Kim Singh-Sall reflects on the recent departure of Harry and Meghan from the royal family.
In case you haven’t heard, American actress-turned-duchess Meghan Markle has manipulated her husband, Prince Harry, into cutting ties with the royal family, abandoning Queen and country for a life of hiking in the forests of Canada. Or at least that is what the British media wants you to believe. Far too opinionated, far too clever and far too individual for her own good, this independent and successful bi-racial American has joined our pale, stale royal family. Instead of embracing diversity and modernity, the British establishment has rejected her.
Meghan and Harry’s joint decision to step down as senior royals (termed ‘Meghxit’ because every political crisis has to be related to Brexit in some way) did not come as a surprise. There is no doubt that the media has besmirched the ‘Markle Sparkle’ the country was once buzzing about. It really is apparent that the honeymoon phase between the British press and the American duchess has come to a swift end. Whether it was holding her baby bump too much, wearing the wrong colour dress, or god-forbid, opening a car door by herself, Meghan Markle was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t.
It is difficult not to compare the press’s treatment of Meghan with that of Kate Middleton, the tabloids’ picture-perfect duchess. In September 2017, The Express wrote that Kate was lovingly “gifted” avocados by Prince William during her pregnancy, while they ran a story on Meghan’s “beloved avocado” being “linked to human rights abuse and drought” in January 2019. In this piece, Meghan was described as “wolfing down” the fruit. The obvious animalistic connotations of this are alarming and heavily problematic. Indeed, critics would suggest that this is a stretch and that the use of such language is probably “not that deep.” But words are weapons in tabloids, newspapers and print culture. Words have power: each one is deliberate and holds meaning. For Meghan to be “wolfing down” the same fruit Kate was gifted with a “bow” is a cause for concern, given the bestial connotations that have historically been attributed to people of African descent. Quite frankly, this is disgraceful and clearly underpinned by a racial narrative.
Moreover, a darker comparison is that between Meghan and the late Princess Diana, who was horrendously hounded by the British press. Undeniably, Diana got it worse, much worse than Meghan, who by contrast has considerable protection from the paparazzi. Nevertheless, it is only natural for Harry to be on red-alert, ultra protective of his ‘outsider’ wife, much like his mother once was.
In a statement published by the Mail on Sunday, Harry admitted that: “My deepest fear is history repeating itself…I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” The decision to step back as senior royals serves to protect Meghan and baby Archie, acting as a culmination of previous steps Harry has taken, one of which being the decision to take legal action against the press.
Meghan and Harry’s decision to dip has sparked a debate about what is considered racist. The royal family issued a statement regarding racism towards Meghan in 2016, referring to the racial overtones of comment pieces. Harry himself criticised the press’ racist treatment of Meghan. The press made comments about Meghan’s “exotic DNA”, effectively ‘othering’ her. Moreover, her son was compared to a chimpanzee by BBC 5 Live presenter Danny Baker. Much of this racism has been covert, as individuals have attempted to explain to the Piers Morgans of the world who fail to understand the intricacies and sometimes casual nature of racism.
Platforms like Good Morning Britain debated this, with the classic token person of colour giving their educated and experienced opinion, usually alongside a panel of disagreeable white people. This was evident when esteemed author Afua Hirsch went on GMB in January and was effectively white-mansplained by Piers Morgan on what can be considered racist.
Alex Beresford, the weather presenter for GMB, explained how for people of colour, racism is a feeling, often difficult to prove because it is not simply a matter of fact, evidence or opinion, but a matter of experience. Piers disagreed, arguing that just because people of colour say something is racist, it doesn’t mean that it is – they should have to prove it.
Quite frankly, it isn’t the place of white people to tell people of colour what is and isn’t racist.
Such backlash to allegations of racism by the British press and establishment towards Meghan and complaints by the likes of Laurence Fox of the “boring” use of the ‘race card’ demonstrate this country’s failure and unwillingness to grapple institutional racism. It is less that society cannot properly understand racism, but more that it refuses to do so, as we cling onto this perception that Britain is the most tolerant country in the world. The last four years of British politics suggest otherwise.
Ultimately, however, whether or not you believe that the media’s treatment of Meghan is underlined with racism, the Sussex’s decision to step down as senior royals is a great shame, but rather unsurprising. Their marriage naively symbolised the dawn of a new, modern age of monarchy. This is especially significant given the last time an American actress married into the royal family, King Edward VIII abdicated, sparking an unprecedented royal crisis.
Such hope was far too optimistic given that the notion of ‘modern monarchy’ is oxymoronic. Monarchy, by nature, is an institution grounded in tradition, elitism and hierarchy. The only way we can make the monarchy relevant in present day Britain is by having the royals as symbolic figureheads, representing Britain’s gravitas and charm. But as an institution it remains backward and traditional, especially now that the new blood and seemingly new era of monarchy, symbolised by Meghan Markle, has come to an abrupt end.
Perhaps monarchy can never be modern. If so, we are led to question whether there is even a place for monarchy in Britain today. Whatever happens next, one thing is certain: Meghan and Harry’s departure symbolises the failure of attempting to modernise and diversify monarchy. It is a great loss to the royal family and to this country.
Artwork by Maegan Farrow.