The British monarchy is 1200 years old, and the institution is as archaic: both in terms of time and ideology. A violently imperialist, colonist, racist history simmers beneath the highly curated facade of an institution open to change in keeping with modern times and evolving social attitudes.
Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey wherein she speaks at length about her experience within the royal family is a testament to this. Meghan Markle and Harry, who stepped down from their official duties and moved to Canada and then the United States early last year sat down with Oprah for a two-hour long interview detailing their experience during their time with the royal family and the racist and sexist vitriol that Meghan Markle had to face from within the institution, the British media, and the public at large.
Speaking to Oprah, Meghan Markle stated how there were conversations and ‘concerns’ about the skin colour of their then-unborn son and how dark he might be. She also opened up about experiencing suicidal thoughts due to the relentless racist bullying and harassment. When she asked for help, she was denied. She approached the human resources department at the palace but was told that she couldn’t be helped because she wasn’t on the payroll.
The couple, despite Meghan Markle receiving several racist death threats, were denied security after their decision to distance themselves from the royal family and move. Meghan also said the palace didn’t bother correcting the press when it was falsely reported that she made Kate Middleton cry during her wedding when in fact, she clarified how the opposite had happened.
The racism Meghan Markle has been subjected to, especially at the hands of the media has been public knowledge for long. Most coverage involving Meghan has had shockingly racist undertones, even coverage by media giants. In comparing news coverage concerning Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, the racism of British media is evident. In a January 2019 article, the Daily Mail criticised a then-pregnant Markle for cradling her baby bump, even suggesting it was ‘acting’. A year before this, in reporting Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, another Daily Mail report read, ‘Pregnant Kate tenderly cradles baby bump.’
Two other Daily Mail pieces that are three years apart take a similar approach. A 2016 piece simply states that Kate Middleton and her family will be spending Christmas with her mother, instead of the Queen. A 2019 piece suggests the Queen deserves better than Meghan Markle and Harry choosing to spend Christmas away from the royals and ‘examines’ the impact of this decision.
The racism of the media didn’t just present itself in such hypocritical ways; it was constant, horrifying, and unchecked. And it had a very real human cost, in terms of how Meghan Markle’s mental and emotional health worsened, with the monarchy doing nothing to protect her and even denying her mental healthcare.
Meghan Markle’s experience also highlights how insidious and pervasive racism can be. The structural and institutional racism at force here is strengthened by the culture of impunity the the monarchy and British society, at large, harbours. The fact that the royal family, an institution with incredible power, wouldn’t defend Meghan Markle and her unborn child against quotidian racist attacks, points at the insidious racism of the institution.
The British monarchy has long positioned itself as apolitical, but the politics of race, privilege, colonisation, and imperialism will forever haunt them. Their silence on these issues speaks volumes about where they stand. Additionally, members of the royal family have made overtly racist comments on occasion, especially Prince Philip. Prince Philip has a long history of publicly making racist and sexist remarks, having said, ‘You’re a woman, aren’t you?’ to a Kenyan woman while receiving a gift from her and saying, ‘Still throwing spears?’ to an Aboriginal Australian. Upon seeing an old fuse-box, he said it looked like ‘it had been put in by an Indian.’
Harry himself was seen wearing a Nazi uniform, complete with a swastika during a 2005 party. Acknowledging his lack of understanding of racial issues as a privileged member of the royal family, he said it took walking in his wife’s shoes to know the full extent of how racism plays out in different, often subtle ways.
The British monarchy, to its former colonies and to people of colour has always been a symbol of white-privilege and indifference. Meghan Markle’s revelations hardly come as a surprise to the parts of the world that have suffered under the violently racist colonial rule of the British. Winston Churchill’s racism-fueled neglect and indifference towards brown lives caused 3 million people to die during the 1943 Bengal famine, but he is still hailed as a visionary leader across the UK.
The racism of an institution that allowed for the looting, plundering, and destruction of the land of people of colour comes as no surprise. This is an institution that supported and benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The institution of the monarchy is entwined with white supremacy, as evidenced by their long colonial history; they have long gained from racism and colonisation and this is largely left unacknowledged. It isn’t just that the royal family has a racist past, it is that they have a racist present and Meghan Markle’s testimony is a living example of that.
Featured image source: Townandcountrymag