Racialized and Gendered Reactions to Meghan Markle

The many negative reactions to the duchess noted throughout this book can generally be understood through two or more of the three major subsystems of the elite-white-male dominance system, most especially at the intersection of systemic racism and systemic sexism. Through this intersectional lens (i.e., gendered racism), the rawness and authenticity of her experiences as a woman of color inhabiting historically white spaces are made excruciatingly visible (see also Chapter 6). Through this lens, we can most effectively understand why many white Britons (especially older and more conservative ones) tend to fear Markle and see her as sullying their royal family.

Of course, white Britons are not alone in these gendered-racist sentiments. Recall from Chapter 3, for example, that six weeks before the November 2020 US presidential election, Markle and Harry urged American voters to “reject hate speech, misinformation, and online negativity” and to vote. Notably, the couple did not endorse President Donald Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, who would go on to win the election. They did not even mention the candidates. Nevertheless, a US political reporter for the British tabloid the Daily Mail told the president that the couple had “essentially encouraged people to vote for ... Biden.” Trump responded: “I’m not a fan of [Markle], ... She probably has heard that. But I wish a lot of luck to Harry because he’s going to need it.” Note that even though both Markle and Harry urged Americans to vote, and the reporter claimed the couple had basically endorsed Biden, Trump censured only the duchess,4

Prominent conservative white Britons and the white-male-controlled tabloids in the UK similarly blame Markle for the ruination of Harry, including getting him to quit smoking, consume less alcohol, engage in yoga and other physical exercise, adopt more healthy eating habits, and leave his family, country, and royal duties behind and move to the USA. They disseminate the belief that an easily manipulated Harry has adopted his wife’s purported “prima donna Hollywood ways,” having grown “grumpy and aloof’ under her influence. The white press accuse the duchess of cunningly airbrushing her husband’s lifelong friends out of his life. They report that the “old Harry” happily mingled with them during foreign tours, while “married Harry” did not. When the couple failed to socialize with the mostly white press corps during a visit to Australia, a paparazzo described the good old days: “We’d get together {with Harry] in a pub and we’d talk about everything, get it off our plate. It would be frank and open, and you never reported it. Now, it’s not even ‘Good morning.”’5

The public picked up on these misogynistic themes. The following are typical of the countless anti-Markle online comments, which journalist Deepansh Duggal calls “some good ol’ misogyny and ‘blame it on the woman’ attitude.”6

I think she love bombed {Harry}, projected her political agenda onto him, turned him against his family, shut the public out apart from when it suited her and has created this “us against them” mentality that controlling people in relationships do. Harry looks so miserable with her.7

Harry is no longer the happy type of individual he was prior to this thing with this woman.8

When Markle and Harry announced they were stepping down as senior royals, the prominent media commentator Piers Morgan similarly tweeted: “People say I’m too critical of Meghan Markle. But she ditched her family, ditched her Dad, ditched most of her old friends, split Harry from William (and) has now split him from the Royal Family.”9 Similarly, a former girlfriend of the queen’s youngest son, the notorious Prince Andrew, remarked: “What really stings is that it does not feel like it was a long-term plan, but it simply came about when Meghan re-read the membership rules, months after signing on the dotted line, and decided it cramped her style. ... {H]er new life became burdensome and an inconvenience when she discovered she could not run her own show.”10

Never mind that Markle converted to the Church of England, changed countries of residence, abandoned a flourishing acting career, and left her beloved mom and friends back on the North American continent. Never mind that Markle gave up her right to vote, abandoned her political activism, disregarded her public voice, and closed down her social media accounts, leading the scholars Laura Clancy and Hannah Yelin to argue her “activist voice has been either silenced or appropriated by the monarchy.”11 In the prevailing public chronicles, Harry was said to have been adversely transformed by a controlling wife. Yet, behind closed doors, Markle was often left in tears, so controlled by the royal establishment that she could

White Men Ruling and Meghan Markle 125 not even defend her mother against white-racist media attacks. Markle told a friend: “I gave up my entire life for this family. I was willing to do whatever it takes.”12

