Key Takeaways from the Interview
Representation in positions of power is important: not just for impressionable children finding their way in the world but for the adults who are learning and unlearning taught behaviours too. Meghan and Harry's wedding presented the royal family with an opportunity to modernise itself: it offered a small increase in representation that could have given hope for a more diverse monarchy that may one day better reflect the multicultural nature of British society. It felt like a huge steppingstone in the right direction for our road to recovery from our colonial past. From what I remember, the media coverage was mostly positive around the time that they wed, but soon after we saw a sharp U-turn as the tabloids grew less and less approving of Meghan Markle.
If you have lived in the UK over the last four years, you will be hard-pressed to have missed the inundation of negative media coverage that Meghan has received, much of which pitted her against Kate Middleton. Pitting powerful women against each other is an age-old practice, not just in the UK press but around the world, and what we have seen over the last few years is that Meghan has been repeatedly shamed for things that Kate Middleton has been praised for. There has been some speculation as to why Meghan has been treated differently but, as a person of colour who has grown up in the UK, I recognised the (very deliberate) choice of language used by the media. Damaging racist stereotypes have been portrayed in what appears to be a targeted character assassination against Meghan Markle from the British media. Harry and Meghan’s recent interview with Oprah presented a platform for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to voice their side of the stories that the press have been spewing over the last four years. Instant polling (from YouGov) showed that the majority voted that Harry and Megan’s interview was inappropriate, and it comes as no surprise that the two have received a fair amount of negative media coverage. What the interview and the resulting backlash have highlighted is that not even those at the top of the pecking order – quite literally royalty – are not immune to racial discrimination in the UK and, no matter your wealth and social status, speaking out about your experiences can be ill-received.
When it comes to racism, seeing is often believing, which is to say unless a person regularly witnesses or endures incidents of racial discrimination, it is difficult to grasp the depth of the problem. For example, in the interview, Prince Harry admits he wasn’t aware of unconscious race bias existed until he met Meghan. Through the press, we have witnessed Harry’s journey of education when it comes to race, from a questionable costume choice at a fancy dress party (which he apologised for) to now discussing unconscious bias on international television. It appears he has come a long way and is ‘doing the work’ to educate himself. Harry and Meghan’s role as senior members of the royal family was once a full-time job, and the poor treatment that Meghan received at the hands of the UK tabloids has sometimes been painted as part of the job, with an ‘everyone goes through it’ attitude. Some have compared Meghan’s treatment to some of the rude headlines about Kate Middleton, to which Meghan’s poignant response was, ‘rude and racist are not the same.’ Throughout the interview, Meghan describes the ways in which she and (at the time, her unborn son) Archie had been treated differently to other members of the royal family, and perhaps one of the most shocking moments of the interview came when she voiced that there were, ‘several conversations’ about how dark Archie's skin tone might be and ‘what that would mean or look like.’ As a dark-skinned mixed race female, I am relatively well versed in the cause, effects and language of the Colourism problem in the UK (though I was a teenager before I had the vocabulary to articulate it as it is a highly taboo topic). Like the new burst of momentum in the Black Lives Matter movement last year, I think this interview will inspire many to acknowledge and research the UK’s problem with racism, in all of its forms. I suspect that those who haven’t grown up with or witnessed experiences similar to my own mightn’t be too familiar with the term, and I hope that this interview inspires more to self-educate on the topic.
In my opinion, racism is often depicted as more of an American problem and that ‘it’s not as bad here in the UK,’ so hearing Prince Harry, grandson of the Queen of England, admit that he left the country because of racism is as reaffirming as it is upsetting. As much as I would never wish their treatment on another person, hearing them speak openly about their experiences on an international/global platform was reaffirming to me because I have been in positions where I have chosen not to speak out about racial abuse/discrimination in the workplace for fear of being shut down, my integrity being called into question and/or being painted with the ‘angry black woman' brush. To those unfamiliar with the phrase, it refers to a series of microaggressions and negative stereotypes or qualities directed at or associated with women of colour (sometimes unconsciously), that often invalidate or attempt to suppress a black woman's ability to express herself and be taken seriously. I think the perpetuation of the 'angry black woman' stereotype (in all of its forms) has played a huge roll in the racist treatment that Meghan has experienced at the hands of the UK tabloids. Which, as a result, has directly impacted Meghan's mental health and put her into a position that she felt was ‘almost unsurvivable’.
Meghan experienced a mental health crisis as a direct result of the toxic work environment she was in. Despite years of campaigns and initiatives across the UK to raise awareness, funding and support for those suffering with their mental health (some of which are endorsed by the royal family themselves), both Harry and Meghan were denied access to help. In the UK, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees whether work is causing the health issue or aggravating it. It is curious that ‘The Firm’ has not been held accountable to the same standards as other employers in the UK (and by standards, I mean laws, since they would be facing an uncapped compensation claim for constructive dismissal on the grounds of both racial and mental health discrimination). What’s more, is that Meghan actively sought help from both senior members of the royal family and the HR department of 'The Firm' and was denied. To be bullied by a collection of people as powerful and relentless as the UK press, to find the courage to reach out and ask for help and to be told, 'I see how bad it is, but there’s nothing we can do to protect you'... it must have caused an unimaginable amount of anguish. It was heart-wrenching to hear that Meghan felt as though ‘[she] just didn't want to be alive anymore’ was it upsetting? Immensely. Was it surprising? I am not so sure.
Some articles I have read have said that Meghan seemed too calm, collected and articulate, which made the whole thing feel staged. I, for one, would argue that if she came across as more animated and emotion-driven, she would be painted with the aforementioned brush; words such as 'hysterical', 'aggressive', and 'emotional manipulator' come to mind. I believe that one of the greatest things that can be taken away from the Meghan and Harry interview is that support and understanding from those around you is invaluable. It serves as a reminder as to the courage it takes to reach out and the importance of being listened to and understood. I dread to think of what the final outcome may have been had Meghan not had Harry’s full support. I respect Harry for admitting that his greatest fear was ‘history repeating itself’ (a reference to the treatment and death of his mother), and I respect his decision to take his wife and child away from a very hostile and toxic environment. I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.