black journalists blast the report while anti-Markle press says that she’s endangering the monarchy. Markle is hijacking the British government and she’s a bully, embraced by Americans who don’t know any better. No wonder Harry and Meghan plotted their escape.
I experienced remnants of the British Empire as a kid in the colony of Bermuda. We were taught the ‘Golliwog’ dance in ballet class. Considered entertainment, Golliwog was an embarrassing stereotype of its African colonies.
Before we get complacent about removing ourselves from the British Empire, remember that the British captured these Africans and shipped them to the States as slaves. The Golliwog dance became a competition for a prize of cake, sponsored by American plantation owner and featuring slaves. When the dance became wildly popular and known as the “Cakewalk”, its slave-day origins were eventually forgotten or ignored.
Want to stop saying, “That takes the cake”? That would be an example “cancel culture” according to conservatives and White powers-that-be. They’ve applied the term to the removal of items that diminish their history like Confederate monuments, but not to the many requests for banning anti-racism books from public libraries. Most recently, the term is used against critics of new voting rights legislation.
So now we have a new battle between conservative politicians and corporations that actively address race. Corporate awareness surfaced with George Floyd, and continues to emerge. PepsiCo, which had acquired Quaker Oats, removed the iconic Aunt Jemima graphic. The company responded to criticism that featuring a caricature of a Black woman that was a racist stereotype.
While we argue about who’s cancelling whom, Georgia’s legislation limiting voting options has impacted corporate attitudes across the country. For the first time, Black executives of American Express and Merck have organized to call out their peers for being silent on the legislation. Over 100 companies including Twitter, Zillow and Uber, issued a joint statement expressing concern about Georgia’s law curbing voting access.
Ironically, the former royals have ended up in the middle of a culture war that mirrors what they left. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp pooh-poohed his critics and Senator Mitch McConnell said that corporations should fund candidates, but shut up about politics. McConnell calls outspoken corporate types both bullies and cowards for submitting to bullying by “… far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.” Funny how the Republican stance echoes the Markle critics.
Denial joins intimidation as Gov. Kemp claims the new legislation actually enhances voting rights and that he’s being victimized by progressives and their lies. Maybe he took notes from the British government’s denials of institutional racism and from the royals who claim to be victimized by Markle.
Are we descending into the imperialism we had a revolution to escape? Are efforts to stifle voting rights for people of color, championed by grass roots efforts over decades, going to succeed? Corporations understand the impact of these new voting laws. They’ll be harder to mute than disadvantaged neighborhoods. Support these businesses that stand for our self-evident truth that we are all created equal.