Harry and Meghan’s interview exposes Britain’s racial fault lines

Diversity experts say royal row could be watershed moment for tackling racism

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's interview exposed “serious fault lines” in race relations across British society, according to a leading diversity expert.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that a member of the royal family asked Prince Harry "how dark" his unborn son Archie's skin tone would be.

Meghan, who is of mixed race, said media coverage with racial undertones and social media abuse contributed to her depression during her time as a royal in the UK.

Marcus Ryder, a visiting professor of media diversity at Birmingham City University, told The National that her allegations should be taken seriously because they revealed problems in a central British institution.

“Sometimes you can get into the gossip of it, almost like the Real Housewives of Windsor, or the Kardashians, but what we're really talking about, and the reason why it is so important, is because [the monarchy] is one of the pillars of the British State,” he said.

“If any black person had trouble entering the Bank of England, or trouble entering a government ministry and working there, and had allegations of racist treatment, that would be really important. That's how we need to look at this story ... a black woman alleging racism in one of the most important institutions.”

Buckingham Palace broke its silence on Tuesday afternoon, saying the allegations would be addressed privately.

The palace said the race allegations were particularly concerning, but that “some recollections may vary”.

Prof Ryder, who co-wrote Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond, said the public's reaction to the interview demonstrated that Britain was uncomfortable with talking about race.

“The reaction to it has exposed serious fault lines and serious factions in society when it comes to how we think about race, how we think about diversity and how we discuss racism,” he said.

“And so I hope that one of the consequences of the last few days is that we have a more intelligent and more informed analysis. That isn’t happening yet – there seems to be a lot more smoke and a lot less light, a lot more noise and not enough signal.”

He said it was unhelpful to compare the UK’s experience with race with other major countries such as the US, where the Black Lives Matter movement was born.

“The specifics are that Britain needs to do better – this isn't just to do with Meghan Markle and the royal family,” he said.

Halima Begum, the chief executive of equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said many would be thankful for the duke and duchess speaking about their struggles.

“If as anti-racists we want to make progress, we are going to have to deal with uncomfortable conversations,” she said.

Others were expecting a “more forceful” response from the palace addressing the racism allegations.

Opposition Labour Party MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy – who co-signed a cross-party letter from 72 MPs in support of the duchess in 2019 – rejected the monarchy's decision to discuss the matter privately.

“They are a public institution and as such they should condemn racism and they should tell the public what we should be expecting of them,” she told the BBC.

FILE PHOTO: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, gives an interview to Oprah Winfrey in this undated handout photo.  Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said the palace did the “bare minimum” by issuing a short statement nearly a day and a half after the interview was broadcast.

Royal historian Hugo Vickers, however, said the royal family’s response was aimed at building bridges with the duke and duchess.

“The message was very sensible, calm, generous under the circumstances and in the spirit of conciliation,” he said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the allegations around racism and mental health needed to be taken “very seriously”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted with caution and said he “had the highest admiration for the Queen and the unifying role that she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth”.

“As for the rest, all other matters to do with the royal family, I’ve spent a long time now not commenting on royal family matters, and I don’t intend to depart from that today,” he said.

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