I try my best to avoid talking about Harry and Meghan. I like to think I'm better than that. Aloof. Unbothered. Perched comfortably above the fray. But it is today, during Women's History Month no less, that I out myself as officially invested. Cheers, Oprah. Yes, you might have heard that the legendary US talk show host Oprah Winfrey's hotly-anticipated interview with royal renegades Meghan Markle and Prince Harry finally aired last night, and even the most tabloid-averse among us seem to still be reeling in shock.
By all accounts, this is one interview that may have lived up to the hype. Not only did Meghan reveal she struggled with serious suicidal ideation while a working member of the royal family, Harry mentioned being financially cut off by his family in 2020 and only having the means to skip the UK because of the money Princess Di left him. That intrigue, amirite? (Unfortunately, The Daily Mail will now have enough material to keep them going for at least another 5-10 years.)
Don't get me wrong, I still found parts of the interview hard to swallow. Meghan compared herself to The Little Mermaid at one point, god help us. And hearing a grotesquely privileged man (a literal prince, as Oprah reminded him) complain about being "trapped" didn't sit well with my spirit. But probably the interview's biggest 'bombshell' moments came in the form of Meghan revealing that there were discussions within the royal family about how "dark" her unborn son would be. "In the months when I was pregnant, [there were] concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born," Meghan said.
Oprah was aghast. "What?" she responded. "Who, who is having that conversation with you?" Meghan silently nodded, looking like she had been reminded we all live in hell. To which Oprah again said: "What?" Meghan began to speak, when Oprah again spoke up. "There's a conversation… hold on. Hold up" to which Meghan replied: "There were several conversations about it". "There is a conversation with you" Oprah replied – still gasping for air – "about how dark your baby is going to be?" "Potentially, and what that would mean or look like" Meghan replied. "And you're not going to tell me who had the conversation?" asked Oprah, to which Meghan said: "I think that would be very damaging to them." But Oprah wasn't stopping there. "They were concerned that if he were too brown, that that would be a problem?" she asked. "I wasn't able to follow up with why," Meghan said, "but that – if that's the assumption you're making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one."
The moment quickly gained traction by the press, while also being received with disgust on social media. "Meghan Markle says in an Oprah Winfrey interview there were concerns within the palace about how dark Archie's skin would be," was one headline published by ABC News. "Meghan and Harry recount conversations with royals about their son's skin tone", reads another in the New York Times. But why are we so shocked? This is the British royal family, we're talking about, an institution with a deeply racist past. Back in the 16th century, the monarchy famously endorsed the enterprise of transatlantic slave trade. And our beloved Prince Harry is a descendant of Louis Mountbatten, who essentially turbocharged the bloodshed of partition (which, as Adil Najam explains, sits in the psyches of Indians and Pakistanis in a manner akin to the holocaust). Racism as a racket only really kicked off around the 16th century, and back then the royal family didn't just benefit from it, they likely had a hand in inventing it.
So it shouldn't be surprising if people within the 'firm', as Meghan called it, are racist. Maybe what was surprising is the unapologetic directness with which Meghan retold the alleged comments. Because let's face it: we're all deeply invested in skin colour. It's unlikely that Beyoncé, for example, would be where she is now had her skin been a few shades darker. The first season of Bridgerton, while lauded for its multiethnic cast, saw race through a colourist lens. Kamala Harris' light skin, in my opinion, made her a more palatable US vice presidential candidate than say, Stacey Abrams. We're steeped in colourism from the day we're born. But it's all so subtly curated that it's easy enough to ignore.
That's why Meghan Markle telling matter-of-factly, of the apparent concern these unnamed royals (these comments did not come from the Queen or Prince Andrew, Harry has since clarified) had with an unborn baby's skin tone, was such a jolt to the system. Most of us, even people of colour, don't really come up against colourism directly. That would be crude and uncivilised, wouldn't it? Here in the West, we prefer a more subtle approach. Meghan's comments were shocking because they reduced racism to its most disturbing: being worried about the colour of a tiny, innocent baby's skin. Seeing racism so plainly and crudely articulated; without frills or fanfare, is what made the comments so distasteful.
For me, there was something gratifying about hearing from the horse's mouth that racism in the royal family probably remains as entrenched as it ever was. So often, we have a seemingly insatiable appetite for levelling accusations of colourism at non-European cultures, with Asian countries often getting the most flack. But Meghan and Harry's Oprah interview, if nothing else, offered us a reminder of who kicked this whole enterprise off in the first place.
And if Meghan and Harry's claims are true, here they persist. The strange vestiges with their silly medals, trying desperately to keep the vileness of their forefathers alive.
This is an opinion piece, written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer for MTV Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @purpletank.
Watch Oprah's Interview With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 10play here.
Editor's Note: MTV is a subsidiary of ViacomCBS, which produced and aired this interview.
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