A sparkly dress can no longer detract from the Crown’s brutal history

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal Caribbean tour may have come to an end but the controversy surrounding it – in particular, the use of certain outfits and cringeworthy photo opportunities – demands further discussion.

Last Wednesday, as part of their Jamaica stop, the Cambridges attended a formal dinner hosted by the country’s Governor-General. Duchess Catherine wore a custom emerald gown by British designer Jenny Packham. The ready-to-wear version retails for $AU6,669.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge alongside Governor General of Jamaica Sir Patrick Allen and wife Patricia Allen at King’s House on March 23, 2022.Credit:Getty Images

In 2020, Jamaica’s national gross income per capita was $AU6,100. If the Duchess and her team had wanted to redirect focus from the Crown’s brutal history, they should’ve picked a different dress.

Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas were all stops on the eight-day tour. After close to 400 years filled with slavery, colonisation, oppression and neglect these Caribbean countries and six others, including my island home, Grenada, still politically recognise Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state.

Even with this relationship, Caribbean citizens are allowed no special privileges when it comes to entering, working or living in Britain. In fact, only four years ago the British government wrongly threatened to deport children of the Windrush generation – people who came to Britain to fill post-war labour shortages.

As a Grenadian woman, born in the capital, my family forced upon the island in shackles, my identity is intertwined with the Caribbean; past, present and future. Yet, it’s a struggle to get the world to understand the true story of my birthplace.

Duchess Catherine wore a custom emerald gown by British designer Jenny Packham.Credit:Getty Images

It’s easier for people – the majority of whom have never set foot in the Caribbean – to fall into fantasy, rather than acknowledge reality. Most commonly I’m met with idyllic, romanticised visions of an island paradise, a mecca for cruise lines that dock in the same ports that held slave ships.

It is well documented by now that the British monarchy has its claws deep in the history of slavery. Queen Elizabeth I approved the first British ship carrying enslaved Africans in 1562. The people and the land were exploited for close to 300 years before slavery was formally abolished. But the legacy of Britain and its monarchy lives strong in the islands. Institutionalised racism, illiteracy, poverty, subpar public health and education facilities are the reality behind the island postcard, stamped with Queen Elizabeth II’s image.

Last week we observed the Duke and Duchess, arriving embarrassingly in their carefully thought out (or not) outfits reminding us of their presence and paternalism again.

Behind Prince William’s terrible drumming, his vague acknowledgment that such foreign tours were an “opportunity to reflect” and the endless photos of Caribbean children smothered by Catherine’s white saviourism, was a desperate ploy to prevent the departure of Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica from the Crown’s orbit.

This decision is one we in Australia are all too familiar with. Like the Caribbean, this country is a product of colonialism and brutality, yet politically we remain affiliated with the Crown.

Removing the royals as the head of state is an important part of the healing process for Caribbean nations.

Considerable reparations would be nice, but as history proves the royals aren’t as well versed in giving as they are in taking. The removal of the Queen from Jamaica, Belize, the Bahamas, and eventually Grenada, would be a cause for celebration. Street parades filled with bright colours, steel drums and the syncopated sounds of Calypso. There is joy in our survival, our right and our future. Nothing can detract from that, not even a $6,669 dress.

Ayeesha Ash is the artistic director of Black Birds and podcast host of No Offence, But.

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