Those who like to utter that Britain is the ‘least racist’ country in the world, were among the people who saw a biracial princess as further proof that the UK was a post-racial society. If a black woman can enter the most historically white institution in this country, then racism is surely a thing of the past?
But whether it’s wilful ignorance, or an education system that merely glances over Britain’s colonial history, it’s interesting how quickly we forget what these institutions are built on. Slavery, colonialism and the thoughts that surround them did not just fade and disappear after Abolition and the independence of most of the empire.
Rather, they were buried and repackaged into more acceptable forms of delivery.
No more was that shown than the treatment of Meghan Markle by the British media. The passive-aggressive racism that is often seen as this country's trademark, visibly morphed into outlandish headlines and criticism that seemed to follow the new Duchess everywhere. Criticisms that largely stemmed from the assumptions and stereotypes placed on Black women - loud, showy and aggressive - and a need also to ‘put them in their place.’
Each week there seemed to be an article or panel discussion on something Meghan had done that would ‘tear down the monarchy as we knew it’. She was criticised for what she wore, what she ate and even how she cradled her baby bump. She was labelled demanding, too full of herself, and hungry for attention, while also - ironically - too private.
All whilst never saying a word.
One of the now more famous lines from Oprah’s interview with the couple, "Were you silent, or were you silenced?" was answered by Meghan with, "The latter." The absence of her voice left the British media with the ability to report the most outlandish stories about the Duchess, with limited pushback.
They thrived off the silence; and the enforcement of this by the very institution that was meant to protect her, only added to the palace’s complicity in the racism she suffered. Rather than releasing statements to dismiss false reports, as has been done previously with other royals, or speaking out against the racism, they did nothing.
It’s no coincidence that, when news of Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah broke, the articles and reports became even more assailing, calling her morals and character into question with allegations of bullying somehow leaking from the palace.
The same media who took advantage of her silence, were angered by her choosing to speak. And the same institution that enforced her silence, was trying to disparage her before she even had the chance to break it.
In many settings, whether speaking up or just existing, Black women are often heavily policed and face more scrutiny, particularly in comparison to their white counterparts. In Meghan’s case, this is extremely evident when comparing the headlines surrounding her, alongside those reporting on her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton.
While Kate’s avocados would ease morning sickness, Meghan’s were linked to human rights abuse and drought.
Setting up companies allowed Kate and William to protect their brand, while Harry and Meghan submitting trademarks shows they were preparing to leave.
Kate is a fashionista, while Meghan is subverting tradition.
The continued focus on Meghan by the media went on even while other members of the royal family, who were facing very real cases and issues, were seemingly ignored. While all eyes seemed to be focused on Meghan’s latest ‘monarchy-ending blunder’, near-silence surrounded Prince Andrew and his connection to the case against Jeffrey Epstein.
In fact, the only respite that the Duchess seemed to get from these publications and pundits, were the well wishes her and Prince Harry were sent when they revealed that earlier in 2020, Meghan had suffered a miscarriage. It is dark how compassionate the press and even those who had been her biggest detractors, like Piers Morgan, could be once they heard that she had experienced a tragedy.
There is often a comfortability with the image of Black women in pain. The media does a good job of mainly showing the struggles of said women, so it’s not hard to believe that the image of a happy Black princess would be viewed with contempt, and rather they would more than happy to show compassion and commiserate in her losses. But there is only so much of Meghan’s own voice they were willing to deal with, as the response by several British media outlets has shown.
By speaking so openly in the interview with Oprah about what she experienced since joining the royal family, her mental health struggles, and experiences of colourism and racism in regards to herself and son, she has laid plainly what they hoped would remain unsaid.
Meghan however, equates her journey to Princess Ariel’s from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. She may have lost her voice, but she has fought to get it back, and she certainly will not be silent any longer.