Race and revolution in the Royal family: what’s next for Harry and Meghan?

As a world renowned actress, Meghan Markle was no stranger to the spotlight before she met Prince Harry. However, few could have predicted the astronomical rise in attention she has received over the last few years since she married Britain’s favourite royal and one of the world’s (formerly) most eligible bachelors. Whilst the Sussex’s certainly have an extensive number of supporters and adoring fans in Britain and across the globe, Meghan Markle has also been subject to a significant amount of bad press in the British media since marrying into the most famous monarchy in the world. 

In a statement released last week, the Sussex’s announced that they hoped to “carve out a progressive new role” within the Royal family and endeavoured to become financially independent as they stepped down as ‘senior’ members of the monarchy. Their decision is certainly unexpected and unique, as never before has a member of the Royal family taken a part time role in the institution: up until now it has been a very much all or nothing decision.

There has always been the option to abdicate one’s position from the royal family, but that is no easy option as formerly it has entailed isolation and rejection from the rest of the institution. Today, however, the young Royals are hoping to carve a niche for themselves as part-time members of the monarchy who split their time equally between the UK and Canada, where Meghan lived prior to meeting Harry.

Whilst the British public, press and even the Royal family themselves did not anticipate this decision, by taking a closer look at the potentially unfair and harsh treatment Meghan has received since becoming a young Royal, their decision is perhaps less surprising than it first seems.

 Meghan’s mixed ethnic heritage has played a large part in the conversation. Her father is white and her mother is African American, meaning her relationship with Harry was hailed by the media as a sign that “Britain had entered a ‘post-racial’ era in which skin color and background no longer mattered, even to the Royal family”. But this period of openness and acceptance has been short lived, as many believe that Meghan has been subject to racial prejudice and abuse at the hands of the British press.

 On multiple occasions there has been content written about Meghan that has been openly racist, including referring to her as containing “exotic DNA”, being “(almost) straight outta Compton”, and comparing her son to a chimpanzee. However there are further examples of more subtle yet powerful racism which may have also severely affected Meghan’s mental wellbeing and contributed to her and Harry’s decision to step out of the limelight.

Meghan famously worked as guest-editor for the September 2019 edition of British Vogue and faced severe and widespread criticism. She was described as ‘uppity’, ‘idiotic’ and even self-absorbed and hypocritical as the Sun called her ‘Me-me-Meghan’ in an article about her contributions to the magazine. However, when other senior members of the Royal family previously worked as co-editors, most notably Prince Charles for Country Life magazine, Prince Harry for a BBC program and Kate Middleton for the Huffington Post, they all received praise.

This example, alongside countless others such as criticism of Meghan’s wardrobe, mannerisms and minor behavioural mistakes such as closing her own car door on Royal outings, is what leads some people to suggest that institutional racism still prevails in the UK and the monarchy.

Furthermore Meghan has been subject to intense speculation into her personal and family life, particularly regarding her father, and is currently suing the Daily Mail for exposing a private letter written between the two of them.

 Those who dispute these racism claims point out that this type of invasive treatment can perhaps be compared to that received by Princess Diana, and is simply part and parcel of marrying into one of the most famous families in the world. Whilst this may carry some truth, it is also worth noting that in contrast to her sister-in-law Kate Middleton, who as the future Queen we might expect to be held to even higher standards, Meghan appears unable to please the press.

The constant criticism for even the most menial act, such as her eating an avocado being linked to supporting modern slavery and exploitation, is a clear example of the scrutiny she faces from on a daily basis.

The decision made by Harry and Meghan has called into question the future of the Royal family, challenging long-held traditions put in place to make all Royals duty-bound to serve their country above themselves. Despite the fact that Harry was never directly in line to the throne and grew up as the ‘spare’ rather than the ‘heir’, his defiant move to reject his duty as a Royal could pave the way for future young Royals to do the same and thus jeopardize the future of the monarchy.

The Queen, as head of the Royal family, has responded with the statement: “My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family”. She also commented that there would be a “period of transition” in which the young couple will move from being supported by public funds to becoming financially independent, a move which would be unusual even for exiled members of the Royal family.

 Harry and Meghan’s choice certainly takes a step into unchartered waters for Harry, who has spent his entire life adhering to the demands and expectations of his title. However, as a celebrated actress who worked for her stardom rather than being born into it, Meghan is no stranger to working for a living and it is anticipated that the couple will be successful in their future endeavours.

Image: Mark Jones via Wikimedia

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