Racism and Slander: Causes of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Departure


Sarah Fishman, Staff Writer

The decision of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, the duke and duchess of Sussex, to step back from their senior royal duties has been the source of a lot of gossip and discussion. There has been much speculation from the media as well as from individuals about what their separation from the royal family indicates about their quality as people. Their characters have been brought into question, often by people who are not completely informed about the struggles they faced, and racism has seemingly played a significant role in the criticism of Meghan Markle, and was likely a factor in their decision to step down.

In the documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, directed by Nathanial Lippiett, the royal duo gave interviews that indicated unhappiness and perhaps a desire to leave. Meghan Markle stated, “I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair and that’s the part that’s really hard to reconcile.” Many incidents back this statement up and clearly show how the media’s portrayal of her, the royal family’s acceptance of her, and the public’s perception of her is likely very unfair. Perhaps due to the fact that her mother is black, British opinion of her seems inherently biased, and therefore whatever she does to make them happy is consequentially distorted. The media has been highly critical of her; the negative light that she has been repeatedly placed in would undoubtedly take a toll on anyone. According to the New York Times article “Black Britons Know why Meghan Markle Wants Out” by Adua Hirsch, the duke and duchess’s baby Archie was called a “chimpanzee” by a BBC host, which is a horribly racist and derogatory thing to hear about one’s newborn child. Blatant racist remarks such as these likely played a huge role in making Meghan Markle feel unwelcome in the royal family. Although their decision to step back, work toward financial independence, and split their time between the United Kingdom and North America was surprising, it is not that shocking that the couple would want separation from this harmful environment, especially now that they have a baby to think about. Raising a child in an environment where anything they do could be negatively distorted by the press would foreseeably have an adverse impact on their confidence and sense of self.

 In addition, Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, passed away in a car crash trying to escape the paparazzi when he was young. Her lengthy, difficult, and eventually fatal struggles with the press played an important role in his desire to protect his wife from this fate. Before their departure, Harry had taken legal action against two British tabloids, The Sun and The Daily Mirror, accusing them of hacking his phones. Meghan took legal action, as well, against a tabloid called The Mail for publishing a private letter and invading her privacy. Benjamin Mueller wrote in The New York Times article “Prince Harry Goes to Battle with Tabloids, Rupturing an Old Relationship” that The Duke of Sussex stated, “I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized 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.” This struggle with the press is no small issue, and was likely a frustrating and consuming clash.

Some describe their departure in a proud and positive light: Adua Hirch claims that “Harry and Meghan’s act of leaving — two fingers up at the racism of the British establishment — might be the most meaningful act of royal leadership I’m ever likely to see.” Evidently, the couple had to think long and hard about this decision, and it was certainly not made on a whim. A delicate balance between filial duty, royal responsibility, parental instincts, knowledge of the past, and fear for the future were likely all at play in this development. 

Although many understand the hardships the couple dealt with and view their desire for separation as justified, others criticize them and accuse them of naivety, fraudulence, and entitlement. An op-ed from CCN by Simin Chandler refers to them as “pretentious frauds,” asserting that they are showing ignorance and privilege in their departure. It states, “…if he and Meghan Markle think they can pull off their ‘man and woman of the people’ act without actually renouncing all ties to the British royal family, they must be more deluded than they look.” This opinion indicates anger at and condescension of the royal couple, characterizing them as ignorant and selfish. On the other hand, a lot of people view Meghan as the victim of relentless bias and empathize with the duke and duchess’s decision. Many directly attribute the decision to racial prejudice: Adua Hirsch claims in The New York Times that, “Her treatment has proved what many of us have always known: No matter how beautiful you are, whom you marry, what palaces you occupy, charities you support, how faithful you are, how much money you accumulate or what good deeds you perform, in this society racism will still follow you.” Although it is easy to call into question the judgment of the duke and duchess and to analyze their mistakes and faults, it is essential to take a broader look at the systemic issues that prevail in order to fully comprehend the situation.

In addition, the comparison of Meghan Markle to Kate Middleton – the Duchess of Cambridge and the wife of Prince William – continues the damaging paradigm of placing two powerful women in competition with each other, particularly in regards to superficial things such as style and physical appearance, in order to diminish them and their accomplishments. Defining a woman’s worth by how she compares to other women can be divisive and detrimental to the self-esteem of young girls, teaching them to view other girls as their competition and not as sources of support. Both Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton are strong and influential individuals, and one does not have to be better, smarter or prettier than the other in order to prove that.

While it is easy to sit back and judge, and to claim they made the wrong decision, none of us can fully gauge the extent of the toll that the racism and harsh criticism took on Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, particularly after the birth of their child, and the priority of raising him in a safe and supporting environment. The gossiping and uninformed assertion of strong opinions only serves to strengthen the toxic and detrimental structure of parts of the media. It is easy to forget that celebrities have feelings that are just as real as ours, and that judgement can hurt them in the same way that it hurts us. In our small SSFS community, gossip can spread quickly, and this example of distortion by the press and its harmful effects on a family can hopefully give us more empathy. As a teenager in 2020 with information and rumors spreading quicker than ever before, it is easy to make quick assumptions about a celebrity or someone we know and spread them around. Although we might think it’s harmless, or just a form of making conversation, it can affect their self-esteem and comfort in the community in ways we don’t expect. Meghan Markle likely felt so unwelcome that she and her husband had to step back from the royal family, and we should see their departure for what it is: a demonstration of the toll that slander can take on a person.

 Although the departure of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is certainly a very interesting development, and no doubt a great thing to research, spreading rumors about the characters and intentions of the duke and duchess simply reinforces the ongoing prejudice that presumably played a substantial role in their departure. Because we are not in their shoes, we cannot fully comprehend the severity of the difficulty they faced, and therefore cannot accurately decide whether their decision was for the best. Although we cannot be entirely fair in judging Meghan Markle and Prince Harry for stepping back, what we can do is make cultural improvements by questioning and protesting the rumors perpetuated by the media industry and the systemic prejudice in society that caused them to do so.