Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: A Closer Look Into UK’s Institutional Culture

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry on their wedding day riding in a carriage, smiling and waving at the crowds
  Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex 2018

In the whirlwind of global events occurring this past year, the news cycle has had much to write about. In the midst of a pandemic, economic crisis and further civil unrest, there lies the story of Meghan Markle. She and her husband Prince Harry faced detrimental treatment by the hands of the British Crown. Many noticed that the aggressive distaste towards Markle had underlying racial motives. A well publicized tell all interview given by the pair and released to the public early this year. It set the stage in the media for the much larger conversation about the culture of racism within the United Kingdom.       

Who are Meghan and Harry? 

Meghan Markle is a former American actress well known for her role in the popular legal drama series Suits. Although Markle pursued multiple endeavors in the past, such as fashion designer and blogger, the British public know her as a former actress.  

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, is a member of the royal British family and is sixth in line of succession for the throne. Prince Harry’s family is mainly of royal blood. His parents,are Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, both known for their infamous relationship. Prince Harry has an older brother, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who is also in line to the royal throne. Prince William married to Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge in 2011 and they currently have three children together.  

Meghan and Harry announced their engagement in 2017 and then married in 2018. The pair currently have a son, Archie Mountbatten-Windor and are expecting a baby girl in the summer of 2021.      

In the year 2020 the couple officially left the royal family in pursuit of more independent affairs. The public speculated the reason for this seemingly abrupt departure frequently online. The former working royals, however,  confirmed that their decision relied heavily on the astronomical amount of negative scrutiny Markle faced. As well as the relentless racist attitudes of the British tabloids, newspapers and other forms of media. Therefore, in an effort to protect Markle’s mental health and their family, the couple stepped back from the royal family. This happened in the past by previous royals, however, their main reasons revolved around divorce and potential scandals.

Examining Britain’s Denial of Its Colonial Past

Image of four different statues of known British slave owners, all erected in the UK till this day
Racist statues in the UK  credit: metro.co.uk

It is crucial to examine the relationship Britain has with its conscience of it’s nation’s past colonial endeavors. In this discussion, the term “little Englander” sheds some light on the attitude of the British public. The “little Englander” spirit can be best summarized as the fervent belief that the vast amount of territory colonized was done in the name of bettering those nations. Following the belief that the large amount of cultures it helps “modernize”, were rescued. Therefore, the British empire showed exemplary self determination and work ethic. Additionally, they illustrated their unparalleled values of civilization and modernity despite their supposed underdog status on a global scale. 

This philanthropic and sympathetic image of Britain is a warped representation of history that maintains the idea that Britain freed slaves. That it brought ideas of democracy and equality to those deficient and barbaric colonies. This ideology acts as a cover for the British history discussed within the nation itself. It reiterates its part in encouraging migrants from those colonies into the nation. This is scrutinized without also discussing the irreparable damage it did to those countries. Their economies, populations and Britain’s overall perpetuation of a culture that emphasizes ethnic marginality.  

Nationalist Propaganda In Textbooks

Furthermore, the British education system was purposely designed to focus more on the other aspects of the nation’s history. For example, the industrial revolution and women’s suffrage, which are discussed more than Britain’s horrific part in the exploitation of entire nations. The school textbooks that discuss the nations history often tend to idealize the British empire. Namely,  as the heroic forces of good that fight against Nazis in the second World War. They conveniently leave out the facts, like how British colonial methods were the foundation the Nazi’s used to design the Holocaust.

When the explicit details of an exploitative empire are left out of history textbooks, it leaves no room for accountability. Moreover, it is a disservice to the generation of kids that grow up with a limited knowledge of their country’s past. This lack of education could result in lifelong ignorance that can only help the oppressor. The lack of formal acknowledgement of its dark history only dooms the nation to repeat its mistakes. Instead of learning from their mistakes which would further progress society as a whole.  

The Impact It Has Today

This portrayal of the British empire’s past ultimately paints the image of the nation being irrevocably innocent as the violence it took part in was simply a product of its time. Today, Britain maintains a nuanced support of it’s military past by erecting statues of known slave owners across the nation. However, due to the recent wave of anti-racist protests taking place globally, things are changing. The conversation has started within the U.K to the kind of messages  represented when holding these morally corrupt figures on literal pedestals. Even further, the overall lack of education on Britain’s imperial past in schools.     

