So, for black women, it came as no surprise when Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry this week announced their decision to step away from a “senior” role in the royal family, a wholly white, extraordinarily elitist British institution. It is a tale as old as time, but on this occasion, one that cannot be swept under the rug.
Ever since she began dating Harry in 2016, Meghan has been the target of coverage that can’t even be called forensic scrutiny, as that would imply a degree of accuracy. British tabloids were funhouse mirrors when writing about her, committed not to news but the distortion of her image. She has been routinely picked apart and reassembled as a vicious caricature, the list of her alleged faults and faux pas endless. Her crimes are amorphous, ever-changing and at times diametrically opposed; she was cast as a bleeding-heart liberal or a money-grabbing social climber depending on the audience. Many hoped the arrival of her son, Archie, would help the media show a kinder side, but that was not the case.
British racism is often coy and coded, but when it comes to Meghan there was no need to read between the lines. The hate was in the headlines, which referred to the Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up as “gang-scarred” and her role editing a racially diverse edition of Vogue as “divisive.”
And what is so painful about this turn of events is it felt ultimately unavoidable. Even if she had the same mixed-raced heritage without the Hollywood background, had always worn dresses below the knee, had banished avocados, had made use of a tent as a dress to distract from her baby bump and done every other ridiculous, pedantic thing the press hounded her (and only her) for not doing, would this have been any different? The tabloid media would always have found some other way to cast her in a negative light. It’s why she is still being labeled greedy, despite vowing to be “financially independent.” Her fate was written from the start.
And how swiftly Harry and Meghan’s joint choice has been characterized as hers alone. The ongoing coverage is now casting her as a palace-wrecker, a Lady Macbeth figure purring poison in the ear of a besotted prince. The Daily Mail, which devoted 17 pages of its paper to the story, bemoaned his transition from “fun loving bloke to Prince of Woke.” Meghan’s sensibilities regarding racial and gender equality are seen as somehow tainting Harry, as bigots believe her heritage has done the royal bloodline. It’s amazing how little their 8-month-old son is mentioned as a catalyst for this momentous decision — though he was compared to a chimpanzee by a BBC broadcaster on the day of his birth.
Make no mistake: The racist, sexist and classist abuse that was thrown at Meghan from established corners of the media is what pushed the couple into this decision.
Yet we will learn no lessons from this. When the news broke, fingers pointed at everyone but the papers. “I think social media is to blame,” author and royal commentator Claudia Joseph told the Independent. “If you read the comments about Meghan on Twitter, you can see why she would want to escape,” she continued, as if similar comments, alongside potential libel, cannot be read in papers of record.
With absolutely no irony at all, the media has proceeded to print even more vitriol in the wake of the announcement. Harry lost his mother due to the behavior of tabloid press. The saving grace of this sorry situation is that at least someone seems to have learned from history.