Just like many millions of people around the world, I tuned in to watch the Meghan and Harry interview unfold on Monday evening – my eyes wide and, for much of it, my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I wasn’t surprised by the claims being made, but by the fact that they were courageous enough to make them. I felt angry, upset, exasperated and sympathetic to their story — of having endured four years of racism and ill-treatment for serious mental healthconditions.
But the next day, when the media giants jumped to comment, speculate and cast doubt on the claims made in the interview, I noticed a different feeling starting to develop within me — something more insidious, and more significant on a personal level. I started to realise, if no one was going to believe the claims of racism made by people with as much privilege and power as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, what hope is there for someone like me – a 26-year-old black woman living in the UK.
Even in a post-BLM climate, Meghan Markle’s privilege as a white-passing, successful, rich woman can’t save her from racial bias and gaslighting. Not even Prince Harry’s corroboration and own allegations over the ‘concerns’ to how dark Archie’s skin colour would be, were believed by elements of the press, the general public and potentially the Palace itself. The official statement, released last night, claims: “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” and a YouGov Snap Poll found that around a third of people (36%) say their sympathies lie with the Queen and the Royal household, and only 22% of people say they have more sympathy for Harry and Meghan.
Let’s delve deeper. One of my biggest concerns was how the British media reacted to Meghan’s allegations of racism, as well as how the Royal institution failed to support her in the midst of a mental health crisis and suicidal thoughts. All of these allegations have been undermined by various newspapers, TV presenters (*cough* Piers Morgan *cough*) and social media personalities across Twitter and Instagram. Like many Black women who find success or marry well, Meghan has been labelled a drama queen, hysterical, attention-seeking and money-grabbing. She’s been painted as a conspiring, contrived and manipulative woman who is out for personal gain.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the “she doesn’t even look Black” trope that I’ve read more times than I care to remember. “Do you look at [Meghan] and see a black woman? Cause I don’t,” said LBC host Andrew Pierce: “I see a very attractive woman. It’s never occurred to me.”, which he then proceeded to mansplain his very own definition of a ‘real Black woman’: “I never look at her and think, gosh she’s Black, in the way you would at Oprah Winfrey.”. Yes, I too was appalled by this statement.
Another popular retort from the public was that the interview was “bad timing”. Didn’t Meghan know that Prince Philip is in hospital? Don’t the couple realise there’s a global pandemic? The interview was labeled tone-deaf and insensitive as a result. I must have missed the memo as to when suffering became an exclusive right, but I’ve always been of the belief that different forms and sources of suffering can co-exist and there’s enough space for all experiences to be heard and held.
All of these reactions made it clear that Meghan was clearly not valued enough by the Royal family nor the British public to be protected, or even accepted. It’s not hard to understand why – the Institution, and indeed, the entire country, is built off the back of white supremacy and a regime that conquered and colonised countries to exploit their resources and enslave their people for hundreds of years.
As a result, racism has been woven into every fibre of British society, from the judicial system, to healthcare, to education. Black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. There were a disproportionate number of Black people dying as a result of Covid, (up to 50% more likely than their white counterparts). 38/1000 Black people are stopped and searched by police as opposed to just 4/1000 white people. The list goes on.
So how did this disparity between the facts and the general belief of the people come to be? Why is it when someone comes out and says the British public and Royal family is racist, people still don’t believe them? Even Markle’s own father doesn’t believe her claims. From his white male gaze he claims categorically that neither the Palace nor the UK as a nation is racist. He boldly claimed on ITV’s This Morning: “I don’t think the British Royal Family are racist, I don’t think the British are racist AT ALL.”.
Meghan was quite specific about the incident involving a conversation around her unborn child’s skin colour. She was also specific in the examples she gave in relation to the double standard she witnessed with her and Kate’s protection, and also her future children’s security versus all of the other royal grandchildren. Yet she was still told that she was lying. Her experience is one Black people know too well.
Before my career as a journalist, I worked in an establishment where I was made to feel unwelcome because of my skin colour. I knew if I didn’t quit, I would soon be fired. At my exit interview, I was keen to stand for what I believed and processed to share with HR all my concerns about a particular manager I felt treated me with covert racial bias. I even came in with detailed receipts, having made a log of every incident with the exact dates and time. Three months later, I found out that he’d received a promotion. Like Meghan, the proof I presented and my testimony were not enough.
In part, the lack of willingness to accept Britain’s racist undertones is down to lack of visual evidence. After all, you can’t always see the racism like you can in the USA. Black people aren’t being shot in the street by police. No one is commonly referring to Black people by the N-word and white people aren’t gathering carrying crucifixes and wearing white hoods. But this optic definition of racism exposes a serious lack of understanding about covert discrimination and systemic oppression.
For clarity, racism is so much more than using the N-word. Racism is the subtle yet dangerous nuances that can sound almost trivial to those with privilege, but can be deadly to the oppressed. It’s inferior treatment in hospitals, lack of social mobility and opportunity, and prejudicial sentencing in the courts. It’s being held to higher standards, and serving harsher punishments when falling short. It’s being labelled a bully for having an opinion. It’s being viewed as threatening for daring to exist. In fact, I would argue that the fact people cannot see how racist Britain is, is proof of how embedded – and accepted – racism has become, rather than proof that it doesn’t exist.
Just like police gun violence towards Black people is a predominantly American problem, some other forms of racism are unique to the UK – in particular, the lack of social mobility. Whereas in America, money means mobility, here in the UK, self-made rich people are often referred to as ‘new money’ or ‘trash with cash’ and there’s no amount that can move you out of your birth-assigned class. In general, non-white people are not assigned the label of ‘upper class’. In light of this, it’s not hard to understand why Meghan wasn’t accepted into the family, as well as why she didn’t see it coming.
After seeing the press reaction, the optimist within me was still holding out for the Palace’s response. I hoped for a diplomatic statement claiming that there was major oversight, and that upon reflection they were on the path of a cultural reckoning. But they claimed that ‘recollections may vary’, which sounds like a very formal way of gaslighting Meghan’s personal experience.
I know firsthand that when people get caught out saying something inappropriate around race, they love to say, ‘hmm I don’t remember it like that’. Ultimately, those situations evolve into a ‘he said, she said’ discourse before being dismissed entirely. However, Black people don’t just wake up in the morning and choose to throw their race card at the world like a Pokemon. We don’t just tap into that trauma for fun.
So, please, when a Black person says they have been subjected to racist behaviour, believe them, even if it doesn’t involve explicit violence or out-loud profanities. When they say someone treated them differently to all their white counterparts, believe them. When they say they are paid less, believe them. When they say their child’s future is being undermined before they’re even born, believe them. And when they say they are in pain, believe them. It’s the least you can do.