I am no fan of Piers Morgan, an opinionated tyrant who has made career out of putting people, who challenge establishment, such as Meghan Markle, in their place. She has been the target of media rancour, invading her privacy, by publishing letters from her father, for instance, for which she successfully sued. But, on this most recent occasion I find myself agreeing with Morgan.
At the risk of sounding heartless, I, too, was not convinced by Markle’s revelation of self-harm and her pleas for help that fell on deaf apathetic palace ears. Nor was I convinced by what appeared to me to be a carefully crafted accusation of racism with respect to an unnamed member of the royal family.
I saw no sincerity, earnestness, or self-reflection. Markle gave no account of any attempt to raise her concerns, or feelings of hurt, with the offending family member. Instead, she went public and it is to this I suggest she levelled, indeed ‘weaponized’, a serious accusation of racism, underscored by disparaging remarks as to the likely colour of her yet-to-be born son, to render a massive slap in the face for the royal family. Whatever the Queen, Prince Charles or Prince William, as senior royals, might have to say in response is unlikely to undo the damage of Markle’s jaw-dropping utterance, left hanging in the air like a stench that won’t go away. Near impossible to refute, the royals will come off looking either shrill or denialist. In that sense, Markle is an astute woman who is not above rattling her in-laws.
It does not by definition automatically become ‘racist’ to discuss, or to wonder, on the colour of a baby’s skin when the parents are of mixed-race heritage. I am Maori and my husband is Australian of Irish extraction. We, along with family members, cheerily discussed whether our child, still in the womb at the time, would be dark like me or fair like her father, or a mixture of both of us. She turned out to be a mixture with her father’s reddish tinge to her hair and my brown eyes. My siblings have similarly married partners outside of our ‘race’. My nephews and nieces are darker in tone compared to my daughter.
I get it that Markle was concerned about the possibility of her child being treated differently, even discriminated against, on the basis of his skin colour especially when the stakes are high in terms of being born into a (white) royal family. She alludes to discrimination in her accusation that her son has not been afforded the same level of security protection as other members of the family. It does not stand, though, that the former is a necessary condition for the latter. There may be other reasons to explain the lack of security, which she does not acknowledge such as the fact that her son is not in the line of succession.
The same misuse of logic applies to her accusation that her son has been denied the right to the title of Prince. It is quite possible that this has nothing to do with his skin colour and everything to do with the fact that he will automatically be entitled to the Honorific of Prince once Charles is crowned.
To level accusations of racism ought not to be a weapon but it looks to have become one in the explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey. Markle’s accusation of latent racism – a slur of colour – vicariously tapped into the ignoble history of the House of Windsor being aligned to Nazi Germany. It was already there so it must be true now. There was no good faith, no olive branch for Harry’s family, only a rigid determination to see issues in a particular light.
I can accept the retched unfairness of the obligation almost always, and invariably, placed at the feet of recipients of racism to deal with ‘it’ whilst those who abuse or exploit get away with it without sanction. I know this, first hand, in terms of experiencing racialisation and the disorientation that comes from the absence, or disregard for the need, of a platform from which to speak back to oppression or discrimination. I grew up having to toe the line, there was simply no alternative in post-Waitangi Treaty, New Zealand. This is why I have devoted my research interest to understanding the changing significance of race and racism and the implications of this for people of race or colour.
Race and racism are forever misunderstood. To mention race or racism is not the equivalent of being ‘racist’. Race, as has been consistently explained in the social sciences, is a social construct to explain biological or physiological differences in the human race. Thus, it is possible to mention skin colour in a totally benign context. Furthermore, it is possible to treat people differently without being ‘racist’. To treat people differently on the basis of race, in some contexts, can actually be positive. For example, to provide funding assistance for a disadvantaged cohort, that happens to identify or be identified on the basis of race, is not ‘racist’. It is called helping fellow citizens.
However, racial differentiation becomes problematic when it serves the justification for discriminating adversely or against people on the basis of race. It may also become problematic as much when things are not done as much as when they are. To ignore, for instance, the reality when people are in fact discriminated against and to do nothing about it. Here is racism by omission as much as by intent.
It has surprised me that an accusation has unquestioningly been taken as fact. To make an accusation does not make it true. It may very well be but not necessarily and definitely not always. Where is, or what is, evidence of this? And why did Markle speak for her husband when he was the one on the receiving end of such unpleasant and undignified conversation? For her to raise it, comes across as second-hand gossip and makes Harry look weak. Now that I think about it, Markle being of colour was the obvious choice. Still…
I appreciate that Meghan and Harry are trying to do good, to be agents for change, in calling out racial discrimination in its myriad of forms from covert or subtle expressions of bias to outright hatred as in the Holocaust. But what they do not do is take responsibility, to reflect on their handling of sensitive matters. This is why, at least for me, the interview was uncomfortable to watch not just because of its sensationalist content but also because it looked calculated. Winfrey was a willing participant and should have known better. She showed no objectivity and did not probe Markle’s assertions. If anything, she walked Markle into her expose: “where you silent or silenced?” The royals have a lot to answer for, and answer they must, for events of the past and the present. But, in this case, perception is not necessarily the same as truth.
Markle is a polished lady of style. She bagged a prince, to put it bluntly, and all of the accoutrements that go with this – the lavish wedding, the refurbished Frogmore Cottage for her marital home, and the title of Duchess of Sussex. Only to find that the fairy tale life style fronts an oppressive nightmare of silence and constraint. To this, she did more than tell her truth, she rallied her support base all while hiding behind her son to make her case against her in-laws. She was hurt not for herself but for her son, a defenceless little boy. Image perfect, she embodied Madonna-like purity with her expectant belly and angelic face. Who would dare to criticise without risk of blow-back?
She might enjoy the stoush, confident that she can win the race wars, but she will take Harry down with her. His blood family seem genuinely perplexed. Perhaps he too wishes to render them a slap in the face and that Markle enabled the perfect platform for that. Perhaps he harbours jealously of his older brother. Who knows? What he ought to know, though, is that to hurt his family means to hurt himself. Alas, so too his children.