This deep rooted form of denial of its past corruption ultimately acts as a blindfold to the contemporary acts of racism faced by the country’s ethnic minorities. By dismissing any accounts of history that oppose its own perception of events, the British empire takes away legitimacy. It takes away from  people’s experiences of enslavement and trauma caused in its wake. Many of whom are still suffering the repercussions of this particular wound till this day.  

The British Media’s Involvement in Perpetuating Racism  

In the vast universe of media, it is only natural that branches form from the wide net of information. This knowledge accumulates both online and in written literature. These branches, however, emphasize the gap between what the world actually looks like and the distinction of the “white mainstream”. The white mainstream typically depicts white people in all areas of entertainment. For example, in the past it was common for fashion magazines such as British Vogue to feature white models almost exclusively. This portrayal of successful models offered an “ideal” to the people. By not including any other people of color, it painted a rather obvious narrative of what type of person the British media considered talented or impressive. This is an active effort to control the black image and the way they depicted themselves to the world.     

Over time this blunt exclusion of women of color, specifically black women, that sold to the public sparked virtual outrage. More and more articles started popping up wondering at the lack of  black representation. Additionally, some viewers noticed that due to the lack of funding for black centric television shows, many involuntarily showcased online rather than premiering on TV. The only time black women seemed to have a bright spotlight given to them was when British tabloids wanted to ridicule and persecute them in the public eye.  

Black Representation In British Media 

The media representation of black women both in television and magazines, largely relied on outdated stereotypes. One incredibly common offensive trope was “the angry and sassy black woman”. There was a period of time in history where black women were only given one role to play. They were always painted as aggressive or overly brazen. It severely limited artistic black women, denying them opportunities to experiment with their performances. Misogynistic attitudes also played a role in this image of black women being less talented than their white counterparts. In addition, the patriarchy reinforced and perpetuated racial stereotypes which heavily influenced the consumer culture in Britain. 

This notion of black women torn apart and bullied was supplied to the British mainstream media on a silver platter. It was mainly kept in business because it boosted sales. People loved when celebrities were involved in any potential scandal, but what many activists noted was the stark difference in the type of people these tabloids chose to exploit. 

Many in the corporate journalism industry denied these supposed allegations of discrimination. However, countless journalists of color confirmed the legitimacy of these issues. They also discussed the way the image they perpetuated misrepresented them, and the largely disproportionate percentage of black and other POC in journalist work forces. As members of the British media companies, these journalists were able to confirm the toxic culture behind the scenes that also seeped into the writing. 

The Tabloid’s Relationship with Meghan Markle

In the case of Meghan Markle, this pattern of targeting black women is explicitly clear. She is mocked and degraded in headlines in a way her white royal female counterparts are not. Although it is clear that any tabloid, British or not, tends to over exaggerate the truth and aim to capture their subject in the worst possible light. However, the treatment of Markle by the British press highlighted a much deeper racial bias in the media.     

From the very beginning when her relationship with the prince was made public, she received an onslaught of criticism and hate online. However, the difference was that online trolls tended to pull from increasingly racist material for their mockery of Markle. This online racially charged negativity then seeped into printed media as more and more ridiculous stories scrutinizing her came out. She would be criticized for wearing a one shoulder strap dress (that was seen as vulgar worn by her but angelic when worn by fellow royal, Kate Middleton), the color of her nail polish, what necklace she wore, the way in which she sat crossing her legs, and the endless amount of judgment she was forced to deal with that lacked any real substance.

It would be counterproductive and oblivious to conclude that the attempts at assassinating Meghan Markle’s character had nothing to do with race. Especially, when a majority of the contemporary micro aggressive comments black women endure, much like what Markle herself faced, go unnoticed. 

News headlines, For Kate Middleton they write: "Why you can always say it with flowers" for Meghan they write: "Royal Wedding: How Meghan Markle's flowers may have put Princess Charlotte's life at risk"
       An example of the bias the British Press reserves for Markle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Interview with Oprah Winfrey  

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sitting outside with Oprah Winfrey for an interview
    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sit down with Oprah Winfrey, 2021

On March 7th 2021, Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry sat down with Oprah Winfrey, a well known American talk show host, in a much anticipated tell all interview about the mistreatment the couple faced by the British press and the members of the royal family. 

