University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

The Markle debacle: Are the British media racist?

Becca Bashford

ByBecca Bashford

Nov 3, 2019

Since it was announced that actress Meghan Markle was dating the country’s favourite Prince, the British press has turned its unwanting eye towards her in a way that hasn’t been seen since Princess Diana was alive. Yes, there was a huge amount of press coverage about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship, but nothing compares to the level of scrutiny, and more importantly the criticism, Meghan has faced since entering the public eye. There is a very simple reason for this – Meghan Markle is not white.

The racism and sexism that Meghan Markle has endured, often plastered across the front pages of the most read newspapers in the country, is not worth repeating here. They are tired, stereotypical tropes about black women which are embedded into Britain’s consciousness. Even publications which are in favour of Meghan Markle fall prey to these lazy anecdotes in their analysis of Meghan’s place within the Royal family; for example, Rachel Johnson infamously wrote in a comment piece: “…the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA”. This is an example of the thinly veiled racism which some will argue isn’t actually racist at all. In reality, though, the use of the word “exotic” is a deliberate form of othering. As Comedian Gina Yashere observes:

“The [British press] like to use these terms which they don’t deem as racist, but it’s just another way of saying “She’s black, she’s not one of us!”.

The debate surrounding whether the British press are racist is far more complex than simply pointing out the lazy and derogatory headlines used by the likes of The Sun and The Daily Mail. It’s more about analysing how the British public react to these headlines, and their ability to dissect racist undertones when they come from less likely sources.

This is almost impossible when we consider the unfortunate fact that arguably much of the British public are just as racist as the press – even if they don’t think, or even know, they are. We all have that relative who has said about Meghan “I don’t know what it is about her, I just don’t like her!”. This is because people had already made up their minds about Meghan before she had even entered Prince Harry’s life. As Britt Stephen’s points out in his op-ed,

“…Meghan’s blackness walked into the room before she did; she was assumed to be “demanding” before she even made any demands, and she was considered to be “difficult” to work with even before anyone worked with her.”

Put simply, preconceptions about women of colour have poisoned the press’ ability to write fairly about Meghan, just as it has poisoned the public’s ability to consume content about her. Meghan Markle will never “fit the mould” of a Royal – but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and it doesn’t only rely on her race. Meghan doesn’t fit the mould because she’s an outspoken feminist, a humanitarian, an environmentalist, she’s from a working class background – the press and public’s expectation that she should be anything less than this because she married into the royal family is just another attempt at trying to make women of colour shrink themselves, so they are more palatable.

In a recent ITV documentary, Meghan spoke frankly about her experiences with the British tabloid press throughout her pregnancy. She said: “Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging. And then when you have a newborn, you know […] you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed, […] not many people have asked if I’m okay, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”

It is almost impossible to watch Meghan speak without recognising her suffering, particularly as a woman. Shortly after, Prince Harry released a statement regarding the legal actions against the tabloids, stating:

“…my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

Prince Harry’s statement drove the reality of the issue home for the British public, an act which arguably speaks for itself. For some reason, recognising the constant abuse of a woman who is just trying to exist as a new mother in the spotlight is impossible until – quite literally – a Prince comes to her defence.

Image credit: Ichigo121212

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