Curry was in fact giving the world a lesson on Ubuntu, when he said that we are all intrinsically related, and that leads to a whole chain of cause and effect in terms of how we relate to each other and the world. It took a man of conscience like Curry, who has long campaigned for social justice issues in the US, to bring this message to Britain’s aristocracy.
We never thought we would see the day that a fiery African-American preacher would address a royal wedding in the medieval chapel of Windsor Castle dating back to 1066. But the most potent part of his sermon was his reference to slavery and colonialism while standing in the heart of the former British empire, at the wedding of the Queen’s grandson. His message that people, despite their differences, should treat each other as family was particularly poignant not only for Britons, but for Americans who increasingly see diversity as a threat to their culture, with the vast majority preferring to keep “others” at bay.
The face of Britain itself is no longer what it used to be. The country may have been predominantly white and Anglo-Saxon, but that is far from the reality today. The white population in Britain has fallen by more than half in the past 20 years in some parts of the country, and it is estimated that white Britons could be in the minority by 2060, according to Oxford Professor David Coleman. The fact that London has a mayor of Pakistani origin speaks for itself.
If one were to identify a theme that was woven into the fabric of the wedding ceremony, it was that love, across race and nationality, can update traditions, strengthen bonds, and forge a community in which people feel included, represented and appreciated. It is a message that has the potential to save us from ourselves, and to reverse the growing global trend of narrow nationalism, racism, exclusivity, and isolationism.
The invisible but ever present spirit in the chapel was that of Princess Diana. She would have likely felt that ceremony advocated the sense of humanitarianism for which she lived. She was the first royal to break the mould, to defy tradition and insist that the mother of the future British king had every right to date a Muslim. Harry is in every sense his mother’s son, embracing difference, caring for the voiceless, accessible, and full of fun, but operating in a world of rigid duty and tradition.
Harry ensured that his mother’s spirit filled St George's Cathedral, adorning the church with white garden roses, and selecting a bridal bouquet filled with white forget-me-nots, which were Diana’s favourite flowers. Elton John was also intent on keeping her spirit alive by creating a new version of his 1974 hit Candle in the Wind which he had originally dedicated to Diana after her passing, and then performed at the Saturday lunch reception after the wedding.
What Meghan Markle succeeded in doing last week was to blend English ritual with African-American culture, as a tribute to her own ancestry. By having the Kingdom Choir sing songs which were traditionally considered black spirituals, Britons were reminded of the pain and resilience of African-Americans who were forced onto British ships and taken from Africa into slavery in America. Markle’s marriage to the queen’s grandson suggests that the story has come full circle.
One simply cannot understate the significance of the whole occasion. Sitting next to the queen during the ceremony was her 96-year-old husband Prince Philip, who is known for his colonial statements which have at times been racist. Only a few years ago he said to a British academic, “Does Africa even have politics?” In a similar vein he asked an Aborigine entrepreneur in Australia in 2002, “Do you still throw spears at each other?” In 1998 he asked a British student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea, “You managed not to get eaten then?”
Clearly the patriarch of the royal family has maintained a colonial mindset which perceived Britain as superior. He was known to have pushed back against his daughter-in-law Diana’s modernity and inclusivity. Today he, and others like him, have no choice but to accept a new royal family that will for the first time in history be multiracial. Therein lies the beauty of this auspicious occasion.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.