• theleftberlin

(Harry and) Megxit

Royals, Racism and the tabloid press


by Anna Southern

Photo: Terry Kearney on flickr. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave an exclusive interview to Oprah Winfrey about their departure from Royal life. Just another act in the royal pantomime?


This probably won’t shock you. I’m a Brit but I’m not a monarchist. I like cream teas and endless rain. Beans on toast, fine. I can even tolerate a bit of Morris dancing. But The Queen and her nest of pampered parasites? Not for me.


I didn’t even shed a tear when Diana died. When Prince Edward visited a former work place of mine, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near him lest I not curtsey low enough, say something rude or spit in his coffee. Couldn’t care less. These posh people born into extreme wealth have no relevance to my life and I’d happily be shot of them. Or guillotined. I’m not fussy. [1]


However, I’ve found myself following the latest Harry and Meghan saga. Maybe it’s just because I’m bored; we’re in lockdown and I’ve finished Netflix. But this story has some elements of interest to me, a republican socialist, even if the main characters are not my usual cup of (English Breakfast) tea.


Royal Racism


One of the most discussed revelations in the interview was that a senior member of the royal family had expressed concerns about “how dark” Meghan and Harry’s then unborn child may be. This has shocked some people. I remain unshocked.


Of course the royal family is racist. A significant amount of royal wealth was acquired via empire and slavery, and the royals continue to enjoy that colonial wealth without a qualm. No apologies for royal involvement in slavery or colonialism have been forthcoming. The Queen still reigns over the Commonwealth, eloquently described here as a “contemporary manifestation of the British empire…Empire 2.0”. As Adwoa Darko writes in Gal-Dem magazine, “a family whose wealth and power is based on the subjugation of people of colour, would not be welcoming of a biracial woman into their fold.”


In the British monarchy’s recent history, Edward VIII, the King who abdicated in 1937 and met Hitler that same year, was a Nazi sympathiser. A certain Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi for a fancy dress party, I wonder if he’s embarrassed by that now. Prince Philip, the Queen’s Husband, is famous for making casually racist comments, such as “if you stay too long you’ll go slitty-eyed” to some British students in China.


Philip’s persistent racism is generally reported by the British tabloid press as harmless banter, an amusing old man who doesn’t know any better. It could be seen as a hangover from colonial times, a continuing colonial mind-set of patronising superiority. We are supposed to find it charming. Princess Michael of Kent (whose father was a Nazi) wore a racist brooch to a royal dinner with Meghan Markle.


It is not surprising that a member of the royal family was racist about Meghan and Harry’s unborn baby. It has shown itself to be a racist institution full of racists. A lot of people are blind to it, or don’t really care. They like the palaces and grand weddings, the flags and the spectacle. They have been groomed to care about it by the tabloid propaganda machine. What is somewhat refreshing is that royal racism is finally being discussed openly.


The remarks made about the skin colour of a baby show the royals in a very poor light.

By speaking to the US media, Meghan and Harry, got around the obstacle of the royal-loving British media. They directly told their side of the story without the usual mediation and spin of ‘royal correspondents.’ They made the royal family look bad. They did not do their royal duty. This has outraged the tabloid press, and controversial media commentators like the odious Piers Morgan, who embarrassed himself over this live on air and later resigned/was sacked from his position as a presenter of morning TV show Good Morning Britain.


Royals and the Press – manufacturing mutual legitimacy


The relationship of the British media to the royal family deserves some attention. For many years, various ‘royal correspondents’ have fawningly presented the royal family as a benign force for good, gaining privileged access to royal sources in return for their flattering portrayals. It is very much in the interests of the establishment media moguls with their own wealth and privilege to do this. The royals sell papers, and more importantly, help normalise the status quo of rank inequality. The public are invited to buy-in to the royal pantomime and accept their role beneath it.


In return, the royals get good press coverage and can go about their obscenely privileged lives largely unhindered. Consider the lack of outrage from the British tabloid press over Prince Andrew’s friendship with the convicted paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, and allegations of him having sex with an underage trafficked girl. I am not aware of tabloid cries to strip Prince Andrew of his royal title, the problem has been almost swept under the carpet. He has been allowed to ‘step back’ from royal ‘duties’ rather quietly. He will still benefit from the obscene royal wealth that he was born into.


Contrast this with the howls of outrage over Meghan and Harry’s interview. “WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?” shrieked the Daily Mail on the front page of its ‘Royal Crisis Special’. Prince Andrew didn’t get a ‘Royal Crisis Special’ with 25 pages of dross, I mean ‘Unrivalled Reports”. “NOW STRIP THEM OF THEIR TITLEScontinued the Daily Mail, two days later. This interview has really upset the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is keen to demonstrate its unwavering loyalty to the royal institution, it is not at all concerned with factual unbiased reporting. It knows its role in manufacturing consent for the royals and wider establishment, and it knows how to rile up its audience.


The, usually left-of-centre, Daily Mirror headline stated that the Oprah interview has caused “THE WORST ROYAL CRISIS IN 85 YEARS”. Worse than Prince Andrew associating with a notorious paedophile and facing allegations of having sex with an underage trafficked teenage girl? To the tabloid press, it obviously is a lot worse. An alleged royal paedophile is not even a crisis, but a mixed race woman daring to speak negatively about her royal experiences is.


