So everyone is talking about Harry and Meghan’s recent interview with Oprah where they opened up about their experiences within the royal family, in particular the experiences that lead them to the decision to leave the royal family and the UK.
Long story short, both Harry and Meghan alleged that they were on the receiving end of racism and bullying from the British press and people within the royal family and/or royal aides. Both made sure not to disclose the names or identities of those they had these interactions with but were clear that it was not Queen Elizabeth or Prince Philip. “Royal experts” have of course disputed the allegations even though the royal family themselves did not deny the allegations in the only statement they have given on the situation till now.
How I feel about the interview depends on their objectives for doing the interview in the first place.
When they decided to step back from royal duties, they announced their intentions (or the royal family did) but no explanation was given as to why they made such an unprecedented decision. Even though a lot of us in the UK had theories about why the pair were leaving, there was no statement, given to the British public to properly explain it. Plenty of Brits (myself included) assumed at the time that it would have something to do with the couples’ struggle against racist, sensationalist British press combined with possible rifts in the family. We saw the headlines that swirled around Meghan, her relationship with Harry, the rest of the royal family and even her father. So, if the objective of the interview was to put out a detailed statement on record about their experiences with the royal family and the British press after taking enough time away to cool off and collect themselves, then they did that successfully.
However, if their objective was to take on the British press, go toe to toe with them in a war of narratives and correct disparaging stories told about them, I am not convinced that they were successful. I will explain…
I personally, am not into the business of jumping into allegations of racism and accusing people of lying, especially if I was not present during the incident in question (You should consider doing this too, Piers Morgan). And of course, as a Black person in the UK I am very aware of how racist British institutions can be. However, I believe if an interview with Oprah was even necessary for this objective, then perhaps it would have been worth it for them to bring more than just their word. I understand that racism is not always easy to catch on camera, but the way I see it, Meghan knows the British tabloids they are all hot garbage. HOT GARBAGE.
Even if she did not know this, Harry did, or at least he should have – he has been subject to their antics all his life. Evidence, when talking about issues of race in the UK is almost always needed because people don’t want to talk about race here. You have to force them with evidence.
If the objective was to correct the narrative, then they should have known that their likeability was going to influence the public response to the interview, so this interview was only for people who already supported them. They were ‘preaching to the choir’ so to speak. Those who do not like Meghan were going to accuse the pair of slandering the royal family anyway because they do not like them enough to take their word for it.
The other side of me also knows that a lot of people do not even care about what you can prove, all they want to do is stand with who they like and dismiss uncomfortable conversations that would make them question the people and the structures around them. As I said previously, I am aware that it can at times be difficult to catch racist interactions on camera, especially when it was unexpected, but they could have – and perhaps should have – at least named the individual(s) they were talking about. There were few specifics shared, no names were given, and no evidence was presented. Knowing the British press, they (unsurprisingly) had a field day with this. I think in many ways if their objective was to take on the British press, they shot themselves in the foot.
I’d like to touch on two accusations the couple made in particular. The first is about the royal family not providing security for Harry, Meghan and their child. I have seen a few sources claim that this is not something that the Royal family normally provide, but something the Metropolitan Police provide “at their discretion” to the Royal family, meaning that as with all the other ‘needs’ of the monarchy, it is paid for by the taxpayer. If this is the true, then it is possible both Harry and Meghan did not know this (with Meghan being non-royal and non-British and Harry being the ‘black sheep’ of the royal family all his life) and made an incorrect assumption. However, if you pay attention to the way the British press have run with this story, you will find that they have run this story in such a way that implies that Harry and Meghan are in a way, freeloaders who sought to live a royal life of luxury on the taxpayer’s money while refusing royal duties. If this was really their objective, then they are doing no worse than what any other member of the royal family is doing in that regard. I don’t know exactly how many cars Elizabeth has but I cannot imagine any single state duty that would require her to own multiple luxury cars, castles and palaces most paid for by the taxpayer while the average salary of the British taxpayer is £30k per year (before tax). So if Harry and Meghan were trying to freeload off the taxpayer money then it would stand to reason that every other member of the royal family is doing the same, and has been for centuries.
The second accusation I would like to touch on is the story about their son being stripped of (or simply not given any) titles. Royal experts have disputed this to say that their son was never eligible for any titles due to his position in the line of succession. I am no royal expert, but I am acutely aware that Prince William (Harry’s elder brother) has three children, all of whom have royal titles even though according to original royal protocol, only his firstborn was eligible for the title of ‘Prince’. The protocol seems to be flexible to some people yet rigid and unchangeable for others. And in the case of Prince William’s children with Kate Middleton, the protocol was modified to allow all their children to benefit from it. So it was not a question of whether or not the protocols could be changed, it was a question of whether or not the royal family wanted that change for Prince Harry and Meghan’s children. Evidently, they did not.
My final point is that the UK does not subscribe to the ‘One drop rule’ that the US uses. Meghan Markle is not black here. Her mother is. Meghan is Biracial, and racially ambiguous at that. If I was told she was part white and part east Asian, or part white and part Middle-Eastern or that she had parent from the pacific, I’d believe it. Her appearance is what allowed her access to the royal palace in the first place. Yet what I am seeing is a conflation of issues. Meghan and Harry are from the royal family and have a child who is at least 75% white and looks just like his white cousins. Them being ‘forced’ to live off Harry’s inheritance of at least £10 million (from what I have read) from his mother’s estate is not representative of black people’s experience with racism in the UK. It simply is not.
The average black person from the UK would never have had access to the royal family from the beginning, because in the UK the average black person is fully black, because here you are black if both of your biological parents are. Your average black person in the UK is also working class, likely low income too and as such would not be starting out with millions of pounds to build their life. Harry and Meghan’s high socio-economic class means that the royal family and British press were likely going to be the only institutions where they would face racial discrimination that was not cushioned by their class. Whereas the average black person in the UK will face discrimination in other, more life-critical institutions like healthcare, education, criminal justice and so on without the economic safety net. In the long run, Mr and Mrs Sussex will probably be fine. But actual Black people in the UK still cannot appear in Christmas adverts on TV without causing a national uproar.
Lets also not forget that the royal family is an institution with deep, problematic roots in colonialism, racism and classism. I believe Harry and Meghan are aware of the colonial origins of their family’s wealth and position. I do question if they still would have left the royal family if they been allowed to benefit from this problematic institution in the same ways the rest of their family has – which is seemingly what they wanted. But who can know? All I know is the history, and from this knowledge I am not convinced that Harry and Meghan are as ‘progressive’ as some would paint them out to be.
All this interview did was reopen the conversation about racism in the UK, but it did not add new talking points or insight to the conversation at all in my opinion. Supporters of the royal family will back the monarchy till the end, those who are uncomfortable with the conversation about racial interactions in the UK will continue to call Meghan a liar, while minorities in the UK and the rest of the world will continue to support Meghan out of empathy, forgetting that her lived experience was never and will never be representative of their own. But what now? Because this changes nothing. It was always like this.
Will this trigger positive change in racial interactions and improve racial progressiveness of British society?
Who knows? But I am sceptical.