Here we go again. Just when it seemed that the rancor might abate and wounds might start to heal, along comes another express train of controversy to divide Britain.
Brexit has been replaced by Megxit (as the tabloids are calling it) following the bombshell announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they want to ‘step back’ as senior members of the royal family while continuing to have their cakes and eat them — or, rather, ‘work to become financially independent.’
Suddenly, those who strive tirelessly to rid Britain of its monarchy altogether have been galvanized. So man those ramparts! Re-arm! Let the venom flow once more!
Some on the left are even calling for a referendum on the matter. Clive Lewis, a Labour leadership contender, thinks this is the moment for a poll on the whole future of the royal family. Of course he does. After all, referendums are so uniting.
But fair enough. That’s his view; that’s his hope — even if according to a poll at the weekend, it is not one shared by the vast majority of the British people.
What’s indefensible is the assertion presented as fact that Meghan has been ‘hounded out’ of Britain because of the color of her skin. This incendiary lie has been printed in the New York Times and in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, both with such undisguised malice that they deserve to be ignored completely if they weren’t quite so damaging.
Writing in the New York Times, Afua Hirsch, an ex-Guardian journalist and author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging decries the ‘racist treatment of Meghan’, before swiftly linking this accusation to the prime minister ‘whose track record includes overtly racist statements’ and a ‘Brexit project linked to native nationalism.’
The Oprahmag.com website devotes several thousand words to how Meghan has been let down by Britain before warning in sinister fashion that ‘it’s not only sexist, but racist to assume the Duchess must be the angry black woman villain here’.
Let’s not even discuss who might be the villain in this sorry tale. What makes my blood boil is the portrayal of Britain as a racist country in general and an expressly racial one in relation to Meghan Markle.
Nothing could be further from the truth. From the first moment when it became clear that Prince Harry and the attractive Suits actress were stepping out together, the British people opened their arms as wide as they could to embrace them.
Wherever they went, huge crowds turned out. ‘We love you Meghan,’ was the repeated refrain from well-wishers, as goodwill towards the couple spread across the country like a happy smile on the face of the nation.
Some of us may have winced a little during their engagement interview when Meghan spoke about putting ‘boots on the ground’ but mainly we rejoiced over two people who had fallen in love and were committing themselves to, as she put it, ‘a new chapter’ in their lives.
She was one of us now — and we were proud of it. Her mixed-race background was an additional reason to celebrate. Of course, some nasty people have spread poison about her on social media — they always do — and I dare say some stuffy courtiers privately were worried about how she might cope with the pressures of marrying into the firm.
But I doubt those courtiers’ concerns had anything in the slightest to do with her being, as she herself describes it, a ‘woman of color’.
Britain is one of the most open countries in the world — far more racially and religiously integrated than America. And just as it is completely untrue to suggest that those of us who voted for Brexit are ‘little Englanders’ who don’t like foreigners so it is wholly unjust to accuse Meghan’s critics of being racist bigots.
The likes of Afua Hirsch repeatedly fall back on a couple of throw-away lines in the British media, both in 2016. One said Meghan was ‘almost straight out of Compton’ at a time when her mother, Doria, was living in the nearby Los Angeles suburb of Crenshaw, which Hirsch interprets as an attempt to link Meghan with gangs involved in ‘racialized forms of crime.’
Then there was Rachel Johnson’s reference in the Mail on Sunday to Meghan bringing some ‘rich and exotic DNA’ to the House of Windsor as if this was a slur when in fact a few paragraphs later Johnson categorically concluded that ‘nobody cares that Miss Markle is mixed race.’
And that includes The Queen. As far as most of us can determine, Her Maj went out of her way to help make Meghan feel at home in Britain — even if those homes were a little drafty with noisy plumbing and ultimately not to her liking.
So listen up America. You can call us what you want — and, anyway, we’re quite good at calling ourselves all kinds of horrible things — but please do not blame Meghan’s abrupt departure on racism.
In the end, she just wasn’t into us. We feel sad about this — and I dare say many of us would welcome her back if she were to have a change of heart after a few years in North America. I hope she might.