It was a damning portrait of an institution unwilling or unable to help. There were allegations about personal and collective behavior that reflected racism, mental health and the failure to heed obvious warnings from past tragedy.
Revelations in Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have raised alarming questions about an institution that has developed over the past 1,200 years. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex claim the British royal family fretted about the skin color of the couple’s unborn child; that the stress of monarchical life contributed to Meghan contemplating suicide; and that the couple were not being protected from invasive, hate-filled British tabloid newspapers and websites in danger of causing a repeat of the history that led to the death of Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
Yet if for many around the world the Sussexes’ marriage was the story of a fairy tale romance that played out under the gilded roof of one of the world’s most adored families, for some in Britain’s Black community, the royal family has never quite lived up to the image of glamour, prestige and cozy tradition that gets projected abroad.
“What is the purpose of the royal family? Myth-making,” said Kehinde Andrews, an activist and professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, in England.
“The British royal family is probably the premier symbol of white supremacy in the world. It is deeply linked to colonial violence through the British Empire, which was responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths. It has a mystique that is completely distorted.”
Patrick Vernon, a racial equality campaigner whose book “100 Great Black Britons” will be published in the U.S. in June, said many Black Britons “embraced Harry and Meghan in a big way” because they believed their marriage represented an important step for a family and country that has long faced accusations of racism.
“That is why a lot of people are quite sad and angry the way that (Meghan’s) been treated and basically had to flee the country,” added Vernon, referring to the Sussexes’ decision last year to step down from formal royal duties and relocate to the Los Angeles area.
Vernon characterized the Sussexes’ allegations as “another George Floyd moment.”(Jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder charges in the May death of Floyd, was paused Monday.)
“It goes to show the perpetual and underlying racism that exists in this country. For a person of color, we will never belong,” said Grace Powell, chair of the Basingstoke Caribbean Society, a community group, in southern England.
About 3% of Britain’s population is Black, compared with 13% in the U.S, according to census data. A little over 2% of Britain’s population identifies as mixed race. Minority groups in Britain, as in the U.S., have for years campaigned to raise awareness of institutional racism in public life from policing to health care.
Prince Phillip – Queen Elizabeth II’s husband – has a sizable track record of making racist and misogynistic statements stretching back many years.