Johanna Ross, journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Harry and Meghan’s reveal-all interview with Oprah Winfrey which aired in the UK earlier this week has divided the public: between the monarchists and those who want its abolition, and between those who were captivated by the details which emerged (like myself) and those who believe it’s celebrity gossip which is not in the public interest. As entertaining as it was for any Brit who has grown up in the shadow of the British royal family (I still remember the day of Princess Diana’s funeral), there was so much more to be learned about the inherent, antiquated prejudices which have long been ingrained in British society and which remain to this day, regardless of the values people profess to hold.
We have known something of the coldness of the Royals from the experience and interviews of the late Princess Diana, who, it seems like Meghan, was also suffering in silence, devoid of any emotional support whatsoever. This typically English stiff-upper-lip is clearly still prevalent within royal circles, and despite the fact British society has moved on from this tradition of not speaking about ‘uncomfortable subjects’ such as mental health and cancer, the Royals appear to be stuck in the 19th century. It is a world where expression of emotion is a sign of weakness; where Harry admits he was too ‘ashamed’ to share with family members his wife’s deteriorating mental state.
Aside from this, Harry and Meghan were clear that Meghan was being treated differently from others in the family. And they imply that this was in part because of her ethnic background. Meghan says that Harry related to her a conversation he had with a senior member of the royal family, in which that individual had expressed concern as to ‘how dark-skinned the baby would be’. Oprah asked Harry how he felt when this was said, to which he responded he was shocked. But let’s be honest here; Harry was likely far from surprised to hear this view expressed. He has grown up with these people; he is probably all too familiar with these kinds of racist opinions. His grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh is known for publicly expressing this kind of racist sentiment. These are some of the Duke of Edinburgh’s most famous gaffes:
“If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed” (addressing a group of British students during a visit to China).“It looks as if it was put in by an Indian” (pointing to an old-fashioned fuse box in a factory near Edinburgh).“Still throwing spears?” (Question put to an Aboriginal Australian during a visit).
And despite Harry’s best attempts to protect the identity of the Royal who uttered these appalling words, it is likely that the older generation of his family, including his father, Prince Charles still have this colonial, imperialist mindset upon which the British Empire was built. But we shouldn’t forget that the Royals not only share what is a white supremacist mindset, but also the belief in ‘blue-blood’ - the idea that the royal gene pool was superior - leading to centuries of in-breeding between European royal houses. This, in turn, led to various genetic diseases, such as porphyria, which it has been said that Queen Victoria and some of her family suffered from. To think that suddenly the royal family has abandoned this rule of marrying within ‘their own class’ is naive at best.
On the face of it, Harry was allowed to marry Meghan Markle. But look at the price he has paid for it. He has effectively been ousted from the royals, lost his titles, his security, was cut off financially from the Palace, and told that his son would not become a Prince either. And let’s not forget, that not only is Meghan mixed race, but she is from a working class background. A few decades ago it would have been unthinkable to imagine a Royal forming a union with someone with Meghan’s background. Despite her celebrity status, her father was a television lighting director and her mother was a make-up artist and yoga instructor. They have moved in very different circles to the Royal family. A marriage between a Prince and a woman with these family connections would simply not have been allowed in the 20th century. Again, people are mistaken for thinking Meghan’s ‘lack of breeding’ (as it would have been said in the past) did not play a role in the lack of acceptance from the Royals.
One would hope that such bigoted, ignorant opinions are the exception, not the rule in Britain today. But what is even more extraordinary than the racism and snobbism of the Royal family is the reaction that Harry and Meghan’s interview has had from the British public. Far from coming out in the defence of a woman who was driven almost to the point of suicide at the treatment she received from the Royals, polls show that more Brits sympathise with the Royal family over the affair. Having said that, further surveys indicate that public opinion is divided by age, with younger people supporting Harry and Meghan over the Queen. This gives us some hope for the future, that the monarchy will be forced to modernise and these antiquated views of Britain’s colonial past, will indeed be left in history, where they belong.
But in the meantime, the support the Royal family continues to receive from the media and public alike, suggests that it will survive the current crisis, and that Britain is not yet ready to face its imperialist, white supremacist past. Despite the nation professing to be a liberal democracy, if we scratch beneath the surface we see that bigoted views remain prevalent; that racism is accepted and defended, and that the class system still exists. Unfortunately these values are embedded in the bedrock of the British nation and aren’t going anywhere soon.
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