For a long time, I was one of those Brits who didn’t really care too much about the monarchy. I didn’t have much interest in their lives, or their weddings – when Wills and Kate got married I took advantage of the extra bank holiday to go on a city break to Copenhagen. The way I saw it was: they’re there, there’s little I can do about it, but if we were to ever have a referendum on their abolishment I would 100% vote yes. As I’ve gotten older, my feelings about their abolishment have gotten stronger and I am now of the opinion that the entire institution should be burned to the ground (METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING OF COURSE). These feelings did not change when Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. While I certainly found it interesting that a biracial woman was marrying into the Royal Family I did not, like some people, believe that their union was somehow going to have any positive impact on race relations in this country. I did not believe it would usher in some new era of equality or erase the centuries of pain Black people have experienced at the hands of this country’s Establishment. I, like many other Black people, knew and appreciated what Meghan seemingly did not: that this country is deeply, deeply racist, and their marriage would only further expose how much.
The racism Meghan has faced at the hands of the media and white royalists has been astounding. She hasn’t been able to take two steps in any direction without it making headlines and generating a wave of unfair and unreasonable criticism, criticism we know is reserved for her because of her race.
“BuT iT’s NoT aBoUt RaCe ThOuGh.”
Ah, that famous white proverb. Yes it IS about race, and it always has been about race. Meghan has been denigrated for the simplest of things: for liking avocado, for cradling her tummy when she was pregnant, for guest editing Vogue magazine. These are things that other royals have done, most notably Kate Middleton, yet the presentation of those acts has been strikingly different. As a Black woman I hear all the dog whistles, but you don’t even need to be Black to see this, as the media don’t even try to hide it. The truth, as I explained to someone last week, is that nothing Meghan does is ever right, everything she does is substandard and unacceptable, even if it’s exactly the same as another royal. Why? Because she is partly Black and how dare she infiltrate the royal family with her Negro blood? And what makes it worse is, as we saw at the wedding, Meghan is fiercely proud of her Black heritage and it blows racists’ minds. It makes them apoplectic with rage. And so they hound her. They find new and more ridiculous things to criticise her for. It’s never-ending. Eventually, no matter how strong you are, it begins to take a toll.
Putting Up Resistance
So it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced that they would be stepping back from their duties as senior royals. But of course, because it involves Meghan, it has been blown seriously out of proportion and the racism of the media and the general public has gone into overdrive. Oh, the irony. The public reaction to this announcement is the exact reason why the couple have come to this decision. You don’t have to follow the Royal Family closely to know that Prince Harry has always disliked the intrusiveness of the media, and the fact that he and Meghan initiated legal proceedings against certain publications should have served as a warning for what has now come to pass. Not only have the media been intrusive, they have attacked his wife and his child with a racist venom that no self-respecting husband and father would sit back and tolerate. Prince Harry said himself that he would always protect his family and, now he has a family to protect, he’s doing what he feels is right for them. Yet, despite this, Meghan is being blamed for this decision – for ‘manipulating’ Harry, for separating him from his brother, for ‘changing’ him. Meghan is being portrayed as some kind of evil master puppeteer, intent on wreaking chaos and havoc on our most beloved institution.The Royal Family is an institution with a colonial (and therefore inherently racist) history. For me, as a Black woman who is a descendant of that colonial history, there is nothing beloved about it. So I’ve found myself in a rather awkward position when considering this news and following Meghan’s journey so far as a Royal. Part of me agrees with the view that she knew what she was marrying into. She actively chose to marry into an institution with such a racist legacy (her veil had flowers representing the Commonwealth on it for Christ’s sake), and so it was naïve of her at best to consider herself immune from that racism and so my sympathy should really be capped at 50%. But part of me can’t help but feel incredibly sorry, and even angry, for her even though I know this. If there is one thing Britain has succeeded at, it’s hiding from the outside world how truly racist it is. I’ve had conversations with people from the US who know how terrible it is there and mistakenly think that Britain is somehow significantly better, forgetting that as a former British colony, Britain taught America how to be racist. It makes my skin crawl, seeing the tweets and the headlines and I wonder about the impact this is having on Meghan’s mental health. Yes she is rich, yes she is privileged, but all the money and privilege in the world has not changed the fact that her identity and her accomplishments have been boiled down to her race. All the money and privilege in the world does not lessen the damaging impact of racism. And so I find myself staunchly defending Meghan and Harry, supporting this decision and arguing for their right to step away from the toxicity, despite my beliefs.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not turning into a royalist. I rate Meghan on a certain level for being unapologetically herself in the context of that family, but I also acknowledge what the monarchy is and its legacy. I also concur with the view that if they really wanted to step back from the family, they could renounce their titles. Maybe this announcement, and the backlash to it, will be a stepping stone to that. We can only hope. But what Britain’s treatment of Meghan has really shown is how difficult it is to exist as a Black woman in this country. Meghan is not fully Black and is very light-skinned, yet look at what is happening to her. Can you imagine if she were a dark-skinned Black woman? No matter how successful and accomplished you are, you are Black first and foremost and are expected to remember your ‘place’ in this society or you will be under constant attack.
But “iT’s NoT aBoUt RaCe ThOuGh,” right? Of course not.