This morning’s news included a feature about Queen Elizabeth II taking Meghan Markle on her first Royals excursion. Her Royal Highness seems to be charmed with Prince Harry’s choice in a bride. That’s good.
Approximately a month ago both the Washington Post and the New York Times ran articles about the reactions of immigrants, especially black immigrants, to the then upcoming wedding. The New York Times article featured an immigrant from South Africa, Carol Lengolo and her daughter Tshego (Say-ho) and their response to the upcoming event.
Tshego is an eleven year old girl who has become an unabashed Royalist. She told reporters that racist Britons are “just going to have to get over it.” Her mother, Carol, felt protective of Markle, saying, “We are going to be in her corner. She needs people to say, ‘Sister you are not alone. We are here…we are going to defend you.”
Not all immigrants are hopeful. They want to know what this will do for them and their everyday plight. And, they say, Megan barely looks black.
Tshego hopes the couple’s children will look more like her.
However, all agree that it will help make the Royal family reflective of what Britain looks like today.
Anyone who watches BBC television shows sees the cross section of people who make up the population of Britain today. Of course, that is television and it represents, perhaps, an idealized version of Brits in the way American television represents America.
What exactly does it mean to have a mixed-race person in the Royal family?
It is not, apparently, the first time. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III is seen in this painting with two of her fifteen children.
“The origins (sic) of her African roots is traced to Margarita de Castro de Sousa, a member of the black branch of the Portuguese royal family that married into the German royal families.”
In terms of the really big picture, it also means nothing.
All Europeans are African.
Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford is an expert on mitochondrial DNA. In his book, “The Seven Daughters of Eve”, he weaves a tale of seven women who came out of Africa up to 65,000 years ago into Europe, and then had daughters who had daughters who had daughters up to the present day. Sykes explains the difference in mitochondrial and somatic DNA. Somatic DNA is the genetic material in the nucleus of each cell in our bodies that determines what we turn out to be. It determines everything from eye color to stature to sex, but it is not our only DNA. Mitochondria, the tiny intr-cellular power plants in our cells are outside the nucleus, have their own DNA, and don’t divide as nuclei do in the process of producing two cells from one.
Because sperm cells don’t have mitochondria, they don not contribute to the mitochondria in our bodies. Everyone, man or woman, gets their mitochondria from their mother. Only one thing changes that mitochondria and that is mutation; the substitution of a portion of the DNA strand by a different nucleic acid. Much of the mitochondrial DNA is not functional in terms of determining whether or not the power plant works. Mutations there are passed along to the sons and daughters. Mutations in the critical (highly conserved) portion cause serious diseases that mostly result in stillbirth or death in infancy.
Since these mutations occur at the rate of one per thousand years, researchers can track lineage backwards, and estimate how closely one person is related to another. All of the seven women in the story track backward to DNA in Africa and converge on the theoretical Eve.
One of the seven daughter’s DNA is so dissimilar to the others that we know that she showed up in Europe only about 10,000 years ago from somewhere on the West African coast. None of our mitochondrial DNA came from Neanderthals, but Europeans got some somatic DNA from them and that is another story.
In telling this story the Lord of what is now Cheddar asked to have his mitochondrial DNA tested along with all of his staff hoping to find that he was a direct descendant of “Cheddar Man”, a 10,000 year old mummy found in a nearby cave. It turned out that he was not related, but his butler was a descendant.
Everything has changed in Europe, and in Britain in particular, with the collapse of colonialism. Britain now has many immigrants from Jamaica and South Africa as well as from Pakistan and India. Not everyone has been happy about that.
Eric Clapton ranted a hate filled racist speech in the 1970s which he blamed on alcohol and drugs, but they had no more to do with causing him to be racist than Roseanne Barr’s Ambien did her. They just exposed underlying racist views. Clapton echoed what many Briton’s were feeling then, and no doubt do today. He felt that Britain was for Britons, not for natives of former colonies.
So, we are all African. Some of us just got to Europe, the Americas and Asia, and even Australia, later than others. It is somewhat shocking to find that there were no blue-eyed people prior to about 10,000 years ago, and all of us with blue eyes are descended from someone around Ukraine. Not too many hundreds of generations ago none of us had three color receptors in our eyes; we had only two receptors, and must have seen color differently than today.
The light pigment in the skin of Northern Europeans is thought to have been conserved because it provided protection against rickets, a disease of childhood that resulted from lack of vitamin D. Light skinned children made more vitamin D in their skin through sun exposure. A couple of ice ages had a profound effect on what got passed along in our somatic DNA. There is some evidence that at least some of the genes for that light skin came from Neanderthals.
We are all “mixed up” as one of my black, white, Cherokee, and who knows what else co-workers once said in describing her family.
What is at the heart of racism in the U.S. and Europe?
Skin color has substituted for class. In the U.S. it substituted for slave versus free, and later for servant versus employer. In Britain it substituted for colonial power versus a native of one of the colonies. Subjugation leads to dehumanization in the minds of many who fancy themselves among the powerful.
I found the attitudes of the Lengolo mother and daughter sweet and a little naïve.
The royal family in Britain has undergone much of the change seen generally in Europe. In trying to maintain royal lines they paired Charles and Diana who were – to say the least – were ill suited for each other. Now both of their boys have married. It appears that Kate is related to William distantly.
“According to genealogists Patrick Cracroft-Brennan and Anthony Adolph, Michael Middleton's children descend, via their mother, from Elizabeth Plantagenet, King Edward IV's illegitimate daughter by Elizabeth Lucy, via Sir Thomas Blakiston Conyers, 9th Bt. of Horden, Durham. Catherine and Prince William's closest common ancestors are Sir William Blakiston of Gibside and his wife Jane Lambton, making them eleventh cousins once removed, These findings echo Christopher Challender Child's research, published in 2011.”
While related, then, one is royalty and one is not. It doesn’t really matter, however, because Kate’s family is a prominent and wealthy British family and Michael Middleton’s family has been very active in community affairs, his father or grandfather establish a high school for girls.
Harry, of course, is “the spare”, and now he comes to the throne only through a series of catastrophes. Still, the royal family has to act royal. Marrying an American is not new – Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson, a divorced American – and abdicated under pressure from the Church of England. Now Harry has married a divorced bi-racial American and everyone is comfortable with the marriage. The Royal Family and the Church have changed in response to changes in society.