In the interview, Markle made some startling revelations about the severe decline of her mental health. She cited the constant attack on her image by the British press as the source to her health troubles. Then, she spoke about how she was told her child would not be receiving any kind of official title. There were also concerns about how dark her child’s skin would be considering Markle’s biracial identity. The reluctance to give her child a title despite being part of the royal family was definitely an odd outlier. Mainly, because the other children of the royals had prominent titles. Additionally, the concern raised over skin color was the most transparent piece of evidence that the royal family had definite internalized racial biases. Since they were considered with the utmost respect and highest honors, it spoke to the overall culture of racism that existed within the UK.

The British Media Reaction 

The British press did not take the confessions made by the couple in the interview lightly. They launched a full scale attack on the legitimacy of Markle’s words and the reliability of her character, which only served to further prove her point. In the aftermath of the interview, the media  constantly portrayed Markle as the villain who isn’t trustworthy.  

During the time the interview was set to air, a series of attempts were made to diminish Markle. In one instance, there was a story released online that Meghan Markle had a bullying complaint submitted against her. This was supposedly during the time she lived at the royal palace. A household staff member filed the complaint over two years ago. However, the time of release of this rumor was suspiciously convenient as it was around the time of the Oprah interview. Clearly, the royal family had reservations about what was to be revealed in that interview.   

Additionally, there are other legal reasons for the British Press’s obscene attack on the couple. Both the royals pursued legal action against the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, an online British tabloid newspaper, for publishing a private letter Meghan wrote to her father. They also took action due to the false allegations made against Prince Harry claiming he had turned on the Royal Marines and the British people. The couple won both court cases against the online publishers. This further solidified their stance that the British press’s bullying would no longer be brushed aside. Both royals made it clear that they refuse to be worn down by the online press. That the media’s ruse to use their name in order to drive up click bait corporate profit is fairly transparent. 

The Bigger Picture  

There is a clear dismissal of Markle’s mental health and her experiences as a black woman in a hostile environment. Her struggles demonstrate the difficulties women of color in the country face everyday in all aspects of their life. This struggle is institutionalized because the obstacles put in place are increasing difficulties for black women to find medical care free of prejudice. These obstacles include, but are not limited to, character assassination and questioning a woman’s capacity to understand her own health. Consequently, racial medical bias within the UK directly links to the likelihood of Black women being concerned their needs are not met. Mainly that they are being dismissed despite the paramount symptoms they present. 

Statistically, black women in the UK are five times more likely than white women to die during childbirth due to undiscovered blood clots or other diagnosed complications. Meghan Markle’s experiences with the British crown have opened up the conversation to the deep rooted structural racial biases that run rampant in the country. These biases are also present in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related fields. As well as, the arts and every aspect of human work life.

Meghan Markle’s extremely publicized circumstance is bringing more awareness to the accumulation of  racist ideologies in the country. Much of which has lingered since Britain’s colonial times. Now more than ever, newspaper articles, online journals, along with other forms of printed and online British media, have started to tackle the conversation of racism and its treatment of POC within the country more seriously.     

The case of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry presents as the latest reminder that quiet discrimination within the UK can no longer be dismissed as mythical. Steps need to be taken to actively eradicate the disease of systematic racism from the country.  

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References

Bhambra, G. K. (2020). Colonial global economy: Towards a theoretical reorientation of political economy. Review of International Political Economy, 28(2), 307-322. doi:10.1080/09692290.2020.1830831

Goldberg, D. T. (2009). Racial comparisons, relational racisms: Some thoughts on method. Theories of Race and Ethnicity, 251-262. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139015431.019

Meghji, A. (2020, September 15). Britain’s Postcolonial Crisis: The Denial of Racism in Little England. Retrieved from https://www.europenowjournal.org/2020/12/07/britains-postcolonial-crisis-the-denial-of-racism-in-little-england/

Sobande, F. (2020). The digital lives of black women in Britain. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Winter, L. (2020, November 13). We love the NHS. But that doesn’t mean it’s not racist (with 60% of Black people in the UK not believing their health is as equally protected as white people’s). Retrieved from https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/nhs-racism

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