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The Cracks in our Crown: Institutional Racism & Toxicity in the Royal Family

photo courtesy of unsplash

Roar writer Shaheena Uddin on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah in light of his new documentary The Me You Can’t See.

I’m personally not the type of person who usually dwells too much on the Royals, and yet Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry caught my attention, along with thousands of other viewers in March 2021.

The Oprah interview seemed to prove extremely insightful in highlighting the problems prevalent within the British monarchy today. Although it is hardly surprising that an institution, which has a deep-rooted, long-standing history built upon colonialism, slavery and countless genocides, would carry racist undertones to this day.

With Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey co-directing a new documentary “The Me You Can’t See” on Apple TV, their popular interview seems to have re-emerged into the public limelight once again. This seems like the perfect time to re-examine the Oprah interview and digest all the different areas it covered.

Racism & Microaggressions

There is no doubt that Britain has a long way to go in terms of overcoming racism, discrimination and prejudice. Since joining the Royal family, Meghan Markle has received countless death threats for simply existing as a POC. Given that Meghan Markle is mixed-raced and light-skinned and yet receives this level of hate, I dread to think how someone of a darker complexion would be treated.

According to a Guardian investigation into the National Archives, it was also recently discovered that “Buckingham Palace banned ethnic minorities from office roles“. Moreover, despite 72 members of parliament calling out the colonial undertones issued in the press towards Meghan, not a single person from the Royal family ever addressed it. The unspoken words still linger uncomfortably in the air and it speaks volumes about their racist tendencies.

Alarmingly, the royal couple received “concerns and conversations about how dark” their baby’s skin might be from an unnamed member of the Royal Family. This revelation clearly left many rightfully outraged and shocked. Not only is this a bizarrely inappropriate question, but it exposes an incredibly racist mentality.

That poor baby had not yet entered the world and the Royal Family was allegedly already debating their skin colour and its significance on their status. The “concern” implies a definite problem if the baby had darker skin as if that would somehow taint the Royal family. Despite him being only a quarter black, they felt threatened enough to revoke his title and security.

Mental health & Suicidal thoughts

The aftermath of racist abuse is often detrimental to one’s mental health. Meghan recalled how the experiences of suicidal thoughts made life “almost unsurvivable” and that she “didn’t want to be alive anymore”. It is often difficult to voice one’s feelings and when Meghan was brave enough to seek help, she was cruelly denied.

“Were you silent? Or were you silenced?” was a memorable question that emerged from Oprah’s Interview which resonated with many viewers. Meghan also shared powerful parallels of her life to The Little Mermaid, who also lost her voice as she fell in love with a Prince, but eventually regained it.

The Royal Family cannot claim to be advocates for positive mental health when they themselves cultivate a toxic environment pushing people towards suicide. Ironically, they are part of the problem they wish to solve.

Since the interview, many such as Piers Morgan have invalidated Meghan’s testimonies. Disregarding people’s experiencing surrounding mental health is incredibly dangerous, as it discourages others from speaking out and seeking help.

Mental health has been a big theme of Prince Harry and Williams’ work after their mother, Princess Diana, passed away. It also takes centre stage in his new documentary.

Extremes of Celebrity Culture

Surely one would assume a celebrity actress like Meghan would be accustomed to the spotlight right? But even she admitted nothing had prepared her for a royal lifestyle.

Harry recalled having to wipe away the tears and put on a public façade of smiling throughout his life. The couple’s language emphasized it being part of “their job” as “full time working members of the royal family”. This is really concerning as to where the line is drawn between individuals and their jobs. The job is their identity, and it cannot be switched off at the end of the day when it gets hard. Every move they make is heavily scrutinized from the moment they are born. This “trapping environment” is entirely exhausting and incredibly toxic.

Media Narratives

The Royal family was described as a “monster machine… in terms of clickbait and tabloid fodder”. Polarity and comparisons between women are rife within the media. In this case, the narrative focused on idealising Kate Middleton, whilst demonising Meghan Markle. This media bias is exemplified through headlines unfairly scrutinizing Meghan for holding her baby bump as well as her food choices, while it praised Kate for the very same behaviour.

This betrays the media’s unscrupulous hypocrisy for manipulating near-identical situations for their own agenda. In terms of criminalization, ethnic minorities are often villainized as “terrorists”, while white Caucasians are usually redeemed as “lone victims” in the media. Words wield immense power in determining how differently we view people.

The Royal Family chose not to negate the false stories perpetuated about Meghan despite protecting other members of the family and were therefore complicit in allowing the media to assassinate her character.

Months after the somewhat infamous interview, media outlets continue to twist the narrative against Meghan Markle and Prince Harry today. One such article recently published in the New York Post described Harry’s so-called “hypocrisy”:

“Just call him Dotty Harry… Clearly not content with his first strike two months ago — he and saucer-eyed, self-pitying wife Meghan whining to Oprah in a prime-time special — Harry is back again to blame his father, brother, and grandmother, the newly widowed Queen, for all that ails him, this 36-year-old globally famous multimillionaire.”

While I can understand the reasonable criticisms of others about privilege, this criticism seems unnecessary. I’d like to address the fact that just because people are famous or rich, it does not mean they are immune to abuse. In fact, being under the scrutiny of the public eye 24/7 and slandered on the daily, can impact one’s mental health and problems to an unfathomable level.

Harry’s new documentary is not a hypocritical example of “begging for privacy from the media while becoming an active player in the media”. It is evident that his problem is not just with the media attention, but in how he had little to no control over his own public narrative. His documentary focuses on taking back control by voicing his own story through his own mouth, rather than through twisted and sensational headlines. He also amplifies many stories and voices of those who have been too afraid to speak out until now.

Distinctions between the family & the institution

When Meghan joined the Royal family, she gave up her “passport, driving license, keys etc”, essentially signing away her freedom to “the institution” in a covert form of imprisonment.

The couple also disclosed that a disturbing “invisible contract behind closed doors” exists between the institution and the UK tabloids. Anyone “willing to wine and dine and give full access to the reporters” during palace-hosted parties, would receive better press.

Oprah Winfrey then asked the poignant question – “Who is controlling whom – the institution or the tabloids?” To which Harry replied that “the institution survives based on perception” and this symbiotic relationship is what keeps this toxic environment thriving. This “control by fear” power dynamic has existed for generations.

The insightful interview featured many fascinating revelations about the most elite and exclusive sphere in our society. Moreover, it raises interesting questions about whether the Royal Family’s influence on our country should be re-examined altogether.

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English BA Student. Cat person. Tea addict.


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