Not Far Enough: The Harry and Megan Interview
On March 7, 2021 Harry Albert David and Megan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, sat down with American talk show host Oprah Winfrey for a tell-all interview. The Duke and Duchess addressed a range of topics, most notably their time as a married couple in the British Royal family. While often referred to today as mere figure-heads, the British Royal Family still remains a significant part of British public life, particularly in the tabloids. The British tabloids and their invasive converge of the Royal Family are what’s being cited as a major reason for Harry and Megan’s departure from the Royal Family. Harry and Megan have now adopted what they are calling a hybrid model in defining their position in the Royal Family. They have forfeited their roles as senior royals and the monetary compensation they receive from that title but have said they will continue to support the Queen in their new roles. The recent interview focused significant attention on how British tabloids scrutinized Megan more than other members of the Royal Family, particularly by using headlines steeped in racism and dehumanizing rhetoric.
The tabloids, though, do not shoulder the blame for Megan’s departure alone. It seems that the Crown had a chance with Harry and Megan’s marriage to show themselves as a modern, progressive institution. However, they squandered that opportunity by not addressing the blatantly racist nature of the tabloid's coverage of Megan. Altogether, the stories written about Megan compounded by the Crown’s silence on the racist nature of the coverage suggests that the British have not fully distanced themselves from their racist and imperial history.
To fully understand the pervasiveness of racism in Britain today, it is important to understand the British mindset during the colonial era. Britain began establishing overseas colonies in the 16th century and reached its peak in 1921, when it controlled roughly one-fourth of the land on Earth. At the time, the British characterized their colonization of lands as a right, which they based upon their supposed technological and moral superiority as Anglo-Saxons. This racialized colonization campaign led to the extinction of many peoples and their cultures. Those who survived the brutal battles that often occurred between British troops and local peoples were expected to adopt the culture of their conquerors.
While it is difficult to determine an exact end date of Britain's colonial periods, by the 1960s Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Britain's African and Caribbean colonies had gained independence. The end of colonization did not mean the end of racism in Britain though. Many of the deeply racist ideals of the colonial period remain engrained in British society to this day. Although these ideals do not manifest themselves in such obvious ways as they did during the colonial period, there is little doubt that they endure.
Most of the racist news coverage aimed at Megan Markle was subtle, only revealing itself when compared to the coverage of other, white, members of the Royal Family. Of course, some of the coverage was blatantly racist, like the headline that read, “Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton” or the opinion piece that described Megan as having “some rich exotic DNA.” While these instances of flagrant racist rhetoric from the British tabloids are shocking and upsetting, there are numerous, more subtle instances, where race likely played a role in the way Megan was covered. Both Megan and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, had articles reporting on everything from their shoes to the cradling of their baby bumps. The problem with these articles is the language used to describe Megan and her behavior. When taken in comparison to headlines covering Kate Middleton, the evidence that the British tabloids were particularly harsh, even racist towards Megan, is damning.
For example, the publication In-style reported that Megan wearing wedges was a break with royal protocol. However, when Kate wore the same style wedges as Megan, she was praised by the publication for the look. The favoring Kate while criticizing Megan for virtually identical actions was a frequent theme in the media’s coverage of the new Duchess. In a piece that examines contemporary racism in Britain, William Shankley and James Rhodes identify that “racism does not result simply from overt or intentional forms of action or inaction, but is also present in the form of more covert and indirect policies and practices that produce racially uneven outcomes.”
With this definition in mind, it can be argued that the British tabloids practice of praising Kate Middleton and criticizing Megan for similar behavior is, in fact, racist. Thus, despite efforts to distance itself from its colonial past, Britain still clings on to many of the racist ideals that period was built around.
The press is not the only institution that represents and embodies Britain's struggle to escape its racialized past. The Crown, an institution that largely defines British culture, failed to demonstrate a modern commitment to the principles diversity and inclusion. Instead, the Crown showed complacency with the antiquated ideals of discriminating based on the color of one’s skin. During their interview, both Megan and Harry expressed their frustration with the institution’s silence. Megan described an incident where an unidentified member of the royal family expressed concern over how dark their unborn child’s skin would be. In addition, Harry explained his feelings of frustration towards his family when he realized no one was willing to defend Megan or use their connections with the press to try and change the narrative.
These allegations highlight the Crown’s unwillingness to take decisive action against the pervasive racism that still undergirds much of British society. Concerns over the new baby’s skin color and the unwillingness to condemn the dehumanizing coverage of Megan shows the Crown’s bystander complicity in the face of modern-day racism. While no longer sending troops to colonize overseas territories is one thing, it seems the Crown continues to embody this Anglo-Saxon superiority complex that defined its age of imperialism.
Despite the progress of decolonization, it is clear that British culture remains stuck in the antiquated mindset of a colonial conqueror. Megan’s marriage to Harry gave the monarchy a chance to prove themselves as a progressive institution that stands for racial justice and against discrimination. Instead, they were complacent. The Crown has promised to examine the issues brought up in the interview seriously and address them. However, one must also be aware that such a statement is coming from an institution headed by a monarch that has never apologized for her family’s role in the slave trade.