In direct contrast, when the queen quashed the couple’s aspirations to take a hybrid role as royals—i.e., pursuing personal goals and representing her—there was much fuss made regarding what Harry was giving up for Markle, including military appointments. But it was the queen and her advisors, not Markle, who imposed this on Harry, even though he had served on active duty for a decade and held the rank of captain.13 Of the decision, Markle privately said: “It was so unnecessary. ... And it’s not just taking something away from him; it’s also that entire military veteran community. You can see how much he means to them, too. So why? The powers [of the royal institution] are unfortunately greater than me.”14

Never mind that since meeting Markle, Harry abandoned much risky behavior, including a penchant for cigarettes. Animal rights advocate Jane Goodall predicted that he would even give up hunting, a blood sport that most royals engage in but Markle dislikes. That Harry could possibly find happiness with his delightful wife and child is not even considered by their detractors. This is part of the misogynistic narrative that aggressively follows the couple. White-male-public apprehension over the apparent social death of the fun-loving Harry, and his boisterous partying, is mascu-linist and misogynistic.15

That Markle appears to have cultivated in her husband a newfound understanding of racism and sexism, and even inspired him to embrace the title feminist, is likely a big part of the British establishment’s problem with her. During a conversation with feminist icon Gloria Steinem in 2020, Markle said: “I love that when {Harry] just came in he said, ‘You know that I’m a feminist too, right Gloria?! It’s really important to me that you know that.’ ... And I look at our son and what a beautiful example that he gets to grow up with a father who is so comfortable owning that as part of his own self-identification.”16

Dogged media accounts of his purportedly doom-and-gloom wife speak volumes about how white racism and male sexism still intersect. According to these accounts, Harry’s new life is a cautionary tale of the extinguishing of elite-white-male entitlement by an uppity foreign-born feminist of color, who tore him away from his beloved family and country. First, he was lamented for no longer being free to party with his white male friends or to hang out in pubs with white male paparazzi. Then, after the couple stepped down as senior royals, he was pitied for being forcefully displaced by the domineering Markle. He was assumed to be under the spell of a manipulative wife, who is racially framed as a dangerous woman of color. That his white maleness has traditionally been revered makes her influence all the more tragic for many white Britons.

Evidently, not much has changed since Harry’s mother joined the royal family decades earlier. Lady Diana Spencer had just turned 20 when she married 32-year-old Charles. He was expected to have sewn his wild oats, while any woman in serious contention to be future queen consort was not to bed before she wed. Hence, the huge emphasis on the age difference and Diana’s virginity. The cultural critic Margo Jefferson observes that when a woman joins the royal family, “her body becomes a site of proprietary fantasy. The female body as a nation’s procreative destiny.”17 This included the necessity of Diana’s uncle publicly confirming her virginity, as if her body was a dowry. Markle’s procreative destiny is far less prized than that of Diana. Most significant is her black body and heritage. She will not be providing the royal family with an heir and a spare-, that is the purpose, like Diana before her, of the white British-born Kate.

Nothing about Markle, including apparently authentic claims she is a direct descendant of royalty (see Chapter 3), could atone for her nonwhiteness. If she were much younger when she married Harry, never previously married, a virgin bride like her late mother-in-law, and/ or British-born, she would still likely be considered unsuitable. She, a mixed-race woman, poses a threat to white racial purity. The children she and Harry have will taint the royal bloodline, according to this racially framed narrative. Jefferson explains that mixed-race (the racist epithet is “mulatto”) women like Markle have long been a cause for “social and erotic intrigue” and in need of “strict narrative policing.” Typically, such women are racially framed by many whites in two ways: the “scheming seductress” or the “tragic ... beautiful, seemingly white woman ... doomed by the taint of black ancestry.” Decisively, as Jefferson points out, a recurring refrain in both framings is that these women fear the arrival of children, who will betray what they want hidden—their blackness.18

Pervasive white conjecture as to why Markle and Harry purportedly shrouded Archie’s true appearance in early photographs of their son suggests whites’ deep racial fears, which were then projected onto the family. Consider the official photo released to mark the duchess’s first Mother’s Day. Only the baby’s feet and toes were visible, which caused much white pandemonium. What was being concealed and why was a common refrain among the white press and public. A photo of father and son in honor of the prince’s first Father’s Day caused further uproar. Harry was accused of purposefully obscuring the bottom half of Archie’s face with his hand. One white-run media outlet noted that the photographer had used “a sepia-toned filter, disguising baby Archie’s hair and eye colour—which has raised questions with royal fans.”19 The family’s first Christmas card provoked similar white ire. Unlike insinuations that airbrushing was intended to make the child appear white in earlier photos, numerous responses to the image of Archie on the Christmas card suggest he looks Asian due to poor photo-editing.

