Royal Reality

Why the Allegations of Racism Against the Royal Famiyl is Not a Shock and the Mysogynistic Undertones that Have Existed in the Monarchy for Centuries

Meghan and Harry in the UK Christmas 2017

Meghan and Harry in the UK Christmas 2017

When Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle announced their engagement in November of 2017, a lot of people were shocked. For one, Harry’s name had become listed next to the word “playboy” in a lot of the world’s heads (after a long history of nightly leaving clubs with different girls), and tossing out that definition was hard for them to grapple with. But, more so, there were those that were surprised-and even angry- that the Windsors were welcoming a mixed race woman into their centuries-old white institution. 

There were those that claimed “It’s just not how it’s supposed to be,” referring to a highly racist notion that the Royal Family should maintain its all-white lineage and alluding to the fictitious concept of “blue blood,” or royal purity. Tabloids wasted no time accusing Markle of cheating on Harry, coining disparaging names based off of her skin-color (“gangster royalty” and “a girl straight outta Compton” to name a few), and even berated her for wearing pants! So, it’s no wonder how the tabloids alone could be enough to drive Markle to want to escape the public eye.

But, when Markle sat down for a “tell-all” interview with talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey and told her of the family’s concerns of what the color of her child’s skin would be, many, including Oprah were shocked and horrified. But, how could people be so dumbfounded over racist allegations concerning a white, wealthy, powerful family- a monarchy to be more exact-who has an obvious, disclosed history of racism?

According to Time, “The concept of the Commonwealth was formalized in 1926 with the signing of the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference, attended by the leaders of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland.” Queen Elizabeth II said the goal was to “promote development, democracy, and peace.” Joanna Lewis, professor of history at the London School of Economics said, “If we look to history, we can see how the royals have a complex relationship with people of color, because throughout the last decades, it’s visits to the Commonwealth where the monarchy has felt most popular, and most loved. ” These places include Australia, Tortola, and the United States. In the Oprah interview, Markle mentioned that the majority of the commonwealth are people of color and thought it would only be beneficial for the British monarchy (which is treated as the “head” of the commonwealth) to have a biracial woman a part of their family. 

Queen Elizabeth II has never condemned or even addressed the racist actions of her ancestors, including Queen Elizabeth I’s involvement in the slave trade where she approved of Captain John Hawkins capturing 300 Africans and shipping them across the Atlantic in exchange for various goods. She profited off of this and later issued a decree to expel Africans from England in July 1596. Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Phillip has also made racist comments, engendering the public to accuse the family of still having a colonial mindset. According to the Guardian, in 1986, he warned British students in China that they would become “slitty-eyed” if they stayed too long, and on a trip to Australia in 2002, he asked an Aboriginal Australian if they “still threw spears at each other.” 

More recent accounts of racism in the royal family include a day in December of 2017, where Princess Michael of Kent was spotted wearing a piece of blackamoor jewelry-which fetishize images of slaves-out to lunch with Meghan Markle. In 2004, she told a group of customers in a New York City restaurant to “go back to the colonies.” When asked in an interview about the racial slur, she denied it and defended herself by saying, “I even pretended years ago to be an African, a half-caste African, but because of my light eyes I did not get away with it, but I dyed my hair black.” The family also neglected to comment on the Black Lives Matter movement or voice any support to the black community, precluding whatever attempts they might have made to be more progressive. 

Academic and activist Kehinde Andrews said, “The whole thing from start to finish is a good example of how racism is hidden. This is probably the first time the monarchy has been publicly challenged on racism, certainly in my lifetime. That is insane when you think about it given what it is, where it got its wealth from, its history, and its legacy.”

Author Priyamvada Gopal said, “The bottom line is the monarchy is an institution that is completely tied up with the ideology of blood and bloodlines. And so is race,” she says. “That is the boil that has been lanced open. This isn’t about whichever family member it was, it isn’t about their personal racism—we’re talking about an institution that is deeply tied up to both Empire and white supremacy.”

