“How do you solve a problem like Meghan? How do you catch her and pin her down?” I’m pretty confident that the nuns in The Sound of Music were not the only ones who have struggled recently to figure out how to contain a woman who wished to live her life on her own terms. The same can be said for Buckingham Palace or ‘the Firm’, as the Royal Household has been referred to.
It’s been over two weeks since people watched or have known about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah. And my goodness, the fallout has been dramatic. Two resignations (Piers Morgan from Good Morning Britain and Ian Murray from the UK’s Society of Editors); a weak acknowledgement from the Palace that did little to explain how they plan to address racism within the compound, and a strong reaction from Royalists who felt the need to defend the Queen, although it is clear that she continues to have a warm relationship with her grandson. For 120 minutes (possibly less with all the adverts), both the Royal Family and British society were under international scrutiny; and the verdict? The UK can no longer pretend it is free from the shackles of racism. Hence why this family ‘spat’ is so much bigger than that.
For me, I have found the mistreatment of Meghan Markle quite triggering. Anyone who is considered a minority and is living amongst the majority, has often found it best to keep silent for the sake of peace and their safety. Whether it’s ignoring being called a name that dehumanises them, smiling through the everyday micro-aggressions, diminishing their personality to appease others who feel threatened by it or think it’s too loud, or disconnecting from their family heritage in favour of appearing more ‘English’; all are coping mechanisms and dangerous ones.
From the moment Meghan and Harry made their relationship public, the British media has been fixated with presenting Markle in a negative light and, when convenient, using her heritage against her. With headlines reading: ‘(Almost) Straight Outta Compton’, it was reported that Markle grew up in the troubled Los Angles’ neighbourhood. If this were true, such articles should have applauded Markle for her achievements, that a working-class, bi-racial woman went on to become an actress, a global ambassador for World Vision Canada and addressed the United Nations to tackle gender inequality . Instead, they made Markle appear as if she had just stepped down from running a notorious street gang.
Such stories remind me of Jay-Z’s verse in the song ‘Nice’ where he states: “…time to remind me that I’m Black again huh. All this talking back, I’m too arrogant huh.” And there’s the problem. Too many times the media’s portrayal of Markle reminded everyone that regardless of her light skin tone and Eurocentric features, she was still too Black for the Palace. In doing so, the media was more than happy to use society’s stereotypes of Black women to demonise Markle as being overbearing or aggressive. Who can forget that publications told us how Markle made her sister-in-law Kate cry during a dress fitting before Markle’s wedding day? It’s only of late that we’ve learnt it was Kate who made Markle cry. Yet, the damage had already been done and a large number of the British public were already walking down their paths of animosity towards Markle.
As I listened to friends and colleagues question Markle’s character, I challenged them on why they felt she appeared “overbearing”? Most times their insights were influenced by newspaper articles or that they had a gut notion; without meeting the person they had made a judgement on. Such responses have always been unsettling for me. On one hand, I don’t wish to impose my support for Markle on others; after all we’re all free to make our own choices. On the other hand, I cannot help but wonder how much society’s negative narrative of Black women actually played a part in influencing people, and is this the reason why so many Brits were happy to go along with the media’s assassination of Markle? Including those I spoke to who are women of colour.
This is why, for me, this is more than a family argument. If Markle cannot be protected from the soul-destroying tentacles of racism that continue to disguise themselves like chameleons to ensure society accepts their presence (knowingly or sub-consciously), then what hope is there for everyday Black and bi-racial women excelling in British society?
Post-Oprah, during which Markle confessed to being suicidal, unfavourable headlines still continue, with some questioning whether she was lying. Why? Because they sell publications and who are buying these magazines and newspapers? The public of course. To be honest, it should not have taken Oprah to present Markle with a platform to speak out. British society should have demanded it and at the very least listened to both sides of the story.
And why didn’t this happen? Is it because British society is too comfortable with denying women, especially those from marginalised communities, the chance to speak their truths on a wider stage?
As aspects of British society continue to deny that race has been the main issue for the public’s dislike of Markle, racism itself, soldiers on. Just like fashion, it reinvents itself and for this year’s spring/summer collection, faux outrage is the new trend. Whether it’s protecting people’s free speech or waging a culture war, a large section of British society seems to like this new craze. For those of us who are declining to buy into it, there are some who are still staring at the technicolour coat spectacle. My questions to those people are how long will you continue to do this? Or if you think it’s ‘fair play’ that someone like Markle can be forced to leave this country because ‘she knew what she was getting into’, then can you truly deny your part when racism launches its next seasonal collection?
We both know the answers, but for the sake of progress, I hope I’m wrong.