Racism and the Royals

The recent shock announcement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex AKA Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wasn’t really much of a shock for me.

It had been building up for months and there was already speculation that Harry and Meghan were thinking of leaving the United Kingdom to escape the toxic atmosphere that had built up. 

Discord in the palace

Rumors of palace courtiers intentionally leaking false stories to the press, bad blood between Harry and his older brother William, Meghan being blamed for the most ludicrous things simply because she liked avocado toast, the press criticizing Harry and Meghan while ignoring a much more controversial royal story—Prince Andrew’s friendship with now-deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and allegations that the prince had sexual relations with then-underage girls who were sex trafficked by Epstein. 

“I will always protect my family. & now I have a family to protect. If anybody else knew what I knew, you’d probably be doing exactly what I’m doing as well…” – Harry, Duke of Sussex

It didn’t sound like a fairytale, but one thing seemed very clear—Harry loved his wife and his child and he was not going to simply let the press (or even anyone connected to his family) destroy his family.

I watched the news explode in real-time on the Sussex Royal Instagram profile, European social media and news sites. 

Here in Sweden, most of the news sites didn’t really understand why the British tabloids—which had been spewing racist and shade at Meghan from the day it was revealed that she and Prince Harry were an item—were behaving as though Meghan and Harry were betraying the country.

For over a year now, most of the British press has been publishing scathing criticism of the couple and peddling lies about them, or constantly saying that the couple were irrelevant—despite the fact that they are more popular than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who just happen to be Harry and Meghan’s in-laws and the ones who will eventually become the King and Queen of England. 

The simple reason for it? Racism.

But of course, the main reason for the hate really has nothing to do with:

  • whether or not Harry and Meghan will continue to be members of the royal family (they will, they just won’t be senior royals anymore), 
  • if they’ll continue to receive funding from taxpayers via the Sovereign Grant (they won’t—Harry inherited £40 million pounds from his mother, Princess Diana, and receives an income from the Duchy of Cornwall via Prince Charles, and this is private money not connected to the taxpayers in any way) 
  • If they disrespected the Queen with their announcement (they didn’t – someone in the palace had already leaked the news to the UK tabloids, forcing Harry and Meghan to make their announcement rather hastily)

“When I first met my now-husband, my friends were really happy because I was so happy, but my British friends said to me: ‘I’m sure he’s great but you shouldn’t do it because the British tabloids will destroy your life.’”- Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

Yet these are the reasons bandied around by the UK tabloids and, in some cases, being recycled by US media. The main reason for the hate is racism, plain and simple.

It’s not hard to imagine the animosity when Britain’s favorite prince (yes, despite being the younger brother, Harry has nearly always been the favorite) chooses a Black American woman rather than an English rose. 

The US and the UK have never properly dealt with how they benefited from slavery and colonialism. Instead, the US has chosen to peddle nonsense that electing Obama proves that we are a “post-racial society” – and then elects white supremacy poster boy Trump.

In the UK (and in much of Europe) there is a tendency to deny that racism even exists as they proudly state that they abolished their connection to the slave trade before the US (even though they continued to benefit from it and from colonization).

This revisionist approach does not absolve the United Kingdom from the racism that seems to be endemic to their tabloid media and Brexit. Just as Americans who claim the Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism and white supremacy are deluding themselves.

And just as in the US, many white Britons, journalists, and social media trolls alike seem to think that they are the ones who get to decide what is racist and play the victim when accused of racism. Recently, Scottish-Pakistani screenwriter Amna Salem took part in a panel discussion on BBC9 about the current royal crisis.

When asked what she thought was the reason for the hostility towards the couple, Saleem replied that it was racism. She’d written about it in an article in the Guardian and was subjected to rape and death threats.

One of her fellow panelists, a political commentator for the Herald, Iain Macwhirter, interrupted her and proclaimed her wrong. Apparently, he is the only one know who knows what is racist, even though he is most assuredly NOT affected by racism.

From the start, when it became clear that Meghan was more than just an idle flirt for Harry, who is the most popular royal after the Queen, the knives came out.

Racist trolls began tweeting about Meghan and claiming that she was the new Wallace Simpson (the infamous American divorcée whose relationship with King Edward VIII led to his abdicating the throne, forcing Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI, to assume the crown) and would be an embarrassment to the British monarchy. 

The Daily Mail went as far as insinuating that Meghan had gang connections and was “straight outta (almost) Compton to make it clear they thought she was an unsuitable choice for Harry. Her education, her charitable endeavors even before she met Harry, her successful career as an actress—none of that mattered because Meghan Markle was already considered not good enough because of her skin color. 

“Critics have argued that Markle knew what she was signing up for, and should have been more prepared. But the onus should not be on people of colour to swallow racism – an assertion rooted in victim-blaming culture: where the minority on the receiving end of abuse is supposed to rise above everything in order to maintain decorum, while the abusers are free to spew whatever they wish.” – Amna Saleem, the Guardian

Black Britons were neither surprised by the treatment Meghan Markle received from the UK tabloids nor now by her desire to raise her child away from such a toxic environment.

As in the US, the United Kingdom has its own legacy with slavery, discrimination, and systemic racism. Black and Asian Britons are under-represented in the British public sector, ethnic minorities are more likely to be permanently excluded from higher education, the list could go on but I think you get the picture. 

Rewriting the fairytale

meghan markle and prince harry wedding

But at the end of the day, no one should fault Harry for doing what any decent man should do – stand up for his family and be willing to walk away from toxic situations — even when they involve his relatives.

And, for the record, the British monarchy has needed reform for a very long time. Harry’s mother, Diana, tried to break the rules. 

Now Harry and Meghan have thoroughly shaken things up by not playing the game. Instead of accepting the status quo, they’re rewriting their version of the fairytale.

By opting for a more modern approach that includes handling their own media relations, removing themselves from a racist and toxic situation, becoming financially independent and determining their own course—Meghan and Harry are forcing the rest of the royals to catch up. 

And it’s about bloody well time. 

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