After an explosive trailer dropped for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, Buckingham Palace announced that they’re investigating allegations of bullying against the Duchess of Sussex by former royal staff from around two years ago. Now, not only is the timing very suss, there are severe nuances of racial discrimination here, and we have to address that.
For context, I’m a black woman, and I can tell you first hand how hard it is to create space when you’re the only Black woman in the room, as this is something I’ve had to navigate around most of my life. Being the only black women in the room can be incredibly taxing for one’s mental health, and trying to be visible and heard is nothing short of an encumbrance.
We live in a society that, not long ago, didn’t want us to vote, to be educated, and even to have the privilege of learning to read. It was only in 1928 that all women over age of 21 were allowed to vote, that’s two years after The Queen was born, for context. Despite the lack of diversity within the Suffragettes (women who campaigned for the right to vote through protests), it is fair to say that unlike their peers in the states, they were not lobbying for a “white women only” vote.
But in no way did this mean race relations in Britain were progressive. In fact, the activism of Black British women became revolutionary when they began leading the fight against racial injustice in the UK that is still prominent to this day.
However we’re in 2021 and misogynoir (a widely used term coined by Moya Bailey used to describe ‘the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women’) is still thriving and that’s very scary.
Being labelled a bully for having a voice is something that many Black women have experienced from a young age. Me included. It’s the oldest trick in the book: ‘she’s too loud, too emotional, too passionate, too outspoken, too angry, too feisty… she’s a bully!’ *heavy sigh*
The more confident and curious a Black woman is, the more likely she is to carry that badge. It’s the worst rite of passage around, that and having strangers touch your hair… If the exact same words and actions came from a male or even a woman from another demographic, it would be interpreted very differently. I can think of many men in power that we can actively see bullying people in public. (Insert Piers Morgan, Donald Trump and Lawrence Fox to name a few). I most certainly have been labelled a ‘bully’ at really unwarranted situations, and it was a general consensus amongst my friends that actually, we all have.
There have been two prominent moments growing up that have significantly impacted how I navigated life thereafter, all due to feeling like I was too ‘scary’. The first was during sixth form when my headmaster at the time called me ‘intimidating’ and ‘provocative’ for wearing headphones in between classes. Putting a hoodie on when cold, was out of the question. I was not afforded the same privilege as my Caucasian peers, who could wear activewear without the fear of someone calling them ‘scary’, ‘messy’ or ‘unapproachable’.
He also claimed to be surprised by how ‘well spoken and confident’ I was. This in-itself is steeped in racism. Why was he surprised that I was either of these things? The bigotry and misogynoir was blatant from day one, and he most certainly wasn’t the only teacher moving wayward towards myself or my other Black peers.
The second time was in the workplace, where I was a manager at a fashion retailer. I was constantly condescended by a senior manager, and eventually the microaggressions chipped away at me, ultimately leaving me with no choice but to abandon a career that I otherwise loved at the time. This manager once told me that I ‘scared him’. I never recalled raising my voice or reacting in an aggressive manner towards anyone in that establishment in all the years I’d worked there. Are you all seeing a pattern here, yet?
When I questioned this, he proceeded to tell me with his chest that when I disagreed with him, I became silent and it was scary because he didn’t know how I’d react next. What is very poignant about this statement is that I’d never given him the impression that I was erratic in any way shape or form. The racial stereotypes sirens are blaring. I knew that for me, there was no winning, damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I’m no Duchess but much like Markle, I too couldn’t quite deal with the treatment I faced as a Black woman in a space that made it clear I was unwelcome.
Buckingham Palace has a history of disliking strong women, from Princess Diana to Anne Boleyn. It was only a matter of time until Meghan was dragged onto that train, except with her being a black woman, they felt even more threatened, so with an added sprinkle of racism.
People from the press posted pictures of a monkey as a visual metaphor of her son of mixed-heritage (insert BBC Radio 5 Live presenter, Danny Baker). They also coined her as ‘uppidy’, a term that has racist connotations as it was a term racist southerners used for black people who ‘didn’t know their place’ (insert TV Presenter Eamonn Holmes on ITV’s This Morning).
Journalists like Piers Morgan don’t believe in the racial bias of the press: “It went wrong when they started lecturing us and telling us how to live our lives from a position of incredible privilege.” But Mr. Morgan, this entire system is built upon people of privilege telling us what to do?
