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High Profile Magazine

Meghan Markle

Standing Up to Racism

Meghan Markle is a former actress and is now married to His Royal Highness Prince Harry. Since marrying into the Royal Family in 2018, Meghan has faced a constant stream of abuse from the British press, which has had serious effects on her mental health, details of which were revealed to the world in a recent tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey. Read our story on how her life has changed in the years since her marriage.

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On International Women’s Day, the highly anticipated Oprah interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was aired to the world. From preview clips that had been released in the run-up to the interview, it looked set to reveal some explosive truths about why Harry and Meghan left the UK just over a year ago, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The couple revealed a huge amount about what went on behind the scenes leading up to their decision to leave, and it all appeared to come down to two main factors: a lack of support by the monarchical institution, and the constant barrage of abuse, much of it racist, that Meghan faced on a daily basis in the UK tabloids.

In fact, in the days before the interview was aired in the USA, The Express are reported to have posted 50 articles in 24 hours on the topic, many of which were aggressive in nature. The Daily Mail posted a further 31 articles, again largely of an aggressive nature. All in all, across 4 of the major newspapers in the UK’s websites, there were 128 articles posted about the interview in a 24-hour period, almost all of which can clearly be deemed as offensive. (Source: Edwin Hayward, Twitter). It’s already starting to become quite clear why the couple felt forced to leave, if you consider that this was a daily reality for them.

Meghan Markle became the latest victim of the UK tabloids almost as soon as it was unveiled that she and Prince Harry were dating. She was attacked in the press for being a divorcee, as the press seemed to consider it completely unsuitable for a member of the Royal Family to marry a divorced “older” woman. She was painted as a gold-digger who was only with Harry for money and status. And, worst of all, was the racist abuse she faced, both in the press and on social media.

Racist comments and jokes could be seen everywhere and one that hit the headlines was (ex) BBC Radio presenter Danny Baker, who was fired after his tweet: “Royal baby leaves hospital” accompanying an image of a couple holding hands with a monkey.

The abuse she faced reached such heights that Prince Harry released a statement about the abuse his then girlfriend was facing. In it he condemned the “wave of abuse and harassment” that Meghan had been subjected to, referencing “the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments” (Source: Stylist). And yet, the tabloids continued with their hate campaign against Meghan.

In the interview, Meghan reveals that the abuse she was facing day in and day out led her to a very dark place. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore”, she revealed to Oprah, adding that the suicidal thoughts were constant, reaching the point that she felt she couldn’t be alone for fear of what she would do to herself (Source: CNET).

Meghan then went on to tell Oprah that she had asked for help from the Palace, as well as seeking permission to find support outside of the institution. She says, in a particularly shocking revelation: “I said, I have never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere. I was told that I couldn't. That it wouldn't be good for the institution.” (Source: ABC News).

Following on from this conversation, Meghan says she went to the institution’s Human Resources department in a last bid to save her mental health. She says that she was told “my heart goes out to you because I see how bad it is. But there's nothing we can do to protect you because you're not a paid employee of the institution” (Source: ABC News).

This very clearly illustrates the lack of support that Meghan faced during her time at the Palace. To share that she had reached such a low point that she was contemplating taking her own life would have taken a huge amount of courage, and yet her concerns about her mental health were dismissed for fear of how it could make the institution look.

It is clear that aside from the smear campaign being conducted against Meghan by large portions of the UK press, there were also issues within the institution itself that ultimately led to the couple’s decision to leave the UK. As well as the complete lack of support that Meghan received for her mental health, she also points to a lack of effort to stop the press treating her the way they did.

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She claims that the family had promised to protect her when she became part of the family, yet she never felt protected, claiming that the Palace press team failed to defend Meghan and Harry against false stories in the same way that they did for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Source: The Telegraph). One such story spoke of Meghan making Kate Middleton cry in the run-up to Harry and Meghan’s wedding, which Meghan revealed in the interview did not happen and, in fact, happened in reverse – it was Kate that had made Meghan cry, though the incident has now been forgiven by Markle (Source: Independent).

The tabloids wanted a “hero and a villain” narrative when it came to Meghan and Kate, according to Meghan (Source: Independent), so it seems they constructed one to suit their purposes. There were countless tabloid articles comparing the two, some of which were discussed on the Oprah interview. One comparison that particularly stands out as being completely ridiculous is the media coverage surrounding the two women eating avocados. In Kate’s case, it was simply described as a diet choice to help with morning sickness, while in Meghan’s case the avocados were linked to drought and environmental devastation, a clear contrast. Speaking about this with Oprah, Meghan said, “You have to laugh at a certain point because it's just ridiculous”, adding, “That’s a loaded piece of toast!” (Source: CNN).

Between the lack of support Meghan received for her mental health and the lack of protection from the press, it’s hardly surprising that Meghan reached such a low point. Yet, this wasn’t even everything she had to face during her time in the institution. Perhaps the most shocking and heartbreaking comment made by the couple in the interview was on the topic of conversations about Archie’s skin colour.

