‘It’ was as delightful as it was disconcerting

I was stood up last Saturday. I had a 1pm meeting with a friend and she sent a cryptic last-minute text about her decoder recorder not working and that she can’t miss “it”.

My “Huh?” response was a neglected single-tick declaration (until the next day) that she was not going to come. I had forgotten what “it” was and realised when I logged on to Twitter to see that three billion people were watching “it”. “What the hell,” I thought. I took off my shoes, made some lunch, sat on my bed and relaxed into a delicious afternoon of a solo viewing of the royal wedding.

A week or so before this I had received a Twitter DM from somebody who follows my work, asking me what I think of the royal wedding; what do I make of this moment? What does it mean and how should we be thinking about it? “Please Mili!” it begged. When I read the DM, I really did not care about the royal wedding. Not from a perspective of “I’m too cynical to care” but I was busy with other things and had not allowed any space in my brain to engage with social media, let alone the royal wedding.

So when I settled in to watch, I had not read a single think piece or pre-interview. I had no idea who was going to be there and didn’t know much about the bride and her family. The last time I heard anything about it was during a BBC interview of comedian Gina Yashere who swiftly told us all to calm down, “It’s not as if he’s marrying Lupita or Serena,” regarding the internet’s hysteria about Meghan Markle’s black identity.

So there I was tuned into a live broadcast of the wedding, with no luck searching for one with commentary to tell me who is who as the guests were trickling in. Let me tell you, I was pleasantly delighted by the predictability of it all — the latent expectation of fantasy even in my own decolonising African feminist brain, the delivery on the well-nurtured childhood promise that the girl will eventually find her prince, the dress, the whole production.

I was delighted by it.

And when that valve decided to stay open, I found real joy in watching the black British choir sing in that church, listening to the riveting sermon by the African-American preacher, which was speaking to the groundbreaking fact of Prince Harry buying his family a seat in the hybrid future. There was an irrefutable thawing out of hundreds of years of British coldness happening in real time when the Africans in the outside crowds started ululating as the bride and groom came out.

To watch two people in love get married amid their friends and family was beautiful and no amount of wokeness and ossified cynicism against the British monarchy, against Christianity, against patriarchy as systems of power can erase the existence of that beauty alongside the crimes of these institutions.

There’s a part of my brain that finds emotional comfort in the lies and promises of the monarchy, religion and even bloody patriarchy.

I tried to explain this to a number of my cynical woke white peers and friends, who found it alarming that I not only watched the wedding, but admitted to it. “You exposed yourself to the radiation,” one of them said jokingly. Another one would “never” watch the wedding of the “spawn of the colonists”. And another said he couldn’t deal with how black people had bought into this Christianity thing so much that they don’t see the irony of worshipping at the altar of our primal wound.

My response to them is something I came to learn as I was watching this wedding. There’s the logical and rational intellect in me who understands the location of the British royal family within the global colonial project and its cataclysmic implications for me as an African person and billions of others around the world. I don’t dig the queen, I’m not here for her husband and I have no respect for the family or their titles.

These feelings of contempt, however, can and do live quite comfortably next to my feelings for Princess Diana, whom I loved and adored because she was beautiful, palpably warm, flawed, fashionable, human, caring and she was the antithesis to the dimness of British royalty. That this was her child getting married obviously tugged at those feelings of general affinity towards her. That he was marrying a biracial American actor with a dreadlocked, nose-ringed, yoga-instructing African-American mother cannot be ignored.

I told my quartet of white peers that this seemingly naive care for and acceptance of this wedding from black people is definitely illogical. It makes no sense if we are to look at the facts of what the British under the rule of the monarchy have done to devastate us of our land, minerals, culture, our place in the world while foisting their culture on to us. But if we were to use rationality and logic as collective responses to what Europeans have done in Africa, my friends would not enjoy the grace and acceptance that they currently enjoy from Africans who are able to see them with a generosity and openness as people with one eye while seeing the facts of the unaccountability of whiteness and white people with another eye.

The left lives the facts. But the right eye does not worship at the altar of logic. The right eye understands the place of human emotion in the larger project of being human. The right eye makes room for love, for the messy business of forgiveness, of letting go, of joy in spite of the injustices and for ubuntu. The right eye knows that at the baseline of cynicism is a crippling fear of life itself.

White people have been here for so long and yet learned so little from Africans and this daily exchange of grace that we show them in spite of everything. As time marches on, and the decolonial project progresses, it’s also important to learn to look outside of what the academy, what literature, think pieces, articles and logical and written responses to colonisation can offer. Otherwise we would have solved all of our problems.

It is important to learn to be guided by the actions and feelings of the vulnerable masses, who in their own right are institutions and libraries of knowledge. Maturity is the ability to marry those two forms of knowledge, even though it does not always make sense. 

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Milisuthando Bongela
Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardians arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project.

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