DON'T LOSE ACCESS:
Your IP access to ForeignPolicy.com will expire on June 15.
To ensure uninterrupted reading, please contact Rachel Mines, sales director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archie Windsor Isn’t the Symbol You Think He Is
The newest royal baby represents his country's future identity: not multicultural, but overwhelmingly mixed-race and entirely British.
The recently arrived royal baby, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, is seventh in the line of succession to the British throne, but he is destined to earn more than the share of public attention that status would suggest. All royals serve as public symbols—it is, to some extent, their job—but especially so the son of Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who is a mixed-race American. The problem is that this symbolism has been deeply misinterpreted.
Archie’s birth is considered a landmark occasion: the admittance of a person of color into the British royal club, a symbol of today’s increasingly diverse Britain. But this gets the royal baby’s significance backward. In reality, Archie represents the success of ethnic assimilation in Britain. He is destined to be an emblem of the United Kingdom’s future de-diversification, the emergence of a new mixed-race majority that closely identifies with its British ancestry.
The common interpretation is that Archie, like Meghan, whose mother is African American, represents multicultural Britain. This narrative holds that Archie’s arrival is of a piece with the rapid increase in the nonwhite British population of England since 1981, from 4 percent to over 15 percent. The royal couple’s wedding, which featured an African American gospel choir and preacher, fits the narrative of a radical break with the monocultural past.
Cultural narratives, however, tend to collapse unless they are supported by underlying societal trends, and Britain’s demography doesn’t indicate a grand narrative of an increasingly diversifying nation. Rather, Britain’s ethnic dynamics are developing in the direction of assimilation—a reduction of difference as newcomers melt into an existing ancestral memory. The English ethnic group is in the process of adapting its idea of who can be a member to encompass a wider range of colors, even as English memory and identity—like that of the royal line—largely remains the same.
Consider a few facts from the censuses of England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate surveys). First, almost half of people of Afro-Caribbean ethnicity form unions with white people. Second, nearly eight in 10 of their mixed-race offspring partner with white people and other mixed-race people. While marriage across racial lines is lower for South Asian groups, at current rates of intermarriage, the projections run by the demographer Edward Morgan for my book Whiteshift show that 30 percent of the country will be mixed-race by 2100, rising to nearly 75 percent by 2150. This is because the offspring of a mixed-race person can only be mixed-race, but the offspring of an “unmixed” person has a rising chance of being mixed-race. Why? Because the nonwhite share of the U.K. population is on the rise, increasing the chance that a partner of a white person will be nonwhite. Firing on both these cylinders, simple mathematics tells us that the mixed-race population will take off late this century.
Mixing also means that the not mixed-race nonwhite share of the population will peak sometime in the 2090s, when it will be overtaken by the surging mixed-race group. This is not speculation—demography is the most predictive of the social sciences. Unless social mores drastically shift against intermarriage (our projections assume interracial marriage continues at its current rate), it’s hard to envision any other outcome. Immigration levels make little difference to the long-term picture.
How will those of mixed-race identify? How will others see them? Scholarship tells us the two processes strongly influence each other, because identities are formed through social interaction, not just subjective choice. Unmixed whites are a clear majority in today’s Britain, so those of mixed-race see themselves—and are often considered by whites—to be minorities. Some may pass as white, such as the one-eighth Japanese former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith or the one-quarter African American Steven Woolfe, a former UK Independence Party Member of the European Parliament. Others may be viewed as distinctly mixed-race, such as the half Afro-Caribbean soccer legend Rio Ferdinand. The current English soccer team contains seven mixed-race players, some of whom are widely considered black, some white, and some mixed.
By the time Archie Mountbatten-Windsor reaches his grandparents’ age, however, not mixed-race white Brits will be a 40 percent minority of the nation’s population. Those under 20 will be overwhelmingly mixed. The changed racial context means that the rising mixed-race group is less likely to view itself, and be viewed, as a minority. The question this begs is how this new majority will identify, given the multiple ancestry lines it can select from.
Ethnicity is fundamentally about a subjective belief in common descent. Even if there are multiple bloodlines, people may exercise their ethnic option to focus on certain lines at the expense of others. As Britain’s mixed-race population becomes a majority it is likely to assign more importance to its European ancestry. In part, that’s because, as not mixed-race whites become a shrinking minority of both Western Europe and North America, European roots will cease to be a bland backdrop to the mixed-race identity. By abdicating its demographic hegemony, European ancestry will gain in cultural appeal and salience among those of mixed race.
The European lineage of the new mixed-race majority will also take on greater meaning than its polygenetic immigrant provenance because it will bind the community in ways that other identities cannot. English heritage will have longer historical roots and connections with founding moments in the collective memory of Britain’s new multiracial majority. (In the United States, this unifying identification with a founding group doesn’t apply because there are three founding groups with a long pedigree: American Indians, white Anglos, and African Americans. This makes a hybrid group, like Mexico’s mestizos, more likely.)
In adulthood, Archie may come to immediately identify with his English ancestry the way most Turks identify with their Central Asian Turkic ancestry (a minority of their DNA) or Jews focus on their maternal Israelite lineage despite centuries of demographic mixing. In the United States, most American Indians and Native Hawaiians similarly forget their considerable nonaboriginal genetic makeup to concentrate on their preferred indigenous roots.
That future is still some way off. Today, the British elite still views Archie through the lens of a majority-white society: as something exotic and different. Outlooks that stem from a period of overwhelming white dominance still hold sway. Thus the BBC Radio presenter Danny Baker tweeted an image of a couple holding hands with a well-dressed chimpanzee beneath the caption: “Royal baby leaves hospital.” Baker swiftly deleted the tweet, apologetically explaining that he was trying to lampoon privilege and the news cycle and did not intend to be racist—a claim that seems plausible given the fact the tweet had the predictable outcome of costing him his job. Either way, the furor reflects a sensibility that may not survive the large-scale race mixing destined to occur by the time Archie is an old man.
Without a dominant unmixed white group, and with a rising and confident mixed-race majority, today’s racial sensitivities will likely fade, and few will consider Archie anything other than a member of the English majority. In that case, Baker’s tweet would either pass without comment or never be written in the first place.
Trevor Phillips, the former head of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, who is of Afro-Guyanese descent, wrote an open letter to Archie describing him as the “poster boy for this new world.” He adds that, unlike when he was young, “I can’t see that anyone in your family is going to be in the least bit bothered about your colour,” and race is likely to lose its meaning in the future.
Phillips is almost certainly correct, which means the ethnic English—like other Western ethnic majorities—are likely to become multiracial, as are today’s Turkmen or Hawaiians. Far from heralding an era of multiculturalism, Archie’s birth points to the success of Britain’s melting pot. Indeed, he prefigures a long-term decline of the country’s ethnic diversity that will result, like his absorption into the royal line, in a renewed sense of genealogical and historic continuity.