The couple revealed that whilst Meghan was pregnant with Archie, a member of the Royal Family had had a conversation with Harry expressing concerns over what colour the child’s skin would be. Though Harry would not disclose exactly what was said, the racist nature of such a question is clear, and it shocked audiences as well as Oprah herself to the core. It is not clear which member of the Royal Family made these comments, but Harry made it clear to Oprah that it was neither his grandmother nor his grandfather (Source: ABC News).

Institutionalised racism is a problem throughout society, and Meghan’s experiences within the monarchical institution only serve to prove that point. In the days since the interview aired, Prince William has stated the Royal Family is, in fact, very much not a racist family (Source: BBC), yet if conversations such as the one surrounding Archie’s skin colour have really taken place within the family, can that truly be claimed? The racist overtones of such a conversation are deeply concerning, and the claims should be taken seriously by the Palace if they are to work to root out racism within the institution.

It was after watching his wife go through all of this that Harry felt something had to change, and he says he ultimately made the decision to leave the country in order to protect his wife and child, as he “feared history repeating itself”, a reference to his mother’s death in 1997 (Source: The Telegraph). He also told Oprah that it was thanks to money left to him by his mother that the couple were able to make the move, as he also revealed that he was cut off financially by the Royal Family in the first quarter of 2020 (Source: Huffington Post).

Given the number of shocking revelations from the interview, it comes as little surprise that the media backlash in the days since has been enormous. One of the most notable pieces of coverage came from Piers Morgan, who has long been one of Meghan’s most vocal critics. Following the airing of Meghan’s interview, Piers took to his regular spot on Good Morning Britain to state, “I'm sorry, I don't believe a word she says, Meghan Markle. I wouldn't believe her if she read me a weather report.” (Source: CNET), in reference to her revelation about suicidal thoughts. He later referred to her as the “Pinocchio Princess” on his Twitter (Source: BBC).

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Piers' comments led to widespread backlash due to his dismissal of Meghan’s mental health. On Tuesday’s show he argued with Alex Beresford, a weather presenter on the show, as Alex criticised him for continuing to trash Markle, an argument which ultimately led Piers to storm off set. The backlash became so intense that Piers was pushed to leave Good Morning Britain. Following 41,000 Ofcom complaints about the comments, the second highest number of Ofcom complaints in the regulator’s 17-year history, ITV launched an investigation, later announcing that Piers had left the show as a result of the comments (Source: BBC). On Wednesday morning, Piers tweeted that he still did not believe Meghan and that “freedom of speech is a hill [he’s] happy to die on” (Source: BBC).

Piers' behaviour in response to the interview serves to remind us of what Meghan has faced in the years she has been with Harry. The duchess has repeatedly been vilified by the media, and now it has come out that the protection she was promised was not afforded to her. Meghan admitted to Oprah that her one regret in all of this was believing them when they said they would protect her (Source: Hello Magazine).

The racism and consistent abuse faced by Meghan Markle is something that should never have happened. Her treatment by the monarchical institution is a harsh reminder of the perils of institutional racism. As a society, there is so much work to be done to dismantle the systems that have allowed for such abuse to take place. The tabloids should not be allowed to attack a person in the way they have attacked Meghan, and her case is not the only one which shows how these attacks can affect a person. In Meghan’s case, she is lucky to have had an escape, far away from the toxicity of the UK press and the trapping nature of the institution.

Racism is a real and prevalent issue in our society. It isn’t one that I myself have experienced, as a white woman, but it is a real issue that is damaging the lives of people of colour across the globe, day in and day out. Institutionalised racism is only a part of the problem, but as Meghan’s case shows, it is a pervasive one. Dismissive attitudes such as that displayed by Piers Morgan are not the way forward. If we see someone presenting such attitudes, whether that’s around mental health, homophobia, racism, it is so important that we call them out on it.

Racism can lead to mental health issues among BAME people, and this is something that needs to be acknowledged more widely. Meghan’s interview has opened up the door to a conversation around the link between racism and mental health issues, and it is of the utmost importance that we work to continue this conversation. Being on the receiving end of racism can cause trauma, which in turn can lead to other mental health issues (Source: MHA). Among BAME people, depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health issue; additionally, trauma from racism can lead to the development of conditions such as PTSD (Source: MHA). A recent study showed that black adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health), and equally worrying is the fact that BAME people are often misdiagnosed for mental illnesses due to the cultural incompetence of many healthcare providers (Source: MHA).

Given the severe and potentially long-lasting effects that racism can have, it is essential that we begin to provide more mental health support for BAME people, as otherwise thousands of lives will be at risk due to the increased likelihood of developing mental illnesses. One way to support these causes is to donate to charities which support black mental health and that of other minority ethnic groups, such as Black Minds Matter and Black Thrive.