Our current government body is just an obnoxiously privileged boys club + the occasional ‘pick mes’ — where the women who succeed, do so by stepping on the backs of others and infiltrating the club rather than standing up to it, I’m looking at you, Priti Patel.
That’s not to say that women of colour can’t ever be in the wrong. Of course we can. No one’s saying Meghan can’t feasibly be a bully, what we are saying is that it’s more feasible that people are calling her a bully because she’s a black woman than her actually being one.
Back to Priti Patel, a woman of colour, who was recently investigated for bullying. I mean, I wasn’t there to say whether it happened or not. What I do know is that the difference here is that despite a Cabinet Office inquiry concluding that Patel broke the ministerial code of conduct, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, ignored the findings. Hence she was given the benefit of the doubt, and the investigation was approached with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Would she have been afforded this second-chance if she didn’t continually amalgamate with the Etonian boys-club of Parliament? The same way Meghan has refused to amalgamate with the Royals? If Priti was a Black woman, not Asian, would it have been different?
The British media has some sort of bondage to the Duchess and making her look bad is someone’s full time job, but she is unfortunately not the only one. This trickles down from the top, from the literal palace, to the media, to the workplace and to other more intimate environments like schools and nurseries.
Reality TV has been a case study for this trend of labelling black women as bullies, for simply existing. Recently Love Island’s Yewande Biala was labelled a bully by another LI former contestant Lucy Donlan, even though Donlan didn’t even bother to learn how to pronounce Yewande’s name correctly. She instead decided to opt for a racialised re-naming solution, and had the audacity to rebrand Yewande as ‘Elizabeth’.
Many people came to Biala’s defense. Writer and podcast host Toni Tone wrote on Twitter: “So many people can relate to Yewande right now, when it comes to people trying to police our identity and blackness. Then the moment you correct them, distance yourself from them, and protect your wellbeing, you’re called a bully / angry / anti-social for not tolerating.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Talented recording artists Misha B (who was a contestant at the X Factor in 2011), Alexandra Burke (who was the winner of X Factor 2008 and runner up at Strictly Come Dancing 2017) and Keisha Buchanan from iconic girl band The Sugababes expressed the racially charged bias they experienced while on TV and the media coverage that followed.
Buchanan spoke out about her time in the Sugababes this past summer. “I have never bullied anyone in my life.” she said: “…it’s unfair. The scrutiny, the bullying, the judgement, has actually left me… fragile. And I hate that word. I’m just going to speak my truth. But it’s left me questioning my own judgement.”
Misha B says that during her time at the X factor she was labelled a bully on the live show in front of hundreds of thousands of people and then experienced a spew of hate from the press: “They saw an opportunity to tear down a Black Girl, that came from a broken home and worked together to assassinate my character and to sabotage my career by orchestrating lies.”
“When I lost my mum it was the same day that I’d done the Strictly reveal…” says Burke, “A journalist came up to me and said: ‘Oh so you’re not doing press, being a diva today.’ he had painted me out to be a complete and utter bitch”.
Recently Made in Chelsea Star Paris Smith was also backed into a corner by her two Caucasian peers on the show, and labelled a bully for asking them to let her finish her sentence multiple times, when she was being rudely interrupted. From the footage, we can clearly see that Paris was very graceful and allowed them to speak, so it was only right she was afforded the same courtesy.
People are too comfortable throwing the word bully around when it comes to Black women, and this has to stop. This is something that can be incredibly detrimental to someone’s character especially as Black Women already have so many other battles to fight for toward true equality. For us, mediocracy is not an option, so anything that will make us less than perfect is incredibly damaging.
Allyship is also important, so we need everyone to speak out not only for the Meghan’s of the world but for every single Black girl and woman who is being silenced and suppressed due to the colour of her skin.
A study conducted by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company revealed that Black women are 2.5x more likely to be the only of their gender and race in the room. What was most startling about these figures was the fact that Black women who have allies are twice as likely to have a positive workplace experience, then those that don’t.
Meghan clearly had no allies at the palace apart from her husband Prince Harry – like any job, it begs the question, was she always destined to fail? Stifling the bias in the media is a good way we can create a positive trickling effect to eliminate prejudice once and for all.
And for all the Black Girls out there, I say all that to say this. I see you, I hear you and I support you. Being strong, confident and outspoken while Black does not make you a bully. Just remember that no societal trope used to silence your Black voice, and dim your Black girl magic, can stop you from gripping into your brilliance.