Ugly royal question that can’t be ignored

 

ANALYSIS

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's decision to step back from royal duties has lifted the lid on an ugly and soul-searching debate in the UK - and not just whether the couple get to keep Frogmore Cottage.

Racism in Britain and the role it played in making life unbearable for the Duchess of Sussex has been the subject of much discussion since news of Megxit broke, with sharply divided views on whether the first African-American woman to join the royal family has been subject to racist treatment.

Throughout the week, terms such as "white privilege" have been trending online with a series of interview clips and quotes being shared to highlight the polarising views.

On Wednesday, lawyer and women's rights activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu went viral after telling This Morning presenters Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby it was not the job of black people to constantly point out racism.

"It is exhausting when you keep hearing people either deny that racism is at the heart of it. People go 'it's criticism' but it's criticism steeped in racism," she said.

"It is not the job of black people and ethnic minorities to educate white people on racism perpetuated by white people. White folks need to educate themselves on racism."

When asked for an example of racist treatment of the Duchess, she said his question was part of the problem.

"When people ask 'what examples?' it makes me question 'where have you been the last two years?'" she asked, adding that "white privilege" tends to "whitewash" racist language by dismissing it as an error of judgment.

"When a black woman goes along with the flow, does what is expected of her, it's all OK. But the moment she exercises independent thought … she's a problem."

Fellow British commentator and author Afua Hirsch, the author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging also argued that Meghan's treatment underscores "what many of us have always known".

"No matter how beautiful you are, whom you marry, what palaces you occupy, charities you support, how faithful you are, how much money you accumulate or what good deeds you perform, in this society racism will still follow you," she wrote in a piece for the New York Times.

"I am not at all surprised. This was the bitter shadow of their sunny May 2018 wedding. How many of us suspected - hoping but doubting we were wrong - that what would really initiate Meghan into her new role as a Briton with African heritage would be her experience of British racism."

However, others including Meghan's harshest critic, Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan, said the couple were being subjected to "legitimate" criticism over their conduct.

"On social media, I get called a fat white gammon all day long. That is also racist," he claimed to laughs from fellow panellists who said he was just being "insulted".

Mr Morgan argued the couple had been given praise and criticism during their time as royals.

"The coverage was universally tolerant, accepting - then came their rather hypocritical conduct," he said.

"When people say to me, the press has been racist and the wider public has been racist, I find it grotesquely unfair to smear everyone in that way."

The Sun columnist Jane Moore also denied it was racism that has driven the couple away.

"Meghan is feeling disillusioned and homesick. We get it, and sympathise," she wrote.

"But let's not pretend, as some claim, that she's been practically pitchforked off this island by racist bigots.

"This is not a racist country and, besides, the British public initially greeted her engagement and later marriage to Harry with unbridled joy.

"We love Harry. He's a thoroughly decent person and deserves particular praise for the work he's done with the Armed Forces, both while serving and afterwards.

"No, the disconnect has come from the fact that Meghan is still a Hollywood celebrity at heart and, consequently, never truly settled in her often boring and restrictive new role."

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC she hadn't witnessed any racist treatment of the couple.

"I'm not in that category at all where I believe there's racism at all," Patel said. "I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life."

Actor Lawrence Fox also clashed with an audience member on the BBC's Question Time when she stated "the problem we've got with this is that Meghan has agreed to be Harry's wife and the press have torn her to pieces."

"Let's call it by it's name. It's racism. She's a black woman and she has been to torn to pieces."

Fox disagreed, saying: "It's not racism. We're the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe".

"It's so easy to throw the charge of racism at everybody and it's really starting to get boring now," he said before the debate got feisty.

"What worries me about your comment is, you are a white privileged male who has never experienced [racism]," the audience member shot back to a mix of groans and cheers.

"I can't help what I am. I was born like this, it's an immutable characteristic so to call me a white privileged male is to be racist. You're being racist," Fox said.

Despite polarising views, there is no doubt coverage of Meghan Markle when she first appeared as Prince Harry's girlfriend included racist tones, including claims she was "(almost) straight outta Compton" in a Daily Mail headline, referring to the notorious Los Angeles neighbourhood. In fact, her mother lives in View Park - Windsor Hills and not the "gang-scarred" Crenshaw the paper claimed.

Meanwhile, Rachel Johnson - sister of the British PM - described her has having "rich and exotic DNA" with a mother who was a "dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks."

"Harry needs a sticker, a tremendous, limpet-like sticker, like Sophie Wessex. Or Kate Middleton. Nobody cares that Miss Markle is mixed race or a tease, but racy is a different story. Racy is not official Wife Material," she wrote before later apologising to Harry for her words.

The initial flurry of coverage led Prince Harry to issue an unprecedented statement, slamming the "the racial undertones of comment pieces" and "the sexism and racism of social media trolls" affecting his new girlfriend.

