Toronto residents with ties to the Caribbean say they sympathize with protests against the British monarchy in Jamaica as a controversial royal tour continues there this week.
Prince William and Kate Middleton are in Jamaica for two days as part of a Central American and Caribbean tour. Protesters gathered before their arrival on Tuesday. One hundred individuals and organizations have issued an open letter demanding that Britain apologize and award reparations to its former colony for forcing hundreds of thousands of slaves to toil in dire conditions.
On Wednesday, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told William and Kate, the Duchess of Windsor, that the country intends to cut ties with the monarchy.
Anyika Mark, spokesperson for Black Urbanism Toronto (BUTO), a non-profit organization that aims to increase the participation of Black people in community development, said she supports the protests and believes Caribbean Canadians in Toronto do too.
“Of course, slavery was brutal everywhere, but Jamaica, it’s known to be historically a very brutal slave colony,” Mark said.
“I think what we are seeing in Toronto is massive support for leaving these oppressive power structures behind, creating our own way and starting to be our own people in the ways that we know how.”
She said the British empire “took so much” and the tour is creating frustration in Jamaica because there is an expectation that William and Kate should be greeted warmly, despite Britain’s “dark and gruesome” history.
“Anti-Black racism is so personal to us. We can kind of see those correlations happening in Jamaica as well, and so, I can understand how a lot of the Jamaican diaspora is up in arms,” she added.
Toronto barber Jermaine Cowan, owner of Stubz Hair Studio, said if he was in Jamaica he might be a part of the protests. Cowan, who left the country in the 1990s, said he is angry that the Royals weren’t more of a presence when Jamaica was nation-building during the 1970s and 1980s.
“I would love to see them there more. Because growing up in Jamaica all these years, I’ve never ever seen them in Jamaica once,” he said.
But not everyone supports the call for change.
Toronto reggae singer Hugh Mullings, interviewed at a record shop in Little Jamaica, said he wants the Queen to remain head of state for Jamaica.
“There’s nothing bad about that. It’s great that they go back to Jamaica,” he said.
“If we’re following Christ, we should think about forgiving and stop worrying about the past. Learn from the past to the present and solve our problems.”
Mullings said it’s important to consider the implications of major political change before taking action. He said Jamaica’s history is intertwined with that of Britain and noted that singer, songwriter and musician Bob Marley had a British father and a Jamaican mother.
The royal tour coincides with the 60th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence and the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.
Britain ruled Jamaica for more than 300 years. The country gained its independence in August 1962 but remained in the British commonwealth.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.