There were several shocking revelations during Sunday night’s two-hour tea session with Meghan Markle, perhaps the biggest being the fact that she was allegedly refused medical support after she had suicidal thoughts during her time as a working member of the British royal family. While the CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey was intended to humanize Meghan and set the record straight, perhaps the most revealing thing about the interview was all that went unsaid.
A few things I found interesting: The word “race” came up several times during the interview, but the more explicit, straight-to-the-point word “racist” was uttered only once or twice by Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry. The entire conversation obviously hinged on the fact that a large reason why they left the U.K. was due to the out-and-out racism Meghan experienced at the hands of the British press and the royal institution. There was discussion about the numerous double standards she experienced due to race, including how U.K. tabloids covered her as opposed to her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton.
For instance, where Kate cradling her baby bump received positive coverage, Meghan making the same mundane gesture was described as one of “pride and vanity.” This kind of coverage started almost immediately after it was revealed that Meghan and Prince Harry were an item, and most of it played into racist stereotypes specifically about Black women. Reports that Meghan made Kate “cry,” or that she was too demanding and aggressive of palace staff, all contributed to the idea of a difficult, angry Black woman.
In the interview, Meghan never used the word “Black” to describe herself in any capacity, referring to herself numerous times as “mixed race” or a “woman of color.” It’s her prerogative to identify as she chooses, but her omission of that word in a conversation that hinged largely on Buckingham Palace discriminating against her was striking.
“This constant back-and-forth between calling out 'the firm' and yet not naming names for fear of damaging reputations was simultaneously understandable and incredibly frustrating.”
And then there were all the beautifully messy contradictions that came up when Prince Harry joined Winfrey and his wife. While Meghan dropped the bombshell that someone high up in the royal family apparently had concerns about how dark her child’s skin would be, Harry refused to name who in the institution had made these comments. This constant back-and-forth between calling out “the firm” and yet not naming names for fear of damaging reputations was simultaneously understandable and incredibly frustrating.
Perhaps the closest the interview came to really divulging the desperate mess that is the royal family was when Prince Harry explained the symbiotic relationship that exists between the royals and the press, the invisible contract that dictates that as long as the family gives the media access, they will be largely unscathed. “Control by fear,” Prince Harry called it. If only he and Meghan had been able to delve further into that fear, a fear that has existed within the Windsor family probably since the abdication, when Harry’s great-granduncle Edward stepped down from the throne in order to marry a stylish American woman and threw the family into tumult.
The Windsors are obsessed with the survival of the monarchy, largely because generation after generation, the existence of a monarchy built on colonization and conquest becomes more and more tenuous. And yet, rather than adapting, changing, perhaps even holding themselves accountable as an institution, the royal family remains under the impression that maintaining a good relationship with the media (and the public) is more important than its individual members’ happiness and certainly more important than meaningful change in regards to rectifying the harm the family as an institution has made, particularly to its so-called commonwealth.
All this to say: There is absolutely nothing surprising about an institution that has amassed its wealth and privilege through colonization and exclusion being unsupportive of a mixed-race Black woman. Because the institution was not designed with someone like her in mind, no matter how much proximity to whiteness she may have. Meghan, regardless of her light complexion, white husband and royal children, was always going to be seen as an outsider and a potential threat to the status quo. And, as Princess Diana suggested in her own infamous interview in 1995 after leaving the royal family, anyone who is considered an outsider to the institution is seen as “a problem. Full stop. ‘What do we do with her?’”
Toward the end of the interview, Meghan said, “My regret was believing that I would be protected.”
Her words reminded me of this quote from author Neely Fuller Jr.’s book “The Compensatory Code”: “If you do not understand white supremacy — what it is, and how it works — everything else that you understand, will only confuse you.”
It seems Meghan was, at least initially, confused by how she could be disregarded and maligned by the royal institution. Perhaps on a certain level she and her husband did not (and maybe still do not) understand that it is an institution whose only goal is to protect the white privilege of those who exist within its system. Meghan herself admitted that she was very naive going into her relationship and subsequent marriage with Prince Harry, and that naivety wasn’t just in regards to understanding the day-to-day life of a working royal, protocols and the proper way to curtsy. She and her husband were also incredibly naive about the reality of what it meant to introduce an American, divorced, half-Black woman into the royal family. Race was always going to be an issue in an institution that has largely excluded, exploited, ignored and even contributed to the plight of people of color all over the world.
There’s an overwhelming desire to root for Meghan and Harry because they’ve clearly been through a lot, and yet, there’s an equally overwhelming desire for them to dig deeper. Prince Harry talked about having “done the work” of understanding race (only after dating Meghan, apparently) and yet one can’t help but wish that instead of just talking about “unconscious bias” he would say more, do more. Call out the fact that the monarchy is an obsolete and racist institution that he and his family have been complicit in.
Of course, these desires for Meghan and Harry to more explicitly call out the monarchy for what it is are entirely unrealistic, based more obviously on my own politics and opinions than theirs. And that’s what this interview was, a canvas on to which we can all project our own biases. I left the interview having learned nothing that I did not already know or at least suspect.
There are people who will watch the interview, listen to Meghan’s experience and her struggles, and still find ways to distort her reality into something that fits into a narrative of who they believe she is. This is what happens when people’s lives become hypothetical and abstract, crunched down to tabloid headlines and two-hour tell-all specials that generate snappy tweets and think pieces but, ultimately, do little to heal the real-life struggles of the people baring all.