Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 21: Bishop Curry at the Royal Wedding
Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting
a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about the Royal Wedding.
I planned to watch the Royal Wedding in the spring in the same way that I plan to run a few kilometres every Saturday – very noncommittally. Whilst I enjoy Netflix’s The Crown as much as any other person with a pulse, I’m not really a Royalist. (Sidenote – it is extremely hilarious and horrible that media outlets grossly amplify Meghan’s family, when Harry’s family is just as MESSY). But I ended up being glued to it, watching the guests arrive in their beautiful outfits (I still think about Amal Clooney’s yellow number), watching everyone’s reactions unfold on social media, and getting genuinely emotional during the ceremony. I really loved it.
A personal highlight of mine was the sermon from Bishop Michael Curry. Bishop Michael’s sermon was almost 15 minutes long, on the power of love and not giving up, with references to fire and slaves in the antebellum south. It was passionate and fiery (pardon the pun), and very much in the style of Black American churches, the antithesis of the services people see in British churches, in person or on TV.
Or is it? Reactions on the BBC and ITV and the rest of the British press certainly told that story. I was watching on BBC and in the debrief, the commentator said definitively ‘we don’t see that in England.’ Reactions ranged from puzzled, to disgruntled, to wonder, to applause. It was clear that whatever the reaction, it wasn’t something British people were used to. ]
It shouldn’t astound me, but it does, that people live in entirely different worlds, and that, particularly if you’re white and middle class, with a particular media consumption pattern, it’s likely that you’ll have little to no idea of any other. I have been to many services and many black churches with preachers like Bishop Michael, and I live in an area where if you throw a stone, you’ll hit about ten churches with a similar style.
This isn’t about absolving churches of any sort from the myriad of problems that they have, historically and current. I truly, would never want to do that. Really this is about something that has bothered me for a long time, long before I had the language for it. Even a few years ago, when I used Facebook, I remember unfollowing a page I had liked in my teens, which was named ‘I hate how Americans think we’re all posh’. I don’t think in that ‘British vs American’ binary anymore, but a lot of that sentiment remains – that there is so much more to our cultural identity than even the majority of British people think there is. For better or worse, black churches are a big part of African Diaspora culture, and the fact that people just don’t know this…that people think this style of is ‘not seen in Britain’ just makes me cringe.
Because, of course, it leads to bigger issues. Nostalgia for a time when Britain was different – read – more white, when the reality is more complex, more ethnic (much of this due to the Empire which not enough of us know the realities of), more culturally diverse. Pumping out period drama TV show after period drama TV show, marginalising actors of colours, and leading them to seek opportunities elsewhere. Closing our ears to other stories. It purports this notion that this country belongs to the White Middle Class, and the rest of us – with our culture, our way of life, the way we see the world and experience our lives, just don’t live here. When of course we do. We’re here. And we have been for a long, long time.