But Meghan, whose mother is African-American and father is white, remained subject to headlines branding her "upwardly mobile" proclaiming her family went from "cotton slaves to royalty" in 150 years.

During the preparations for their May 2018 wedding, a comment that "what Meghan wants, Meghan gets" was circulated in the media and became stripped of its context, used to describe Prince Harry's bride to be as demanding and diva-like.

The Markle family drama playing out in the press with her father and half-sister's almost daily briefings also did little to smooth the entry to royal life.

Meghan described Suits as her ‘Goldilocks’ show, where her mixed race background was just right. Picture: Instagram/Patrick Adams
Meghan described Suits as her ‘Goldilocks’ show, where her mixed race background was just right. Picture: Instagram/Patrick Adams


'CONFIDENT MIXED-RACE WOMAN'

Of her bi-racial background, Meghan has previously described herself as a "strong, confident mixed-race woman" and spoken of growing up as one of the few mixed-race families in her LA neighbourhood.

She wrote in Elle in 2015 of her parents making her feel "special" rather than "different", and her father encouraging her to "draw her own box" when there wasn't one to fit her bi-racial identity.

The wedding celebrated her mixed-race heritage with a sermon from US Bishop Michael Curry and a gospel choir. However, the honeymoon period quickly soured when Meghan was criticised for travelling by private jet to baby shower in New York filled with her A-list friends.

The birth of Archie Harrison was celebrated in May 2019 with historic photographs showing the Queen and Prince Philip, along with Meghan's mum Doria Ragland meeting their great-grandson and grandson - the first mixed race member of the royal family.

But it was marred by BBC sports presenter and commentator Danny Baker sharing an image of the couple holding hands with a chimpanzee dressed in clothes with the caption: "Royal baby leaves hospital".

Baker was later sacked by the BBC for what was described as an "error in judgement".

Princess Michael of Kent, who is married to Queen Elizabeth II's cousin, also apologised after wearing a blackamoor brooch to a Buckingham Palace lunch attended by Meghan in 2017.

Over the last year, the couple have also faced legitimate criticism for their use of four private jets in 11 days in 2019, while spreading a message of environmentalism and sustainability. They have been branded difficult and wanting to "have their cake and eat it" by renovating their home on taxpayer-funds while keeping details of Archie's christening private and fending off members of the public while attending Wimbledon.

Meghan was criticised for guest editing Vogue in a "forces for change" issue that was deemed to be pushing the boundaries of royal limits on political views. Meanwhile Prince Harry, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cambridge have all guest edited high-profile publications before to less fanfare.

She was targeted for cradling her baby bump too often, eating avocados which "fuel human rights abuses, drought and murder" and called out for the cost of her designer threads or whether she broke royal protocol or wore a "messy bun" in public.

But she was also lauded by many publications for bringing a freshness and warmth to the royal family and ushering a staid institution into the modern-era. Many cheered her informal approach and the inclusion of a self-proclaimed feminist into the family dynasty.

 

Commentators point out Meghan is hardly the first royal to be subject to scrutiny, with Kate Middleton also harassed by the press, labelled boring, stiff, and "waity Katy" before Prince William proposed.

Harry's mother, Princess Diana, had details of her life splashed in the tabloids relentlessly, sometimes with her co-operation. She was pursued by paparazzi up until her death in 1997. Prince Harry referred to the tragic event that shaped his childhood in October 2019 after a glowing week of coverage following the couple's tour of South Africa.

"The positive coverage of the past week from these same publications exposes the double standards of this specific press pack that has vilified her almost daily for the past nine months," Prince Harry wrote in second bombshell statement that would not prove to be his last.

"My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces."

The debate comes as Britain grapples with wider questions of identity and nationalism following the Brexit vote of June 2016. Three years on, there remains a debate between those who want greater controls on immigration, and others who want Britain to remain a "European nation" open to those from foreign backgrounds.

This week British grime star Stormzy, who last year headlined Glastonbury in a stab-proof vest with a black Union Jack made by Banksy, said Britain was racist the same way America was racist, only Brits are "in denial about it".

"I'm not super into the royal family but I look at (Meghan) and I think she's a sweet girl, she's a sweet woman. She's a lovely woman she does her thing. I ain't heard her do nothing crazy and they just hate her," he told a New York radio station.

In reference to comments from Talk Sport host Eamonn Holmes, who said he had never met Meghan but thought she was "weak, manipulative, spoiled", Stormzy said she was "just black".

"If you told someone 'write a list as to why you hate Meghan Markle' the list is rubbish … There's nothing credible to it," he said.

Labour Party leadership candidate Clive Lewis, who has a bi-racial background, said Britain has a problem with "structural racism".

"We can see it with Meghan Markle and the way that she's been treated in the media, we know that this is a reality of the 21st century, still," Lewis told Sky News. "After 400 years of racism you can't just overturn it overnight."

Victoria.craw@news.com.au