That kid looks Asian ... and mixed race children have very curly tight hair when babies.20

Am I the only one that thinks this baby on the card looks Asian? His eyes are Asian. The whole card has been photoshopped. ... The baby is odd looking.21

Such criticism is generally focused on Markle, leading the editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, Ingrid Seward, to comment: “I think [the anonymity for Archie] is quite Harry-led and it is putting Meghan in a very difficult position. ... She’s the one getting all the flak.” Seward suggests the public simply do not want to see “an arty Instagram shot of Archie’s foot.”22 The hostile white reception to the baby photos was likely not rooted just in their stylized nature, as Seward claims. A familiar racist tone accompanied numerous white reactions.

That an officially released photo of Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Doria Ragland, and the Sussexes, lovingly hovering over newborn baby Archie, was not more widely celebrated for the colossal symbol it was says much about white resistance to racial inclusivity. Markle told a friend that this photo made her “proud.”23 She likely saw it as a symbol of a potentially more inclusive and racially diverse royal family. The huge importance of the photo—or any photo of the queen’s first biracial great-grandchild— seemed at least somewhat lost on the queen and her advisers. As she gave her annual televised Christmas message the year Archie was born, noticeably absent among the prominently displayed photographs of senior royals were the Sussexes. The largest of four photos viewers could observe throughout her message was of William, Kate, and their three children. The queen only vaguely referenced Archie in her Christmas message, saying she and her husband were “delighted to welcome our eighth great grandchild into our family.”24 The official explanation was that the photos selected for display were meant to illustrate the line of succession. Clearly, then, the next three (white male) British and Commonwealth heads of state have automatic pride of place in the monarchy, as opposed to the new racial diversity that Markle and her son symbolize.

Public online comments in reaction to photos of the Sussex family evoke Joel Kovel’s landmark study White Racism: A Psychohistory. Recall from Chapter 2 that Kovel noted the collective propensity among white racists to frame people who are not white as unclean, even to link them directly with dirt itself. He wrote that many generations of whites have framed black people as “half ape and half men," and that their “skin color itself, that all-important yet trivial biological accident, contributed to their being fixed in the minds of whites as an essentially dirty and smelly people.”25 Many whites psychologically project onto black bodies conscious or halfconscious beliefs that blackness equals all things hazardous and strange. In highly racist societies like Britain, Markle and her son—living psychological inkblots—are constantly targeted by such emotional white-racist framing, often to the point of white dogmatism. Add to this misogyny and other male-sexist framing. In societies grounded in systemic sexism, such as Britain, one finds all kinds of female subjugation, including social exclusion, discrimination, androcentrism, disenfranchisement, violence, and sexual objectification. Fear and revulsion of independent women, particularly women of color, are implanted in the conscious and unconscious minds of many people from an early age.26

We pause here to accent how we conceptualize the gendered oppression we have noted thus far. As we see it, systemic sexism involves well-institutionalized patterns of subordinate and dominant social positions and roles for women and men, in a male-dominated hierarchical society like Britain. These patterns include the discriminatory practices of men directed against women, societal privileges and power unjustly provided to men, maintenance of gender inequalities by institutionalized reproduction mechanisms, and the dominant male-sexist frame rationalizing the everyday oppression of women. This omnipresent and powerful frame is a male-imposed worldview from which most men routinely operate. Over time this male-sexist frame has come to include a deep-seated and central pro-male subframe (a strongly positive placement of men and male virtue) and an anti-female frame (a negative placement of women, often viewed as unvirtuous). This dominant frame emphasizes male supremacy (patriarchy) and hegemonic masculinity, the latter usually being viewed in society as also white-racialized and heteronormative.27

 
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