A Racist Press


The British press, in addition to its fawning treatment of the royals, is often racist. Even if we keep our focus on the royals, the contrasting treatment of Prince William’s (white) wife, Kate Middleton, and Meghan Markle is illuminating. If Kate touches her baby bump she “tenderly cradles” it, while Meghan is treated to the headline “Why Can’t Meghan Markle keep her hands off her bump?...is it pride, vanity, acting – or a new age bonding technique?”


Kate was encouraged to eat avocado to cure morning sickness, but Meghan eating avocado was a linked to human rights abuses and referred to as a “Millennial Shame.” Kate’s wedding bouquet was “effortlessly elegant and understated”, while Meghan’s bouquet with mostly the same (now potentially deadly) flowers, may have put her bridesmaid’s lives at risk. On and on these comparisons go. See this Buzzfeed article for many more examples of contrasting articles.


I wonder why the mixed race duchess is treated so differently. Before the Oprah interview, ‘royal aides’ put out a story about Meghan being a ‘bully’ towards royal staff. Here the racist ‘angry black woman’ stereotype was utilised to create a pro-royal, anti-Meghan narrative.


This negative media treatment began long before the interview happened, it was consistent throughout her time in the institution, and likely contributed to Meghan feeling suicidal as a royal. I know she chose to become a royal and I’m not a mega fan of hers, but it is hard not to feel some sympathy for her in this situation. Growing up, girls are aggressively sold the royal fairy tale. Her new in-laws were racist about her baby, unsympathetic to her mental health struggles, and the tabloid press, in their role as royal opinion polishers, gleefully bullied her.


In the interview, Harry said that the royals are afraid of the tabloid press. This makes sense as they rely on them to present a benign and pleasant image to the public. To maintain, what Meghan described as the ‘fairy tale’. They are well aware that this arrangement could collapse and lead to a more negative portrayal if they don’t do their duty and perform as required. This is why they tolerate the fawning ‘royal correspondents’ and invite them to their parties; they reportedly hate having them around but it means they have some control over the narrative.


Following the Oprah interview, and subsequent public discussions around press racism, the Society of Editors (an industry body representing editors in the UK) issued a statement claiming that it was “untrue that sections of the media were bigoted”. Anyone who has seen the front page of a British tabloid newspaper knows this to be untrue, and over 250 editors and journalists of colour were quick to publically disagree.


The British media clearly has a serious problem with bigotry and a lack of representation. The Society of Editors later clarified their position to state that they understand “that there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion [and they] will reflect on the reaction [the initial] statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution.” Their Chief Executive, Ian Murray, who had angrily defended the initial statement on TV, resigned from his position. The Meghan and Harry interview, and their pointed choice to speak to the US media, has meant we are talking publically about this issue. We must keep talking, and keep up the pressure.


What should be done?


We should abolish the monarchy. It’s an anti-democratic anachronism with a shameful history of racist oppression and colonialism. The notion that people are ‘subjects’ of a monarch is grim and oppressive, contributing to a harmful ruling class narrative that those at the top are special and deserve to be. That it is the ‘natural order’ of things. There should be no more poncing about in crowns, lording over people regarded as ‘lesser.' The tourism angle doesn’t cut it for me either. Tourists still visit the palace at Versailles, and we know what happened to the royals in France.


I read a discussion on social media about possible alternative uses for Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s big London house. Suggestions ranged from housing for the homeless and social housing, to a big supermarket or giant Greggs (a popular British bakery, selling cheap pasties, cakes and sausage rolls). The housing options are the most sensible, but secretly I’d choose the Greggs.


More urgently, I think, we need to reckon with the British media. This will be a huge undertaking. But there are positive actions taking place. For example, Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Movement is campaigning on the subject of media reform. It has also been heartening to see the journalist’s response to the Society of Editors absurd denial of bigotry in the British media, and the U-turn by the Society of Editors in the face of this pressure. There is the Media Reform Coalition, which is campaigning on and researching issues such as media ownership and control. And there are the relatively new left wing media organisations such as Novara Media and Double Down News that are attempting to offer a different perspective to mainstream establishment narratives, we should look to and support them.


Conclusions


Did the interview hasten the demise of the monarchy? Probably not significantly, although it would be good if it has helped a little to change public perception of the institution. The royal institution has weathered scandals before and as usual the tabloids have come out fighting for it. Opinion polls still show a lot of public support for the royals, especially the Queen. But maybe King Charles and Queen Camilla will be a less popular public face for the royal spectacle.


A recent poll carried out for our favourite propaganda rag, the Daily Mail, showed an increase in those in favour of abolishing the monarchy. 29% of respondents were in favour of abolishing it, with 50% against. Just over a year ago, 61% of those polled were against abolishing the monarchy. So things look to be moving in the right direction, likely due to the lack of interest in the royals from young people.


Should leftists care about the monarchy? I wouldn’t advise getting drawn into the spectacle of the royal pantomime, but at the same time we should pay attention to who has wealth and power in society and how they maintain it. The role and press coverage of the royals is part of that.


This recent ‘royal crisis’ has highlighted the symbiotic relationship between the royals and the tabloid press, and led to wider discussion about media racism. This is the important takeaway from this saga, in my opinion. Piers Morgan losing his job was also quite good. I don’t think the monarchy will last a whole lot longer, perhaps the next generation will say off with their… crowns. Let them eat sausage rolls.


Footnote

1 I should probably make it clear that this is a joke, for cowardly treason-related reasons.

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