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Megan Moutsatsos, Queens University.
Without knowing much background information, one could assume that Meghan Markle was living the dream when she first married Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. After all, she was transported from her life as an American actress into that of a Duchess, which is presumably a lavish role. However, in January of 2020, Meghan and Harry stepped down from their positions as senior royals, shocking the world. Although there was general knowledge of cruel rumours about Meghan that could have prompted her exit, it was not until her 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey that the truth came to light. Approximately 17.3 million people watched live as the root of their departure was revealed: Meghan and Harry did not receive proper support from the institution.
The institution does not refer to the royal family themselves. Rather, the term encompasses the workplace of the royals. Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, once declared, “we’re not a family. We’re a firm.” This firm refers to the private secretaries, chauffeurs, communications advisers, heads of households, and other individuals who run the lives of the royals, such as those who ensure they maintain suitable public images and adhere to their scheduled events. Buckingham Palace alone, the official home of Queen Elizabeth II, consists of over 400 employees. Penny Junor, a royal historian of “The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor,” stated that: “It’s very hard to differentiate between the family and the machine.” This reference to the firm as a “machine” conveys its separation from the royals, who are very much humanized in the media, while also communicating the coldness that likely prompted Harry and Meghan’s exit. Harry and Meghan cited the firm’s lack of support for both Meghan’s mental health and their son, Archie, as the main reasons behind their departure, the latter with implied racial issues that are deeply concerning.
In the interview, Meghan revealed that despite his legal status as a prince, Archie would not receive a royal title, nor be provided with security. She also reported that there were conversations about how dark Archie’s skin might be (Meghan is biracial), and while specific details of the discussion were not shared, the comment itself is evidently a microaggression. When coupled with Archie’s lack of a title and security, further racism is implicated. If Duchess Kate Middleton’s children have security and titles, why should Meghan’s child not? Logically, this would not make sense unless there are other subtle, ulterior motives involved—perhaps ones that are racially charged, as concerns about skin colour would insinuate.
In addition to this implied racism, the institution did not offer Meghan assistance for her mental health. Meghan revealed in her interview with Winfrey that she struggled with suicidal thoughts while living as a royal, and the institution refused to provide her with help due to concerns about how it would affect the royals’ public image. The vicious, often racist rumours that were circulating about Meghan, perpetuated by the tabloids, majorly contributed to Meghan’s poor mental health, and the institution did not defend Meghan, even when they were certain of the falsehoods behind the tabloids’ stories. For instance, as explained by Meghan in the interview, the tabloids leaked stories about how Meghan made Kate Middleton cry, when the opposite apparently happened (Kate brought Meghan to tears). However, the communications team would not release a statement that cleared Meghan’s name. They were willing to defend other members of the royal family, like Kate through withholding the true story, but not Meghan, which obviously raises the question as to why – and if concerns about her baby’s skin colour arose, race is likely a factor. Another noteworthy point is that Meghan said nothing negative about the royal family members themselves in her interview; she even referenced the Queen’s warm and welcoming nature. Her fondness of the Queen highlights how the problem is rooted in the institution, with its racism and concerns of public appearance at the expense of mental health.
The institution’s roots are also racist. The concept of the Commonwealth was formalized in 1926, when the Balfour Declaration was signed at the Imperial Conference, which are official meetings for the leaders of self-governing British colonies. Today, the Commonwealth is an international organization with 54 nations across the world; it encompasses 2.4 billion people, with the Queen recognized as the “head.” However, Barbados’s Prime Minister Mia Mottley, has announced her intention to remove the Queen as their head of state in 2020. She stated that she wanted to “fully leave [their] colonial past behind,” which illustrates the Commonwealth’s lack of innocence as an institution. It has a racist past, as it was formed from British colonies, in which slavery was rampant, and this past is bubbling to the surface with the unfair treatment and harassment of Meghan Markle, a biracial woman.
Furthermore, there needs to be a change in the British monarchy’s institution. I could not find information about who exactly works in this “firm,” but I presume that hiring more people of colour into vital roles and placing greater emphasis on representation within the system would do much good. Also, the institution needs to defend the royal family members from the vicious assault of the tabloids, regardless of the backlash they might face. They do not want the tabloids to turn on them and shred the monarchy’s reputation, of course, but at what cost? Meghan was expendable to the institution, but she should not have been. As a member of the royal family, as a person of colour, she should have been protected, but she was not. In turn, racism was perpetuated, and her mental health issues were not addressed. The institution needs to re-evaluate their priorities in order to prevent further suffering in the future, and to start eliminating [SY4] the seeds of racism that are embedded in their system.
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