When accomplished, glamorous American actress Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in 2018, she was hailed as a breath of fresh air for Britain’s fusty royal family. That honeymoon didn’t last.
Now the couple wants independence, saying the pressure of life as full-time royals is unbearable. And a debate is raging: Did racism drive Meghan away?
When Prince Harry, who is sixth in line to the throne, began dating the “Suits” actress — daughter of a white father and African American mother — the media called it a sign that Britain had entered a “post-racial” era in which skin colour and background no longer mattered, even to the royal family.
U.K. Labour Party lawmaker Clive Lewis, who, like Meghan, has biracial heritage, says the royal rift shows that Britain still has a problem with “structural racism.”
“We can see it with Meghan Markle and the way that she’s been treated in the media, we know that this is a reality of the 21st century, still,” Lewis told Sky News. “After 400 years of racism you can’t just overturn it overnight.”
Frederick W. Gooding, an assistant professor of African American studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, said it would be “disingenuous” to claim race had not been a factor in Meghan’s treatment.
“She was always going to be an outsider,” he said. “There was always going to be this barrier because of her race.”
From the start, some in the media wrote about Meghan using racially loaded terms. One tabloid columnist referred to her “exotic” DNA. A Daily Mail headline described her Los Angeles roots as “(almost) straight outta Compton” and claimed she came from a “gang-scarred” neighbourhood. A TV host described Meghan as “uppity.”
Meghan was criticized for everything from eating avocados — which the Daily Mail claimed fuel “human rights abuses, drought and murder” — to wearing dark nail polish, apparently an etiquette faux pas.
Morgan Jerkins, a senior editor at Zora, a Medium.com site for women of colour, said that because Meghan was “an outsider, culturally, racially, and socioeconomically, she has been the royal family’s scapegoat.”
Others point out that Meghan is hardly the first royal to get a rough ride in the media. The press and the royal family have an intense and often toxic relationship going back decades. Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was snapped by paparazzi wherever she went. When she and Prince Charles admitted that their marriage was in trouble, her private life became public property.
Diana was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997 while being pursued by photographers. Prince Harry, who was just 12 when his mother died, said in October he feared “history repeating itself. … I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
After Diana’s death, a chastened British press mended its ways — a bit. The media left young William and Harry alone in exchange for carefully staged interviews and photo opportunities as they grew up. That practice has continued with the three young children of William and his wife, Kate.
But in many ways little really changed. Royal stories still sell newspapers and generate clicks. That has meant intense — and even illegal — scrutiny. In the early 2000s, tabloid reporters hacked the voicemails of Prince William and royal staff members in pursuit of scoops.
Younger female royals are routinely judged on appearance, demeanour and habits. Prince William’s wife was relentlessly scrutinized for years: dismissed as dull, accused of being lazy for not having a full-time job, and dubbed “waity Katy” before William proposed.
Still, Meghan’s treatment has sometimes seemed harsher. Last year, the Daily Mail ran photos of a pregnant Meghan cradling her bump under the headline: “Why can’t Meghan Markle keep her hands off her bump?” Months earlier the same paper had described a pregnant Kate as “tenderly” cradling her bump.
The Associated Press