Meghan’s grievances and accusations of racism against the royal family have served to re-ignite resentment against the British rulers across the world. The mere suspicion of racism and supremacy is corrosive to Britain’s pretensions of leadership.
Meghan Markle’s tell-all TV interview with Oprah Winfrey which has since been beamed all over the world has thrown the British monarchy into crisis.
The 39-year-old American actress who has African heritage claims she had to deal with racist attitudes among the royal family to the point of feeling suicidal. One of them is alleged to have been concerned about how dark her baby’s complexion would be.
And the British royals are now on the defensive. Prince William – Meghan’s brother-in-law – this week was forced into rejecting the accusations, telling reporters during a public engagement, “We are not a racist family”.
The explosive interview aired last week on American TV before going global has caused damaging fallout in Britain. But just as concerning for the monarchy is the fury generated around the world, especially those nations belonging to the British Commonwealth.
The so-called commonwealth comprises 54 nations and grew out of the British Empire. Britain’s colonial history has always been dogged by grievances over racism and oppression. When the empire was superseded by the commonwealth in the 1940s the latter was supposed to be a kinder, more politically palatable institution whose motto was “commonwealth of nations” all of whom were declared “free and equal”.
Nevertheless, the reality of imperial oppression and racial subjugation was always a lurking tension which was hard to paper over with royal platitudes about sharing wealth. The fact remained that generations of British rulers and industrialists made their fortunes off the backs of millions of black and brown people, from Asia to Africa to the Americas. The notion of “common” wealth strikes many as an insulting and absurd distortion of history.
When Meghan Markle made her blockbuster claims of being treated like an outsider due to her skin color by the royal family, the repercussions have been fiercely supportive of her in former British colonies such as India, South Africa and across the Caribbean.
In Kenya, Nairobi resident Sylvia Wangari is quoted as saying: “We feel very angry seeing our fellow African sister being harassed because she is black.”
There is now renewed condemnation of the British monarchy for historic grievances against the empire. And there are renewed popular calls for countries to sever constitutional links with Britain, whose head of state Queen Elizabeth II remains the titular head of state in many of the commonwealth members.
Jamaican academic Carolyn Cooper articulated what many others were feeling when she commented on the Meghan interview: “What it should mean for us is that we should jump up and get rid of the queen as the head of state. It’s a disreputable institution. It’s responsible for the enslavement of millions of us who came here to work on plantations. It’s part of the whole legacy of colonialism and we need to get rid of it.”
No doubt Neo-imperialists will bemoan such calls as “cancel culture” and “wokeness”. But that only exacerbates the contempt and resentment for the British “blue bloods”.
British commentators have said the monarchy hasn’t faced a crisis like the present since 85 years ago. That refers to the so-called abdication scandal that engulfed then King Edward VIII (deceased uncle of present Queen Elizabeth). He was forced to step down from the throne in 1936 because he wanted to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson and was forbidden to do so while he remained king due to prevailing religious mores. They married the next year and lived the rest of their lives in exiled obscurity, always a source of dishonor to the institution of the monarchy, not least too because the couple also shared Nazi sympathies, having visited the German Führer in 1937.
Like Wallis, Meghan was a divorcée when she began dating Prince Harry, the son of heir to the British throne, Charles, and brother of William. Meghan and Harry married in 2018 amid much fanfare. But there was always a sense that the outgoing and outspoken pair would not fit in with the stuffy institution of the British royal family. Indeed, it didn’t take long before Harry and Meghan eventually split from the House of Windsor to set up exile in California to cut business deals with media companies.
Many royalist fans despise Meghan as a conniving attention-seeker who has misled the younger Harry. Inevitably, there are comparisons with Wallis Simpson and how she is reputed to have dominated a besotted Edward VIII.
Another curious historical overlap is that when Harry and Meghan were part of the royal fold they lived on Frogmore Estate in Berkshire, England. Frogmore also includes the burial cemetery for the British royals. Among the tombs are the graves of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The American divorcée ghost came back to haunt, it seems.
During the 1930s abdication crisis, the British monarchy also had its divine-rule image badly dented. In those more prudish times, there was moral outrage that the king should be having an affair with a party-going American divorcée of seemingly louche lifestyle. The “lesser” people of the colonies were supposed to look up to their British “betters”. The scandal rocked the presumed moral authority of the monarchy and their “right” to rule over millions of subjects.
Meghan’s grievances and accusations of racism against the royal family – whether real or contrived – have served to re-ignite resentment against the British rulers across the world. The mere suspicion of racism and supremacy is corrosive to Britain’s pretensions of leadership.