As I’m sure you’ve heard by now (how could you possibly miss it?), a baby was born in Great Britain, considered to be the third in line to the monarchy.
A story that came to receive almost as much attention as the birth itself was the media coverage of the royal birth, much of it by comics and, thus, not meant to be taken all that seriously (e.g., John Oliver’s criticism). Despite complaints of the coverage, the general attitude was to shrug your shoulders and accept it, like it or not.
There are any number of reasons discussed for the obsession with the royal birth. Some suggest that the death of Princess Diana sparked interest in the royal family in recent years, while others point to the “special relationship” between Britain and the U.S. Still others point to the appeal of the vivacious young Duke and Duchess (i.e., not as stuffy as Prince Charles). Ultimately, it may be that the royals’ lives speak to some of our deepest cultural mythologies about “fairytales.”
(image from This Charming Mum)
One particular factor that received little if any attention was the role of whiteness in the media coverage.
While Dutch immigrants to the U.S. are among the earliest white settler-colonialists in this country, the standard-bearer of whiteness has always been white Protestants of Anglo-Saxon heritage (or WASPs). The churches that many Americans attend have fairly direct links to the monarchy in Britain, such as Episcopalians, or are denominations with origins in the British Isles, such as Presbyterians.
Of course, this fascination with the royals here in the U.S. is not new. Prince Williams’ birth in 1982 was another royal birth that received much attention. And, Prince Williams’ entire life has been chronicled by the tabloid press, including the U.S.-based People magazine which features his “biography.”
One thing that seems clear with the media surrounding the birth of Prince George Alexander-something or other is how at least some of those covering the story seem to be at least partially critical their own complicity in the spectacle hype. For instance, many news casters were assigned to watch a door of the hospital awaiting the official announcement of the birth and more than one that I saw seemed chagrined at such a “news” assignment. Of course, plenty of the backlash has as much to do with anti-royal sentiment as with the ridiculous media stunts, but I wonder if there’s something else at play here.
In my new book, White Race Discourse, I discuss how the sample of whites I interviewed seem trapped by a structure that limits their ability to talk rationally and reasonably about race matters and even their own racial experiences.
I see this same concept at play here with the coverage of the royal birth. In other words, for both producers of the story’s coverage as well as its consumers, people are locked into a given structure that limits their possibilities to think and act in rational and reasonable always. It was clearly irrational to be sitting around and waiting for a hospital door to open, but they did it anyway, and for what reasons exactly? This isn’t our monarch (at least not anymore), is it? Or, is there something else afoot here?
As Joe Feagin points out in his book, Racist America, there is a growing sense of insecurity among at least some white Americans over the increasingly majority-minority nation of ours. Whites like Pat Buchanan warn of the coming white minority due to declining birthrates for white women and the ongoing “invasion” of mostly brown people into this country.
Perhaps what the image of the royal baby conjures is white power and wealth, as well as the fertility of white women necessary to maintain white supremacy and dominance. These signifiers of white supremacy continue to proliferate in the U.S. mass media and throughout society. We watch in part because we want to, but we also watch in part because we are compelled to do so by the way white dominance is built into media events, such as the royal birth.
John D. Foster, I was delighted to read your excellent post entitled, “Whiteness, Structure, and the Royal Baby Obsession.” I am replying from Canada where the most prominent lingering legacy of Canada’s British connection is the Queen. As you likely know, the nation never cut its ties to the British royal family.
I appreciate your blog on numerous levels. For example, as someone who teaches Genocide Studies, I was deeply moved by what you had to say. For example, I thought of Nicholas Kristof’s (of the New York Times) attempts to promote awareness of human rights abuses in Africa and Asia in contrast to “many news casters … assigned to watch a door of the hospital awaiting the official announcement of the birth … of Prince George Alexander-something or other.” As I read you words, I recalled that back in February 2005, after an exasperated year of writing about the mounting crises in Darfur, Kristof began to provoke readers of his New York Times op-ed column into action by including photographs of deceased and maimed bodies alongside prose re-counting the atrocities in detail. And yet, a hospital door warrants the attention of media from around the world.
In the meantime, I look forward to reading your book “White Race Discourse.”
Thank you again for this EXCELLENT blog on the birth “of Prince George Alexander-something or other.”
@Tessa and Kimberley: thanks so much for liking the post. I think it’s difficult given people might think “what, you don’t like the baby?” or the royal family or whatever. By all means, they had a healthy baby, great. I couldn’t help but think at the time how we don’t give the same attention to other royal families and their births, and that must be for a reason.
Thank you John D. Foster for your kind reply. Your work is immensely important, and if we may add … makes us braver (i.e. we need to speak up about these issues as you bravely do). Thanks for your inspiring work. We cannot wait to read more of your blogs.