Racism in Britain’s ‘Post-Racial Era’

Chelsea Hill, Queens University.

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How do you fix a problem that people refuse to acknowledge exists?

This is the question that has been turning around in my head ever since I witnessed the racist media coverage regarding Megan Markle.

Ever Since Megan Markle and Prince Harry announced that they would be stepping down from their roles as senior royals, there has been debate over the effect that the media played in encouraging their decision. While many social media outlets are denying the allegations that the media coverage is racist, there are people resisting these claims, eager to hold them accountable for their biased reporting of Megan Markle.

No debate struck me quite like the one on Good Morning Britain this month, wherein guest Afua Hirsh tried to explain the reasons for why many people have been calling out the British Media’s reporting on the Duchess of Sussex. Instead of listening to her concerns and allowing her to share her feelings Piers Morgan completely shut her down, dismissing Hirsch’s concerns by stating “You see racism in everything”.  The conversation went on to intensify when Hirsh accused Morgan of perpetuating racist narratives.

One major revelation to be gained from this debate is how blind people can be to their own prejudicial attitudes regarding issues of race. It is interesting that Piers, a white man, thinks that he can identify racism better then a woman of colour. This shows how racism has become so ingrained in the fabric of British society that it has become almost unrecognizable, unless, of course, you are the one who is suffering the consequences.

As sociologist Michael Kimmel said : “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” For those who hold white privilege this means the absence of discrimination based on race as well as protection from hostility, distress and violence. So, it makes sense that some people with white privilege are quick to say we have entered into a post-racial era when a Black man becomes elected president of the United States or a biracial woman enters the British royal family.

But just because racism is not explicit does not mean it is not racism, or that it does not have harmful consequences. While she is far from the first royal to experience the scrutiny of the media, she does face additional barriers that cause her to be considered a cultural, racial and socioeconomic outsider.  And whether the media wants to admit it or not lots of coverage regarding Megan Markle has carried racial undertones.

This includes actions like calling a Markle’s DNA “exotic”. Contrary to Piers belief that there was no harm meant by this comment it was in fact racist. The exoticization of women of color is a way of othering and objectifying them, and attributing a concept of foreignness to people who’s presence in western society is as valid as anyone else. A single word still makes a statement.

Other instances have included comparing the Royals’ son to a Chimpanzee in the name of humour and criticizing Markle for things Kate Middleton has been praised for.

The media coverage of Megan Markle is indicative of a bigger problem. Race is still a problem in the UK, regardless of what people want to say. This false illusion of equality is quickly shattered when one considers the rise in hate crimesleading up to the ‘Brexit’ Referendum, when one considers how people belonging to ethnic minorities are at increased risk of homelessness, or that the rate of unemployment of black women is considerably higher that that of white women.

So, my advice for Piers Morgan would be to actually stop and listen the next time someone calls your narrative racist on national television. People do not go around calling people a racist for no reason. Instead of getting angry and shutting them down, you should take the opportunity to listen and evaluate the privilege you and benefit from. Privilege is not something to be ashamed of unless one takes it for granted and are unwilling to accept that their experiences are not universal.

We will never be able to fix these systemic and social ingrained discrimination without being mindful of the advantages that we have been given, whether earned or more commonly gained at birth. It is about time that we hold ourselves accountable, check our privilege and stop shutting down the voices of the oppressed because they make us uncomfortable.

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Sources

Allcock, Beth. “Piers Morgan erupts with fury after being called a ‘racist’ during Meghan Markle debate on Good Morning Britain.” The Sun 13 January 2020.

Associated Press. “https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/questions-racism-linger-harry-meghan-step-back-n1116221.” NBC News 15 January 2020.

Goodfellow, Maya. “Yes, the UK media’s coverage of Meghan Markle really is racist.” Vox 17 January 2020.

Johnson, Rachel. “RACHEL JOHNSON: Sorry Harry, but your beautiful bolter has failed my Mum Test.” The Daily Mail 5 November 2016.

Liu, Marcia M. “Exoticization of Women of Color.” The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender. (2017): 533-536.

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege – Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Baca Zinn, Maxine, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael Messner. Gender Through the Prism of Difference. New York: Oxford Univerity Press, 2005. 278-282.

Smith, Fiona. “‘Privilege is invisible to those who have it’: engaging men in workplace equality.” The Guardian 8 June 2016.