Can Meghan Markle Modernize the Royal Family?

By Reza Majd, on 2 April 2018

Written by: Bea Amaral

Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the author and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.

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On the 27th of November 2017, roughly 4 million of us watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle publicly announce their engagement in a CBC News interview. I took a liking to Meghan almost straight away; she’s well spoken, intelligent and gives off an unshakeable air of confidence. She’s also relatable; coming from a humble background, she’s had to work hard for everything that she’s achieved in life. What I’ve found to be truly fascinating however is the reaction that has been sparked in British society due to this announcement. Meghan is seen as a ‘controversial’ addition to the British royal family because she’s a well-known actor that is American, mixed-race, a divorcee, and brought up Catholic – all of which make her an atypical profile for your typical British Princess.

Yet, the fact that Meghan is mixed-race is what is receiving the most attention. In early November, Prince Harry published a statement that (politely) stressed his distaste for the ‘racial undertones’ of the British press when speaking about his fiancée. A month later, Princess Michael of Kent, was pictured arriving at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Christmas Lunch (in which Meghan was present) wearing a brooch on her left shoulder, which appeared to be ‘blackamoor’ jewellery, a slavery inspired brooch[1]. A spokesman for the princess said she was “very sorry and distressed” that it had caused offence.

Afua Hirsch, the author of ‘Brit(ish)’, a coming book about racial identity in Britain, claimed that as a mixed-race child, she had found it hard to reconcile her British-ness with the racially homogeneous relatives of Prince Harry[2]. She felt that being mixed-race was somehow incompatible with being truly British.

Similarly, Priyamvada Gopal, a lecturer on post-colonial literature at the University of Cambridge stresses how problematic it is that Britain’s major universities and media houses are overwhelmingly white, and goes further to claim that Brexit Britain is a deeply and increasingly xenophobic and racist society[3].

While I believe that Meghan’s acceptance into the Royal Family represents a step forward towards modernizing the monarchy, and changing the discourse that sees being black as somehow conflicting with being British, I am sceptical as well. I agree with a handful of black commentators who have pointed out that, since Meghan is fair-skinned and conforms to Eurocentric ideas of beauty, even the symbolic impact of her presence is rather limited[4]. Nonetheless, her presence certainly has illustrated how primordial ideas about class and race are still circulating in Britain, and further highlights the necessity of discussing these issues.

[1] Austin, H. (2018). Princess Michael of Kent speaks out after wearing racist brooch. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/princess-michael-of-kent-rascist-brooch-apologises-prince-harry-meghan-markle-queen-elizabeth-a8127051.html [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].

 

[2] Hirsch, A. (2018). When Meghan weds Harry, Britain’s relationship with race will change for ever | Afua Hirsch. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/27/prince-harry-meghan-markle-britishness-monarchy-relevant [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].

 

[3] Kingsley, P. (2018). Royal Engagement Seen as Symbol of Change, With Asterisks. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/world/europe/uk-royal-wedding-harry-meghan-markle.html [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].

 

[4] Kingsley, P. (2018). Royal Engagement Seen as Symbol of Change, With Asterisks. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/world/europe/uk-royal-wedding-harry-meghan-markle.html [Accessed 29 Jan. 2018].