Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have encouraged the UK to reckon with its colonial past, highlighting the “wrongs” of its historic involvement in the countries that now make up the Commonwealth.
Speaking at a session of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust on Wednesday, Harry said people must “acknowledge the past,” even when doing so is uncomfortable.
“When you look across the Commonwealth, there is no way that we can move forward unless we acknowledge the past,” he said. “So many people have done such an incredible job of acknowledging the past and trying to right those wrongs, but I think we all acknowledge there is so much more still to do.”
“It’s not going to be easy and in some cases it’s not going to be comfortable but it needs to be done, because guess what: Everybody benefits,” the Prince added.
The Commonwealth is made up of 54 nations, almost all of which were previously ruled by Britain as part of its empire. Britain’s colonization of those countries has been reassessed in the wake of recent global anti-racism protests.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, also contributed to the session, which focused on how the Commonwealth can support young people.
“We’re going to have to be a little uncomfortable right now, because it’s only in pushing through that discomfort that we get to the other side of this and find the place where a high tide raises all ships,” she said. “Equality does not put anyone on the back foot, it puts us all on the same footing – which is a fundamental human right.”
Prince Harry discussed his own unconscious bias, saying: “We can’t deny or ignore the fact that all of us have been educated to see the world differently. However, once you start to realize that there is that bias there, then you need to acknowledge it, you need to do the work to become more aware … so that you can help stand up for something that is so wrong and should not be acceptable in our society today.”
“When it comes to institutional and systemic racism, it’s there and it stays there because someone, somewhere is benefiting from it,” Harry added.
“It’s not just in the big moments, it’s in the quiet moments where racism and unconscious bias lies and thrives,” said Meghan. “It makes it confusing for a lot of people to understand the role that they play in that, both passively and actively.”
“We’re going to get there, and we have a lot of renewed faith and energy in that having had this conversation,” she told attendees at the session.
Protesters around the UK have demanded that some statues honoring imperialists and slave traders be removed in recent weeks. A similar reassessment has taken place in other historical imperialist powers, including Belgium.
Both royals praised the Black Lives Matter demonstrations during the conversation, with Harry telling attendees: “For the first time ever, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement … this is the moment when people are starting to be listened to.”
Harry and Meghan announced in early 2020 that they were quitting their roles as senior members of the royal family, and have since been spending most of their time in North America.