Editorial: Royal protest

Protesters in Jamaica, donning T-shirts emblasoned with a pair of shackled Black wrists surrounded by the phrases ‘Seh Yuh Sorry!’ and ‘Apologize now!’, raised their fists on 22 March, as they demonstrated just hours before Prince William and Kate arrived.

The protest in front of the British High Commission in Kingston comes a couple of days after dozens of prominent leaders in Jamaica publicised a letter demanding that Britain apologise and award its former colony slavery reparations.

They also decried the week-long Central American and Caribbean tour that the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge embarked on Saturday, which coincides with Jamaica’s 60th independence anniversary and the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

‘Kings, Queens, and Princesses and Princes belong in fairytales, NOT in Jamaica!’ read one poster held aloft by a young girl who joined the protest. The royal couple’s trip, which began with a stop in Belize, followed by scheduled visits to Jamaica and the Bahamas, was organised at the queen’s behest as some countries debate cutting ties to the monarchy like Barbados did in November.

Mike Henry, a veteran Jamaican lawmaker, said in a phone interview that while the topic has been discussed, he worries that demands for an apology and reparations would be rendered moot if the island stopped pledging allegiance to the queen. Maziki Thame, a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies, noted that Jamaicans have been seeking reparations for decades.

‘This is not a new cause,’ she said in a phone interview as she prepared to join the protest. ‘The question is whether it will get any traction…whether the British are ready to contend with their history.’

The British empire controlled Jamaica for more than 300 years and forced hundreds of thousands of African slaves to toil the island under brutal conditions. Sugar replaced tobacco and cocoa as the main crop, with some 430 sugar estates reported by the mid-1700s, up from 57 nearly a century prior, according to Jamaica Information Services, a government agency.

The group protesting the royal visit noted in its letter that the British raped and killed thousands of slaves as it sought an apology for 60 reasons, including ‘for refusing to acknowledge the historic trade in Africans as a crime against humanity,’ and for ‘pretending that the British led the abolition movement, when our ancestors worked, prayed and fought hard for this.’