Remember 20 months ago, when the world looked on as Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in a matrimony that symbolised a historic change for the monarchy? Remember Bishop Michael Curry’s rousing sermon, his words “Two people fell in love and we all showed up” printed on front pages across the globe?
Apologies if you hate the monarchy and are utterly bored to death with the coverage of Harry and Meghan’s decision to part-leave it, but hear me out for a few minutes. It is possible to think the royal family is a pointless, public money-sapping institution built on hereditary privilege while also recognising that treatment of one of its members is categorically Not On.
Just a few weeks after the royal wedding, it started. First Meghan was wearing a new expensive dress. Then she was faking her pregnancy. Then BBC broadcaster Danny Baker was fired after comparing her newborn baby to a chimp. Then Meghan had the audacity to baptise her son in private. Then the Daily Mail ran a headline that suggested Markle was fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder by eating avocados.
Then she was described as “uppity” and “idiotic” after guest-editing a special edition of Vogue, a decision that caused an uproar despite a precedent of royals guest-editing magazines and radio programmes.
People started saying they didn’t like Meghan. They didn’t know why – they just didn’t. She was destroying the monarchy, she was demanding, she had expensive taste.
Then came the press’s relentless effort to pit Meghan against her sister-in-law. A Buzzfeed article comparing coverage of the two makes for a sobering read. It shows how whenever Kate Middleton was photographed “cradling her baby bump” during her three pregnancies it was described as tender, protective and endearing, yet when Meghan was photographed doing the same she was described as manipulative, irritating,
vain and smug.
When Meghan Markle appeared at the British Fashion Awards wearing a black one-shouldered dress an article on the Daily Express website described her as “vulgar”, the journalist writing that Meghan’s choice of dark nail varnish was against royal protocol. Yet when Kate arrived at another red carpet event weeks later wearing a white one-shouldered gown the press were unanimous. Kate was a “true princess”, an “angel”.
But why? Why is the Duchess of Sussex criticised for the same things the Duchess of Cambridge has been celebrated for? Because Kate is white, and Meghan is not. Because Kate is quiet, subservient, perfectly palatable, forever smiling, never stepping out of line, while Meghan has dared to speak.
The treatment of Meghan Markle by the British press has been embarrassing. Not only is it undeniably racist, it’s also sexist. It took less than 24 hours before Harry and Meghan’s joint decision to step down from royal duties became known as “Megxit”. Instead of a decision made in an equal partnership, Meghan became Eve leading Adam into temptation in the Garden of Eden. There was little mention of the fact that perhaps Prince Harry, who has always been open about his uncomfortable relationship with the press, might have had something to do with the decision to live a more private life.
Whatever your opinions about the royal family are, the hideous treatment of Meghan Markle has highlighted a despicable truth – that to some the biggest threat of all is a well-read woman of colour who dares to use her voice.