Meghan and Harry spoke their truths, revealing in stark terms how the racism and white supremacy that the British wielded for centuries to sustain their empire remains very alive. Winfrey, for her part, perfectly channeled the shock and frustration felt by many Black women watching.
During the interview, Markle laid bare her own traumas to illuminate dark truths about Britain, the royals — but also more generally about life in a predominantly White institution with a racist past. She spoke about the relentless attacks from the British media and the lack of support from the family. In perhaps one of the most tragic parts of the interview, she said that the situation got so bad that she had suicidal thoughts.
Another shocking revelation came when Markle discussed how the royal family treated the couple’s son, Archie. Markle said the couple was told that Archie would not be given a title — and, crucially, the security that comes with it — and that there were “conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”
Markle did not say who was part of those conversations, but she left it to us to say the quiet part out loud: Racism continues to seep through every facet of British royal life. Beyond the racist policies of the British Empire, we can be certain that erasure and disrespect of multiracial members of the royal family are not new. Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was said to have a “mulatto face” and to be from a Black branch of the Portuguese royal family. Of course, her Blackness has never been publicly acknowledged. Now in 2021, we learn that the royal family could not even wait until Markle’s mixed-race baby was born before deciding his life wasn’t worthy of royal protection.
As for Prince Harry, there is still a lot that interracial love cannot fix. He said that it wasn’t until marrying Markle, and he was personally affected, that he began to understand how racism worked. But even then, he could not play the full role of savior to even his own wife and child. He revealed that he was too afraid to ask his family for psychological help for Markle. Harry, too, was cut off financially from his family and they had to rely on his inheritance from Princess Diana and on help from the filmmaker Tyler Perry for support and security once the couple left Britain.
So why do we care about what happens to British royals? As the child of immigrants from a former British colony, who grew up idolizing Princess Diana just like my mother, I ask myself: Why were so many of us Black women ready to angrily revolt (again) against the British crown after hearing what Meghan and Harry claim to have endured?
Part of the answer is that it reveals the effectiveness of the soft-power propaganda that Britain and the royal family have been peddling. The image of a kindly grandmother for a queen has helped shield the nation from its atrocious colonial histories. It was fitting that the Harry and Meghan’s interview was timed for Commonwealth Day, when the royals proudly speak of the Black and Brown members as part of their global “family.” Markle was right to ask the question of how Commonwealth countries should see the crown, given the royal’s own alleged refusal to accept mixed-race members of their own family.
But beyond the royal context, another hard but necessary truth to swallow is that when it comes to Black women in White institutions, almost nothing can save us — not even our closest White allies — from the viciousness of racism. It doesn’t matter how light your skin is, how long your hair is or how many degrees you have. In Markle’s case, it didn’t even matter that she did everything to please “The Firm.”
We are grateful Meghan and Harry survived their family. But for a country that prided itself on civilizing the Black and Brown world — and for a time when discussions about white supremacy and the legacy of racism are more relevant than ever — the Duke and Duchess showed that the British royal family is still quite primitive.