When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced their decision to step back from the royal family, it not only spawned a frenzy of racist tabloid headlines, but led to the media painting Markle as a manipulative wife, ergo the sensational headline “MEGXIT” was born and plastered onto every t-shirt, coffee mug, pillows, stickers, blankets on Etsy. The Times of London perpetuated the notion that Markle “wanted to be the victim,” and The Sun released an article headed “Princess Pushy.”

But, Meghan is not the first woman to join the British monarchy and endure misogyny. Vogue published an article referencing the events of 1936 when King Edward VIII fell in love with American socialite and divorceé Wallis Simpson, but the monarchy refused to allow him to marry her and retain the throne. Simpson publicly acknowledged that she would part ways with Edward so he could keep his position, but Edward cited that it would be “impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king without the help and support of the woman [he] love[s].” Simpson was branded “ a temptress, a social climber, and a nymphomaniac who learned ancient Chinese skills at a Shanghai brothel that she then supposedly employed to entrap the king” -labels only designated to women in society. 

“She knew what she was getting herself into.” “The royals all have duties that can not just flee from.” “She only cared about the glamour, fame, and profiting off of the family.” “She was weak.” “She did things different from how they’re supposed to be done.” These were all the types of responses used to justify anger towards Markle for her and Prince Harry’s departure. But, when you factor in the horrific racism, sexism, and the lack of safety and freedom, it is really that hard to fathom why Meghan and Harry had to leave?

The foremost example of a woman who had a similar experience living under the palace as Markle-in terms of the mental health impact- was Princess Diana, a beloved icon to many globally in the 80’s. Though Markle was an actor for many years, she still had no knowledge of royal life and was very much a normal person, like Diana. Markle even admitted her naivety in the Oprah interview and how she expected it to be similar to the celebrity lifestyle. In an interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir in 1995, Diana said “I didn’t fully understand what the job was.” 

Meghan admitted in the Oprah interview that she had thoughts about self-harm. When Meghan and Harry left, people compared Meghan to Diana in a derogatory way, claiming that if Diana could cope with the pressures of being a royal, then why couldn’t Meghan? But, Diana pushed herself to assimilate into the monarchy so much and be a perfect princess that it drove her to hurt herself, just like Meghan. In Andrew Morton’s biography on Princess Diana, he details Diana’s struggles with bulimia-feeling insecure from her husband’s affair and internalizing spiteful comments he made about her size. Nobody knew the torment she was dealing with because she covered it up so well. It is not a case of “Meghan was not as strong as her;” it is a case of Meghan had the courage to voice her mental health struggles to her husband and the institution (which did not even care or try to get her help), and Diana was trapped inside a prison with a big bow on top with no one to clutch her hand and aid her escape. 

Both women endured unsurvivable press attention and faux-fairy tales, but only one was able to make it out alive, unfortunately, because Harry did for Meghan what Prince Charles should have done for Diana- he prioritized family over the duty. And both are true examples of how much affliction a powerful institution can impose on the people who comprise it.

Caroline Fraoli ‘21 said, “The British monarchy is severely splintered, and the fact that people will so strongly place their faith in their government rather than acknowledge that they have faults is very alarming.” 

An article published in The Atlantic read, “Meghan and Diana Could Have Saved the Royal Family.” Two women who led from the heart, not the head. But, the fact that that right there was the problem the family had with the two women is why they could not save a patriarchal system (despite being led by a woman) that is so deeply scarred and troubled and filled to the brim with white supremacy and an utter lack of transparency that it has deceived many into believing that it is righteous and just. 

Meghan told Oprah that Harry “saved” them-saved them from a family that cares more about positive press coverage than the people they lose in the process that they will perpetuate a false notion of a villainous woman and will not use their considerable clout and status to put an end to immoral rumors pitting women against each other and degrading someone based off of their skin color. The royals are culpable in sustaining white supremacy, and now thanks to Meghan and Harry, the world knows it, too. Meghan and Harry got their happy ending, but not without being eaten up and spit out by the system that claims to be the most proper and immaculate to exist.