Former royals spare few details in their portrait of life as members of the British Royal Family
Content warning: this piece deals with mental illness and suicide.
On March 7, Meghan Markle and Harry, Duke of Sussex sat down with Oprah Winfrey to discuss the events that led to what has been informally referred to as “Megxit”, or the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s abrupt departure from the royal British stage.
According to Markle, while pregnant with her son Archie, her husband had been made aware of institutional “concerns and conversations about how dark [their son’s] skin would be when he [was] born”.
This, she implies, might have contributed to the removal of Archie’s royal title and corresponding security detail, both of which he is entitled to as a royal heir. Markle declined to identify the source of the comments, noting that it would be “damaging” to the individual’s reputation. Still, she insinuated, the incident pointed to a more global issue of institutional racism.
Comments and reactions from the Royal Family on these allegations were somewhat split.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II responded in a public statement by saying that “while some recollections may vary, [the issues raised] are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” Meanwhile, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, maintains that his family is not a “racist family”.
The disconnect between the Royal Family’s past actions and recent reactions to Markle’s divulgation spells out symptoms of hypocrisy.
In May 2020, pulling from his and his late mother Diana Princess of Wales’ struggle with mental health, the Duke of Cambridge launched Heads Together, a mental health awareness campaign that aims to help reduce the “fear of prejudice and judgement [that] stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives.” Ironically, around the same period, Markle’s royal mistreatment nearly pushed her to end her own.
Much like Diana’s ground-breaking Panorama interview in 1995, in this CBS tell-all session, Markle mentioned that the added pressure to fill the role of perfect princess combined with the all-consuming and often biased media scrutiny is what pushed her to her breaking point.
She revealed to Oprah that her characterization in the press became intolerable, to the point where she “just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” The suicidal ideation had taken such a toll that, at one point, she claimed that she “knew that if [she] didn’t say it, then [she] would do it.”
Say it, she did.
Yet her imploring was ultimately met with a flagrant denial of support.
While her distress might have been met with silence, her denouncement caused an uproar on both sides of the gates. After storming out of the Good Morning Britain set when a fellow co-host criticized his insensitive comments on Markle’s testimonial, British television personality Piers Morgan tweeted: “[…] Freedom of speech is a hill I’m happy to die on. Thanks for all the love, and hate. I’m off to spend more time with my opinions.”
Although freedom of speech might be the closest thing to a secularist God-given right in any liberal democracy, the issue arises when one affirms their opinion as a fact, effectively legitimizing their delegitimizing of another’s claim to their personal experience.
This is the textbook definition of gaslighting — systemic, manipulative lying.
On this side of the pond, the British crown is never too far from our minds — and our parliamentary symbols. After all, there’s a reason we call ourselves a constitutional monarchy. In the last 100 years, the British monarchy has tried to navigate the fine line between maintaining tradition and adapting to the times.
Yet the reason Meghan Markle’s words resonated with so many people beyond the U.K. is because her interactions with the British Royal Family demonstrate the ongoing issue of intersectional forms of discrimination. It reveals the sad reality of what it’s like to live in the public eye and move within a Western institution as both a woman, and a person of colour — an experience that is far from royal.