Relationships

Meghan Markle Was Never Going to Fix the Royal Family’s Racism Problem

Prince Harry holds Meghan's hand as they emerge from the West Door of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, after their wedding ceremony.
Harry and Meghan on their wedding day in 2018. Ben Stansall/Getty Images

In an interview that longtime royals watcher Tina Brown says we’ll still be talking about in 20 years, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told Oprah about the abuse they took from the British press and the lack of support (or outright hostility) within the palace walls. The couple revealed several incidents—including an allegation that one of their family members expressed concerns about “how dark” their first child would be—that made clear what was always fairly obvious subtext. But tangled up in the racism that Meghan faced is the colonial and imperial legacy of the institution she willingly entered into—an institution that, in time, wielded that power against her. Slate staff writers Julia Craven and Rachelle Hampton got on Slack to discuss that history, the limits of representation, and Tyler Perry.

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Rachelle Hampton: I wasn’t really planning on watching the interview until I saw all the leaks out of the palace about Meghan being a bully and the U.K. media going absolutely batshit insane, at which point I was like, I’m going to watch this out of spite. And I’m glad I did! It was a master class interview from Oprah, who could bring her show back and easily eat all the girls up. But was also just hard to process in a way? I saw you tweet something like, “trying to think through this conversation in the context of colonialism, colorism, and imperialism,” and that’s pretty much where I was at for the whole thing.

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I’m curious how much of the story you were familiar with before this interview. And whether you were surprised by any of it.

Julia Craven: I remember reading my Nana’s tabloids when I was a kid and seeing a lot of Diana. But the royals weren’t talked about in my house. Then, when Meghan and Harry went public with their relationship, I became really intrigued by how that was going to go since she’s a mixed-race Black woman. And then I saw the U.K. tabloid headlines and got more sucked into it out of pure rage.

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As far as being surprised, how she was treated was to be expected. What psyched me out were the details of the abuse. It’s wild to me that “the institution,” as she called it, created the conditions that led to her depression, trapped her inside those conditions, took all outside resources/access from her, and THEN shrugged when she became suicidal. It was giving me Get Out vibes. It made me think about how all institutions create very specific instances of gaslighting, normalize that, make it somewhat inescapable, and then just say, “Damn, that’s crazy,” when your mental health tanks. I felt a lot of empathy toward her. That level of trauma is unimaginable.

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Hampton: There’s definitely a subsection of Black grandmas who really rode for Diana. Mine didn’t really, but the affection for Diana and her sons was definitely one of the things that drew me into the Meghan and Harry story along with, as you said, the fact that she’s a mixed-race Black woman, and I was curious as to how the royal family would handle that.

What continued to really strike me was the fact that Meghan was perfect for this role of modernizing/integrating the royal family. She’s light-skinned, she’s not really rocking the boat, she was extremely popular. And they still couldn’t get their heads out of their asses. It just kept reminding me that you can be everything an institution wants on paper and they’ll still find a way to make you the problem.

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Craven: I saw a tweet saying that colorism is what allowed Meghan to enter the royal family and racism is what pushed her out. And that is so spot on. So many isms to this.

Hampton: I mean it really is every single ism. Toss classism in there too.

Craven: Just pick one of ’em and we’ll get into it.

Hampton: But yes, I think what kind of bugs me about the Meghan Is Every Black Woman spin is that there are a very specific set of conditions—including her personal wealth and the color of her skin—that allowed Meghan to ascend to where she was. And there were moments in the interview where it was just like *record scratch*. Like she was doing her tour through Africa and said something along the lines of it’s important for people in the Commonwealth to see someone who looks like them in high positions. It’s almost a parody of how facile the conversation around representation has become. Before Meghan even married into the royal family, she was a multimillionaire who fit very neatly into Eurocentric standards of beauty. If there was going to be a Black person who could change the fundamentally violent nature of the monarchy’s relationship to its former colonies (which, to be clear, there isn’t!), it definitely wasn’t going to be Meghan.

