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Racism And The Royals


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's relationship with Buckingham Palace isn't just royal family drama.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I got some breaking news about Harry and Meghan.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The language says everything. It says that the queen didn't know. The Prince of Wales didn't know. And the Duke of Cambridge didn't know.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I cannot think of a previous example where they've sort of washed their dirty linen in public.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Much of the British media establishment has taken a decidedly dim view of the news. And they're itching to know why the Sussexes have decided to step back from being senior royals and split their time between the U.K. and North America. According to Afua Hirsch, "Black Britons Know Why Meghan Markle Wants Out." That's the headline of her recent op-ed in The New York Times. And she joins us now from London. Welcome to the program.

AFUA HIRSCH: Thanks, Lulu. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do black Britons know?

HIRSCH: Well, the very same tabloid newspapers, the same people in British society who have been hurling vitriolic abuse at Meghan Markle since the first day her relationship with Prince Harry became public, are exactly the same parts of our society that have made life hostile for many people of color in Britain. And I think that Meghan Markle, really, has had a concentrated dose of what many of us feel. Her newborn baby was compared to a baby chimp. She was accused of...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Headlined "Straight Outta Compton."

HIRSCH: Headlined "Straight Outta Compton," really absurd suggestions that have been normalized by our media. And there are almost no people of color who cover the royal family, even though there are many journalists of color in Britain. And I think that this combination of the tabloids, the right-wing sentiment that has taken hold in Britain during this time of populism, as it has in many other countries, and the particular group of institutions and journalists that have been criticizing Meghan Markle in very barbed, racialized language - I think it's not surprising at all that she and her husband have voted with their feet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, they are suing at least two publications. And clearly, this move was motivated, in part, as you say, by what they have seen as vicious attacks on Meghan, in particular. How do you see this impacting Meghan Markle? I mean, she is a biracial woman in the most elevated white family in the land.

HIRSCH: I, like many other black British people, felt very optimistic about the love story at the heart of this wedding, but much more concerned about how this would play out in the long term because we know that in this society, black people have their place. We're expected to be what they often refer to as urban - kind of confined to lower socioeconomic backgrounds in inner city areas. And the moment we start reaching the elite of academia or the professions, then you really start to hear these very colonial narratives about how we should be so grateful that we were allowed in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You also argue that its sort of vast colonial enterprise made the U.K. an incredibly racist country.

HIRSCH: I think since the Second World War, Britain has sought to rebrand itself as always on the right side of history. And people like me - my mother was born in a colony in Africa in what was then the Gold Coast and now Ghana and was taught that the best thing that can happen to you is to become more like white Christian English people. You know, that's within living memory very easily. So instead of taking this as an opportunity for introspection as to what is it about the upper strata of British society that is hostile for a person of color like Meghan Markle, what we're seeing now is the British media just lashing out again and blaming everyone except themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It was interesting to read one right-wing commentator lament sort of Prince Harry becoming, as they put it, so woke and sort of long for his youthful days - days when, if you will recall, he donned a Nazi uniform for a costume party.

HIRSCH: What was really incredible for me was to see Prince Harry get to the point where he issued a statement condemning the racism of the press towards his wife. So I think his relationship and obvious love for Meghan Markle also helped him to understand a context of which he'd been quite ignorant. And I think, also, there's another narrative at work here, which I've seen very clearly in the last few days, which is this idea that Meghan Markle somehow - this black woman practicing juju. You know, she's cast this spell on Harry. And she's somehow poisoned his mind against his family and his country.

Rather it seems actually quite an inspiring decision by a couple who want to do the best thing for themselves and their child because I think Harry and Meghan are not the only couple who are thinking about leaving. Many people of color, many interracial couples also feel that this is becoming a hostile environment. And so I think that we're looking at this decision and realizing you can take matters into your own hands, even when you are as tied to Britain as Prince Harry always will be.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Afua Hirsch is the author of "Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging." She is also a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Southern California. Thank you very much.

HIRSCH: Thank you so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.