Why black and Asian Britons are such great supporters of monarchy

'We were brought up to believe that the British were gods who, with barely any army, ruled the world'
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I was listening to the childish furore over Mo Mowlam's perfectly sensible suggestion that we should rehouse the Royal family in an easy-to-keep-clean, modern house when it suddenly occurred to me that most Asian and black Britons would actually be appalled at such "treachery".

I was listening to the childish furore over Mo Mowlam's perfectly sensible suggestion that we should rehouse the Royal family in an easy-to-keep-clean, modern house when it suddenly occurred to me that most Asian and black Britons would actually be appalled at such "treachery".

Her Majesty's most loyal subjects today are black and Asian Britons. They adore her and The Firm with an embarrassing passion. Members of the Royal family can be crass, stupid, unsightly and even alcoholic, but my people will worship them because they have "high class, noble blood" as one Asian businessman puts it. Even the late Bernie Grant was a proud royalist, and I have met old war veterans who say that they would die for their Queen. And, after all, she does reciprocate with many small gestures that mean so little to her and so very much to her grateful inferiors.

At her peculiar Buckingham Palace garden parties these days you always have a sprinkling of bright saris and turbans adding colour to the deadly dull floral frocks and bad hats. A modern birthday honours list contains many diligent Asian and black shopkeepers, community leaders and badly paid race equality workers. Yes, of course I am being mean. I am miffed that I have never been offered anything at all. Not even tea. And so I have never had the opportunity I have been waiting for since the age of 10 (when in a Kampala cinema I refused to stand up as they played "God Save the Queen" and was therefore chucked out by the Asian owner for giving his cinema a bad name) to publicly refuse to be patronised by the Royal family which, however limited, is an affront to democracy and equality and has no place in the modern world.

I am the only black/Asian republican I have ever met. There may be a handful of others. It is more than likely that firebrands such as Tariq Ali and Darcus Howe are too, although we have never discussed this, but they wisely remain underground because to come out is to invite the kind of disapprobation that white folk would find it hard to imagine.

My book, Who Do We Think We Are?, has a picture of the Queen on the cover. Only she has been tinted brown and actually looks all the better for it. But for many black and Asian people, I have thus shown a quite unforgivable disrespect to the monarch and - here is the crunch - made it harder for us to be accepted by our "hosts".

Fifty years after people emigrated here from the ex-colonies and we are still, apparently, "guests" who have to behave properly and toady to the establishment and the hereditary monarchy. Otherwise we make ourselves vulnerable and, as my mother says, "easy to push out in boats, and to which country now?"

So part of this conformity arises out of fear and a lack of confidence which so many blacks and Asians feel, living as we do in a country where immigrants are still regarded as a massive problem. But "ethnic" royalists reveal another, more interesting pathology.

The reality of the empire has been over for a long time, but both sides, the rulers and the ruled, are still locked in that imaginary historical relationship. How can it be otherwise? We were brought up to believe the British were gods who, with barely any army, were able to rule most of the world. Those who ruled over the British, then, and the monarch in particular, well, they were obviously super-gods. We wanted them out of our countries because that was fair and right, but the fear and awe remained. And I think, sadly, remains today, even among many who were born here.

Queen Victoria was sent jewels, presents and even children by obsequious maharajahs who knew they were becoming powerless. The ex-rajah of Coorg so wanted to please that he converted to Christianity and sent his favourite daughter to be brought up by Queen Victoria. Princess Gourama, a sad, lonely girl, lived a miserable existence with the aristocracy and died in her twenties. Nkrumah, Nasser and Nehru were sharp politicians and liberationists, but none challenged the self-importance that emanated from the British monarchy. Gandhi did, up to a point, but on the whole subject people felt most validated when they were allowed to pay homage to the Queen and to bow down before her.

The insightful post-colonial Indian writer Ashis Nandy believes that after the end of imperial domination there followed a second form - "a colonialism which survives the demise of empires". He is primarily concerned with post-independence India and with the way in which the West is now unavoidably everywhere in the world, including the inner corridors of the mind. But reading his books, and The Intimate Enemy in particular, I was struck by the way black and Asian Britons are also captives of the ghosts of empire, and how this adoration of the monarch is a symptom of this.

When Diana, Princess of Wales, died, black and Asian people did briefly unchain themselves from the monarchy. They saw Diana as a victim of a bad, arranged, marriage, and as someone they deeply respected. I was drawn to her too because she embraced us as people of this nation.

Her death generated fury and grief (especially as her love affair with Dodi was seen as yet another step in our direction), and this was only heightened when England claimed her back for her funeral. Suddenly you began to hear anti-royal sentiments among black and Asian people.

It didn't last, of course. As Anthony Sampson says, "this is a family that has become more expert than any other institution in one critical art - the art of survival."

I think there has been a concerted move to keep black and Asian royalists happy to prop up public support which is declining. Prince Charles is forever in and out of mosques and temples, and his mother too has got rather good at making speeches about the wonders of multiracial Britain. In return for these gestures, they get many wide smiles, claps and reassurances that they are right to believe that they were born to be superior to the rest of us.

At a party recently I met one of the PR experts brought in by the Palace to improve the image of the royal family. Charming man. I advised him to buy my book, if only to show Her Majesty the cover. I told him I was a republican. A barking peacock, I think, would have surprised him less. He went away worried.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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