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Craven: That really threw me for a loop. The Commonwealth and the monarchy exist because of plunder, particularly in Africa and India. This got me thinking about the hold that representational politics has on people. A Black woman being in the royal family isn’t representing anything substantive. The problem isn’t a lack of representation. It’s racism, colorism, classism, imperialism, and colonialism.

Hampton: What that interview made abundantly clear is that Black faces in high places aren’t change in and of themselves, especially in an institution like the British monarchy, where whiteness isn’t just baked into the foundation—it’s the glue holding it together.

Craven: Preach, pastor.

Hampton: Which, again, Meghan wasn’t even trying to come in and burn it to the ground! She was more than happy to be a part of that! The royals fumbled the bag!

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Craven: They won’t even take in someone who was willing to not rock the boat.

Hampton: Honestly that brings me to my next issue, which isn’t with the interview itself but with the response to it. Even though this interview is the first time we’ve seen the depths of what Meghan’s gone through, the cracks have been very clearly showing since the beginning. And yet there’s been this very weird response from some white people that goes something like, “Meghan is rich, I don’t feel bad for her.”

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Craven: I’m not sure how anyone can watch that interview, see how she’s been treated, and walk away thinking, Oh, she’s rich, who cares. That’s really cold and also indicative of how Black women’s pain is dismissed by white people. Class isn’t playing the role they think it’s playing. It’s playing a role, a big one, but not THAT one.

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Hampton: Meghan said in that interview that she couldn’t be left alone while she was in her third trimester because she was afraid of what she’d do to herself. It’s just astonishingly callous and cruel to hear that she was at a point where she was not only thinking about harming herself but her child and think, Well, she’s wearing Gucci, I don’t care. Like, no, Meghan doesn’t represent every Black woman (news flash: no Black woman does). But the tenor and intensity of the vitriol she received and the lack of institutional support she received is something that’s very familiar to Black women.

Craven: There’s so much to unpack. I hate that word, but there’s A LOT here. There’s also a lot that’s missing. We don’t know who wanted to check behind baby Archie’s ears to see if he’d be “too dark,” and Meghan never referred to herself as Black in a conversation about anti-Black racism. She can identify however she chooses, but a direct acknowledgment of her Blackness was noticeably missing.

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Hampton: It was definitely striking to me that Harry immediately named the way Meghan was treated as racism, while Meghan didn’t. I couldn’t tell how much of that was them managing the response.

Another striking thing: Elizabeth and Philip are cousins, and the royal family is worried about how dark Archie would be?

Craven: I really do wish they would have shared who said that foul shit about the baby.

Hampton: I feel like it has to be William.

Craven: See, I think it was Charles. But you could tell me it was one of the horses and I’d believe it.

Hampton: Not the horses! I’m curious as to what you thought about the security stuff. That took up more room in the interview than I expected.

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Craven: The royals revoking security just confirmed their motives to me. They weren’t going to protect the baby or give him a title? He’s Prince Harry’s child. The answer is super obvious to me. And it connects to another thing, which was Meghan kept saying she thought the Crown would protect her. But instead, they bamboozled her.

Hampton: Yeah, I felt similarly. They kept slowly pushing them out, from the lack of security to not correcting the record about the Meghan-making-Kate-cry story to not letting them step down from being senior royals to whatever is below a senior royal.

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But also, can we talk about the Tyler Perry cameo?

Craven: So I saw this tweet saying Tyler Perry is the “parsley” of Black celebs. And, honestly, LMAOOOO. Big facts.

Hampton: Oh, my God, I saw that tweet too. Along with the one that was like, “Who has to explain to Queen Elizabeth who Tyler Perry is?”

Craven: My theory is that everything culturally significant links back to Tyler Perry, Ray J, or Beyoncé.

Hampton: That theory is 100 percent sound.

Craven: Who is gonna play Tyler Perry on The Crown?

Hampton: Honestly … maybe Tyler Perry? Sucks that he retired Madea before he could make Madea Goes to Buckingham. And by “sucks,” I mean thank God we don’t have to see that.

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