It wasn’t just the black preacher, though Bishop Michael Curry’s fiery address evoking Martin Luther King and the misery of slavery certainly packed a punch. There was also the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the spiritual – This Little Light of Mine – sung by a black gospel choir.
There was symbolism stitched in to so many elements of the wedding service chosen by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that spoke to her mixed-race heritage.
“A beautiful service and a beautiful couple. Making my beautiful mixed heritage family’s shoulders stand a little taller,” tweeted the Labour MP David Lammy.
“BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY GIVING ME LIFE,” tweeted the model Naomi Campbell. There was even “a black Anglican female priest who wore the shaved hair of the Black Panther women warriors,” noted Valerie Russ of the Philadelphia Inquirer. And Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams and Idris Elba, to name a few of the celebrity guests.
Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, enjoyed the service, which he watched “in my living room with my kids”. But he cautioned against attaching too much significance to it. “Clearly one wedding isn’t going to fundamentally alter the lives of Britain’s ethnic minorities, many of whom are still subject to different forms of discrimination,” he said.
He loved Curry’s 14-minute address, which was “extraordinarily clever” in the way it “got under the skin” and evoked King and slavery in the most formal of settings. “It was completely appropriate given the global audience he had.” He loved, too, that his young daughter could twirl around in her dress in front of the TV “imagining herself as a princess, genuinely seeing herself in this service”.
But a few black people in the St George’s Chapel quire was not enough: “These are paradoxical times, with a post-Brexit environment with rising hate crime, with the Windrush story that brings us international shame. The multi-cultural future of Britain is contested. The ceremony was hopeful. It spoke both of our Commonwealth past, our history, but also of a future. But we shouldn’t read too much into it.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the symbolism, but I don’t think we should get carried away.”
Herman Ouseley, the chair of Kick it Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, agreed. He described it as “very moving” and a “beautiful occasion for the two people in love”.
“I think it did no harm as part of the process of trying to build better race relations. Fundamentally I don’t think it does anything to alter the deprivation and the class and race-related issues that deeply affect many people in this country,” said the peer, who is a former executive chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.
He said a mixed-race royal bride was progress, albeit superficial progress. “But it is a progress that has to be recorded and it does make people feel as though they are part of a society that is more welcoming. It is part of a very long, slow, process of change.”
Others saw the service as a fundamental step towards modernising royalty. “It’s like taking a hammer into the basement of the master and slowly destroying the house brick by brick,” the Rev Renee McKenzie, the pastor of the George W South Memorial Church of the Advocate, an Episcopal church in North Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It really was a black service.”
At a breakfast party attended by 20 mostly black women in Burlington, New Jersey, watching the ceremony on television, there was admiration for the bride and the bishop. “He brought a little bit of Southern Baptist America to Europe. You know what I love about all of this? She’s adding a little spice to the royal family,” Angelita Byrd told the Associated Press.
Back in the UK, Stafford Scott, a consultant on racial equality and community engagement, did not watch the wedding ceremony. “I heard there was a black choir and some people felt that was very symbolic. I just think it was that we have got some really good black choirs,” he said.
Harry choosing a mixed-race bride was “personal choice” rather than statement. “I have nothing negative to say about what took place yesterday, though online some people did,” he said.
“But, again, I don’t think people should be getting carried away because of somebody’s personal choices. I do hope that it does, somehow, become something going forward. But, in terms of the black community’s standing in this country, the difficulties we face are structural.
“White and black people have been mixing for generations and it hasn’t, necessarily, led to any improvements, or deepening of understanding. So I think we should keep our feet firmly on the ground here.”
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