Harry, Meghan, The Royals, and the complications of British psychology
By Femi Olugbile
Everybody, friend and foe alike, felt an increasing sense of excitement as the day of broadcast of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex approached. The producers released little teasers, one dollop at a time, in the build-up.
Even the staid, stiff upper lip of ‘The Firm’ – the invisible establishment that has protected the interests of the British monarchy through the ages, showed a certain nervous tremor. In anticipation of a massive attack from the Duchess, they went on the attack pre-emptively, casting aspersion on her character with allegations fed to London tabloids that she had bullied the help.
In the eyes of some people, Meghan Markle has always been, for the Windsors, a disaster waiting to unfold. That the fairy-tale took barely two years to unravel seemed to prove they were in the right.
And what a fairy-tale it was, for a moment! There she was, half black, a minor celebrity in her own right, hooking up with the younger of Charles and Diana’s boys, Harry. Harry was courageous and rambunctious. He had served in the Army in Afghanistan. He liked to mix it up with the boys. He could be edgy. At one time he was in the news for dressing up as Adolf Hitler. Some people worried about his judgement. But he was a young man, out for a lark. The people generally loved their Queen and winked indulgently at the antics of three generations of her spawn. Cut the young man some slack, they said. William, Harry’s more sedate older brother, who would be the future king of the mostly mythical British Empire, after their father Charles, had settled down with a proper British damsel named Kate. The succession was settled.
And then Harry announced he was going to marry Meghan Markle. All the alarm bells began to jangle.
Meghan was born to a mixed-race American family – white father, black mother. Her parents were divorced when she was six years old. Outspoken even as a child, she once wrote to the Chief Executive of Procter and Gamble when she was eleven, asking the company to gender-neutralise a commercial for their dishwashing soap in which it was implied that it was the duty of women alone to wash dishes. In short order, the commercial was changed.
Though she grew up mostly with her father, Meghan was closer to her mother, and estranged from her father and her white half-siblings. In her public posture, she identified as ‘black’ and ‘woke’, supporting popular causes such as ‘Black Lives Matter’, #MeToo, and LGBTQ. Previously married for two years to an American film producer, followed by divorce, she ended another long-term relationship – this time with a celebrity chef, just before she met Harry.
American divorcees came with a danger sign in British royal circles. One Mrs Simpson had led Harry’s great-uncle Edward to abdicate the throne.
But that was not the only red light in Meghan’s case. Meghan was black.
The issue of race has always been an area of hard-to-acknowledge difficulty for British Royalty, and British society in general. The psychology is frightfully conflicted, and sometimes takes on the ambivalent aspect of two demons fighting within the same soul. A lot of the wealth of the British Empire was built on the expropriation of other peoples, justified, whether openly or not, on the basis of race. Slave trade led to great wealth, much of which went to building and shoring up institutions, including the monarchy. And yet the drive to abolish slavery too came from within British society and went mainstream. The urge to enslave others, and the urge to respect all men as equal; the urge to see the white race as exceptional, and the urge to ‘look beyond race’; all these strove within the same breast, and Royalty was merely reflecting the unresolved psychology of the general public. Winston Churchill called Gandhi ‘a half-naked kafir’ and actually had a lot of commonality in his world view and racial attitudes with Adolf Hitler, differing principally in being patriotically British.
All of these are hard matters to reflect on, even from this distance. The struggle to ‘go beyond race’ is, at best, work in progress, rather than mission accomplished. Elizabeth the Queen in her demeanour and judgement embodies the enduring grace of the monarchy and its overarching appeal to all races. For decades she has headed up the Commonwealth, which is effectively an ‘old boys’ club of ex-British colonies, carrying it off with panache. Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, a brutal man of limited diction but powerful words, once asked a pointed question that went to the heart of the psychological conundrum. If the Commonwealth was truly an assembly of equal peoples with a common heritage, why could he, Idi Amin, not be the head of it?
At the very least, some of the mystique surrounding the monarchy will not survive Elizabeth.
But it could be worse than that.
Did Meghan come deliberately to explode the contradictions? Will Meghan, brilliant – whether-you-like-it-or-not, black, so skilful an actress and manipulator that she herself may not realise when she has veered into a lie, be the beginning of the slow, long death of the British monarchy? Diana, beautiful, manipulative, lacking in virtue privately, but a goddess of goodness in the public eye, almost did the same, several years past, attacking from another angle.
And is it possible that Harry is no putty in Meghan’s hand, but a willing accomplice, with his own axe to grind? Is William, the future king, really his brother or actually his half-brother? Is Harry known to himself, the family and ‘the Firm’, as the product of one of his mother’s illicit dalliances?
Holding her family together by the sheer grace of her presence, Elizabeth must worry in her private moments about how much longer she can carry on, and how the greatest danger to the most enduring monarchy in the Western world has been posed in her lifetime by two beautiful women she rather liked, personally – Diana and Meghan.