The Oprah Interview | I’m shocked that people are shocked
My experiences of dating outside my race have been fairly predictable; give it enough time and someone is going to say something fairly inappropriate and quite possibly overtly offensive. In fact, if I were to pick a family to marry into which I suspected would be more likely to offend me on a regular basis with their sheltered perspective, ridgid processes and isolated culture, it would probably be the Royal Family.
So I have to admit, when people were shocked and emotionally moved by Meghan and Harry’s interview on Oprah, I was shocked. How could people have expected them not to experience the turmoil they have experienced? How could the British public not have recognised the racialised language; the allusion to stereotypes etc. To me, it was obvious. Reading between the lines to understand true bigoted belief is a common practice, being a minority in the UK. So how, when the hardship of Meghan’s situation is so obvious, did people miss it?
I wasn’t shocked at all. Was this due to me becoming desensitised by my own experiences; so much so that I expected racism, classism, bigoted attitudes etc? Perhaps. And by speaking to a few people I eventually realised that many of the offensive rhetoric which has been sent Meghan’s way had actually been missed by a lot of people.
But on deeper exploration, I realised that Meghan and Harry’s predicament is a perfect microcosm to display life as a black person in the UK.
Royal family and Empire
Akala rightly said that racism / classism isn’t something that is propagated from the bottom – up. The class structure of the UK is very much propagated from the top – down. To understand British class / race structure we can gain insight from the Royal Family and their family history over the years.
Much of British wealth was accrued from heavy taxation, slavery and a type of “Hitman” economics where the British would force the cost of goods down by use of violence and then buy up the goods at a plummeted price. Read “Inglorious Empire” by Shashi Tahoor for greater insight into how Britain did this to India during the British Raj, reducing it’s gross domestic produce from 23% to 2% over a few hundred years.
When the Empire was at its height, Queen Elizabeth’s Grandfather, King George V was the reigning monarchy. Queen Victoria, who became the symbol for Empire, was Queen Elizabeth’s great grandmother.
We have to ask ourselves a question; which thoughts, beliefs and culture would allow someone to rule over an empire that enslaved innocent people and shoved sharpened bamboo shoots into women’s nipples when their husbands don’t pay their tax on time? This specific form of torture took place during the British Raj, in India. The belief that another group of people is “inferior” has to become ingrained for the structure to remain. See David Livingstone Smith from the Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of New England as he explains why we need to believe people are inferior for us to take genocidal / oppressive action.
The belief that those furthest from Englishness, whiteness, Christianness etc are wrong, inferior or un-Godly was an essential part of British culture during Empire and its relics still remain. It is why even in our strive for liberalism, we speak of “tolerance” rather than “curiosity”. How someone could tolerate something foreign but harmless and think that the person of that culture should be grateful is quite strange to me. If I brought a dish to your dinner party and you “tolerated” the dish without even trying it, I would be quite confused and definitely offended. The Royal Family couldn’t even tolerate a few children with learning disabilities, and in doing so separated them in a mental institution (ref). Considering this intolerance, once again I find it hard to be shocked by the treatment of Meghan Markle.
“In the working class patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious. The working man’s heart does not leap when he sees a Union Jack. But the famous ‘insularity’ and ‘xenophobia’ of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie. In all countries the poor are more national than the rich, but the English working class are outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits.”
Orwell, George. The Lion and the Unicorn (Penguin Modern Classics) (p. 16). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
We can see how this intolerance may trickle down into the culture of the people and vice versa. It seems little has changed between now and 1941. Although families aren’t being torched in their homes (see new cross fires in this article), the anti-forein attitude still remains.
Rhetoric surrounding Meghan Markle
So it is of no surprise to me, knowing this cultural backdrop that Meghan Markle has encountered such a difficult time of judgement, unfairness and has been the victim of an illogical dislike of her. The common British attitude of “I don’t know why I don’t like X, I just don’t…. There’s something about X”
Her coverage is riddled with stereotypes and transferred aggression. When I say transferred aggression, I mean that people take a disliking to her first, and then try to retrospectively justify why as we see with the coverage of her flowers and her like for avadaos etc.
Yes, the media are guilty of bias, aggression, unfairness, stereotyping, racism etc but my question would be, are the media a microphone which the British speak into, or a microphone that instructs the British people. I would say a bit of both. I think that the British both lead and are led by the media to their detriment.
- Straight out of compton (ref)
- Archie depicted as a monkey (ref)
- Slammed for being “anti-traditionist” whilst Katie is celebrated (ref)
- Questioning skin tone of Archie (ref)
- “Markle’s mother is a dreaded African American from the wrong side of the tracks” (ref)
Why are people surprised by Racism in the Royal Family?
Two things kept me from empathising with people’s shock. The first reason is I have admittedly but unfortunately become desensitised to racism. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, racism is something I have grown to observe without feeling. I see it, I experience it, but it doesn’t rock me anymore. This may be because I’m on a pretty self determined path being self employed. My friend on the other hand is employed. He has to walk a fine line on a regular basis. He has to constantly ask himself, what do you want more; your job and your forward professional trajectory for the cost of your silence, or do you want to speak up and risk it all? An unfortunate choice many people have to make on a day to day basis.
Then again, I also thought that maybe because people didn’t feel the racial and classist connotations of the treatment of Meghan Markle, that it may have gone over their heads. I get this. I am not a woman and therefore I have had a lot to learn from women about their mistreatment. The only sin is if I recognise it in the moment without changing how I conduct myself for their betterment.
However one issue I have is that for one reason or another, the end product for many people is the grieving. I.e the marching, the protests, the cancelling, the shouting, the screaming, the crying. I don’t get it. These are the catalysts for change; they are not change in themselves. It is the equivalent of cutting off the head of a hydra to turn around in celebration and before you know it, right behind you, the Hydra has grown another head and is ready to attack. Protests and self expression are not an outcome or desired end product. I am concerned that people are so focused on expressing their emotions that they have forgotten to demand their terms.
Our terms are quite simple; equality. We need equality in the workplace, schools, hospitals and the judicial system. British racism is exceptionally covert. It is rarely tangible. It is evasive and underlying, masked by our love of etiquette, order and keeping face. That being the nature of the racism we experience we cannot afford to be unspecific with our demands.
That being said, fight for change, express yourselves but remember what you are demanding at all times so that we are not lost in a constant fight to express ourselves rather than fighting to be heard.
The 90minute interview between Meghan, Harry and Oprah may create a neat microcosmic presentation of the issues within Britain but it isn’t a progessive outcome in itself.
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