The Crown vs Markle clash is hardly black and white

While the UK tabloid media has raised accusations of xenophobia against Meghan Markle, the real issue is far deeper than a solitary comment

Most of us will never know whether the “royal” comment about the skin colour of Harry and Meghan’s baby reflected insensitive curiosity about a future family member with two different-looking parents or a post-colonial slur to which the older English upper classes can be partial.

What is evident is that the “firm” finds itself, like many businesses today, staring at its own lack of diversity, having not quite understood what that truly means or how it is best addressed. 

As the Sunday Times reported, Meghan was first appointed the Queen’s black equerry, Nana Kofi Twumasi-Ankrah, as her “mentor”. This was the equivalent of companies setting up a diversity department headed by a black person to look into “diversity.” It is not the same as populating the company with a balanced percentage of people from diverse backgrounds who contribute and help shape and design its policies, business strategies and practices.

The Palace’s attempt to reach out to Meghan was all the more misplaced when Meghan herself has always been in charge of defining just how black or non-black she is. How she relates to her race is nuanced, having grown up in a solidly prosperous part of Los Angeles and having moved for many years in affluent circles of the movie industry.

For senior members of the royal household, the challenge of diversity is similar to the one technology posed for most CEOs and politicians fifteen years ago.

It took time for them to understand that, far from being a separate pillar, technology is the inseparable element of how and why things function, and the innovation behind new ideas and ways of thinking, especially among the young. 

Dealing with diversity is no less of a challenge to the royal family. But while the U.K. tabloid media’s shocking levels of xenophobia and racism in their “reporting” of Meghan are clear for all to see, ignorance about diversity is not always racism. 

Meghan’s conflation during the interview that her son Archie was not accorded Princely status (along with its security protections) because of his mixed racial heritage appeared disingenuous at best.

What neither Meghan nor, it seems, Harry himself have realised is that the royal household is not so much a “family” or even a family “firm.” It is a central part of Britain’s political infrastructure, with its own competing parties and leaders, who happen to be related to each other.

The Crown and the government are ‘arms’ of the State with a senior royal household that serves its cabinet. Its members, like ministers, are not guaranteed to be the most qualified for the job.

What’s more, the Crown is a rigid hierarchy in which promotion is through birth and death, not merit. Its Human Resources department, which Meghan and Harry apparently turned to for help, is beholden to this hierarchical system. 

However modern its heirs and heiresses, the royal family’s democratisation will remain cosmetic and peripheral to its raison d’être, which relies on mystery and lack of transparency. 

Neither is it designed to make exceptions for those who interfere with the ingrained vested interests of its leaders and committees, sub-committees, working groups, and bureaucracy. 

The Queen, like the Prime Minister, is not a therapist or family counsellor. And as the head of an institution that is quasi-religiously above politics, she is a metaphorical mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to the nation, and at best, part-time to her own flesh and blood.

Both sides – ex-royals and royals – are riddled with conflicts of interests that taint the truth. While the royal elite upholds the preservation of an increasingly fragile institution among today’s social media savvy public, Meghan’s Hollywood elite prop up her “working” friendship with Oprah Winfrey, including Prince Harry’s professional collaboration with her production company, Harpo.

No side is destined for a comprehensive win or vindication. Even a woman with Meghan’s mental and professional skills will find it difficult to divide and conquer a royal establishment super-glued by inter-generational, institutional loyalty.

Like any negotiation, both sides must emerge with enough respect to dust themselves off and the accoutrements to secure their own future. 

What has to some extent been vindicated, however, are the two versions of Diana’s memory her sons married. 

Kate Middleton will be the queen Diana tried so hard to be: duty-bound, charming, and a wonderful mother with a private life of some sway and influence.

And Meghan Markle will be the Diana who in the end Harry was able to save; liberated, newly independent, having escaped the confines of loneliness and rejection, and empowered by the happy ending of her second, and this time, devoted, husband. 

With the resources and support of their cohorts to re-discover their purpose, meaning and missions in life, William and Harry have no more excuses to keep their sore selves and sorry households fighting each other. 

Their legacy so far is of a sad and wasted opportunity to launch the Crown into the 21st century. 

While the rest of us try to hold on to our jobs and find our own way out of our post-Covid dystopias without the safety nets of golden privilege, we wish them luck.

By Trisha De Borchgrave is a freelance writer and moderator for current affairs and culture, and Senior Associate at Global Women Leaders Strategic Philanthropy.
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