Racism Among the Royals
Reaction to Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry
It’s always difficult to write about current events and not be influenced by media coverage, so I had do my own media embargo. This piece was written the day after I watched the interview and before I’d read other people’s articles. While there are more issues that came up later, I’m sharing this as written. I’d love to hear your take on the issues raised when you’ve read it all.
Racism Among the Royals
Royal tell-alls have never worked out so well for The Firm (as members of the British Royal Family call it), and it remains to be seen what the full eventual fallout of Oprah’s interview with the Sussexes will be. That’s not what concerns me today.
Meghan and Harry: Two Camps
Even before news of the planned interview broke, there had been two camps about the Meghan and Harry story. One camp recognized that she was facing racism. Another camp couldn’t see it at all. One camp saw that there was real unhappiness. Another camp thought she and they were very privileged (which they were) and should just suck it up (which I don’t agree with). One camp accepted Meghan as Black or biracial (which is how she herself identifies), the other saw her as “barely there” and playing the race card when it suited her. (You already know I believe that we should be fighting anti-Black racism and not each other, so I won’t say any more about that.)
Add biased newspaper and tabloid coverage into the mix, and you have a recipe for not knowing what the heck is going on. Having watched the interview that hasn’t changed. The only truth here is that we may never know the whole truth. After all, people are still speculating about what really happened to Diana.
Gut-Checking Royal Racism
But yet, as a Black woman, a lot of the experiences Meghan revealed felt frighteningly familiar. The churning in my gut is usually a good barometer of racism, even before my brain has figured out how to respond. And there was plenty of churning when I watched the interview. This Instagram post by Naomi and Natalie of Everyday Racism expresses it well.
I admit that I can never be unbiased, because my default setting is “believe Black women”, so feel free to take everything I say from now on with a large grain of salt. This is my take:
Many Black women recognize the situation Meghan described of being capable but seen as a problem; having something to say, and not being permitted to say it; asking for help, and being slated for doing so. I talked about some workplace experiences of this in Surprise, I’m Qualified, but this happens to Black women ALL. THE. TIME.
While a few parts of the interview didn’t ring true (my husband says ‘who doesn’t Google their blind date?’ and, on reflection, I’m inclined to agree), other parts certainly did. For example, I remember acquaintances in the UK speculating about what my biracial daughter would look like.
Same Old, Same Old Racism
When Harry said he had to learn about racism fast, that mirrors the experience many of us have had with white partners, who were thrust into the unkind world of anti-Black racism they hadn’t even known had existed. My husband hadn’t ever been stopped at immigration till he met me, but he’s a whole lot more aware now.
The fact that fake white tears trump the truth is something many Black people have experienced (too many to mention), and being seen as a threat because of success, especially if you’re a woman, isn’t new either.
Having a stiff upper lip over mental health issues is common in certain British circles, so in a way it’s not a surprise that nothing happened after Meghan’s cry for help. Black women having to subsume their needs to the needs of others is nothing new, either. We are tired of it, though, just so you know.
I also can’t help comparing the Royals’ failure to rally round Meghan with their refusal to let Andrew out of their sight to discuss his links to Epstein. Does it look to you like pedophilia is more acceptable in those circles than blackness? Because that’s how it looks to me.
How Racism Operates in Britain
Many white Brits like to believe that Britain (a country I love but harbor no illusions about) isn’t racist, but that’s not true at all. As a Black person, you won’t get shot by the police, but the white British world has a LOT of ways to let you know you don’t belong.
They’ve had a long time to practice it. Since part of the “greatness” of Great Britain results from the colonial project begun in the Eizabethan era, it’s not surprising at all that blackness is seen as lesser for many people. They’ve had centuries of indoctrination, and undoing that doesn’t come easy.
In Britain, racism via microaggressions and gaslighting is practically an art form. We heard several examples cited in that interview. Under the current rules, Archie isn’t entitled to a title, but changing them so he’ll never get one? Well, what do you think?
There are those who won’t have compassion for Meghan simply because of her position and her wealth. I’m not one of them. For me, this shows why, even at the highest level, many Black people don’t feel safe in white majority spaces.
I’m sad at another example of a Black life not mattering. And while not everyone will empathize with Meghan, know that there are Black women all around you having similar experiences every day. Maybe now’s a good time to offer them some real support.
Thanks for reading my perspective
P.S. I know there are all kinds of questions I’m not dealing with here. Like the light skin privilege (colorism) that kept Meghan inured from most racism till she landed in a bastion of whiteness (somebody should have warned her about the one drop rule).
Like the mental health issues.
Like the fact that, as someone commented, if the Sussexes had been treated right, they’d have been ok staying within the bosom of The Firm, despite its hugely problematic history. It’s worth repeating that the British monarchy (and other European monarchies) sent people out to colonize, which led directly to enslavement and systemic racism. And let’s not forget abdicating Edward, who was a Nazi sympathizer.
And I’m not even going to talk about the reprehensible Piers Morgan (who needs some antiracism training) and his army of equally racist defenders.
I am one woman, and there’s a lot to unpack. So let me point you to a few other takes on this.
Meghan and Harry: A Cautionary Tale by Lisa Hurley (Trigger warning: suicidal ideation is discussed at the end of the article)
British Twitter Wasn’t Ready for That Smoke — Sincerely, Black Twitter by Allison Gaines
I Was Not Born To Bow or Curtsy To a White Woman…Happy #InternationalWomensDay by Devon J Hall (Trigger warning: rape)
“One of the best educational gifts I gave myself last year” - feedback from one of the participants in the Anti-Racism Workshop I’m co-facilitating. The next one is on March 20th - check out the details at Beyond School.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva