Journalist slams the racism of the UK monarchy: 'An institution ... premised on the superiority of bloodline'
The British royal family is facing intense criticism over its treatment of Meghan Markle, who revealed shocking details about life as a royal in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, including mistreatment and bullying from other royals, relentless harassment by the British press, and racist comments about Markle, who was born in the United States to a Black mother and a white father. One member of the royal family, according to Markle, even speculated how dark her child's skin would be. Markle and her husband Prince Harry stepped down as senior members of Britain's royal family last year. Pioneering British journalist Trisha Goddard says Markle's revelations were "shocking, but not surprising," and that coverage of Markle in the U.K. has always carried an "undercurrent" of racism. We also speak with Novara Media's Ash Sarkar, who says the monarchy is a "feudal institution" that entrenches class inequality in British society. "You can't have an institution which is premised on the superiority of bloodline and have it not be racist."
TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.
The British royal family is facing increasing criticism after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry revealed shocking details about life as royals, including the racism suffered by Meghan Markle, who was born in the United States to a Black mother and a white father. Last year, the couple left the United Kingdom and stepped down as senior members of Britain's royal family to raise their child Archie in North America. During a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, Markle revealed they felt forced to leave in part due to concerns about Archie.
MEGHAN MARKLE: In those months when I was pregnant, all around this same time, so we had in tandem the conversation of he won't be given security, he's not going to be given a title, and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born.
OPRAH WINFREY: What? … There is a conversation — hold up. Hold up. Stop right now.
MEGHAN MARKLE: There are several — there are several conversations about it.
OPRAH WINFREY: There is a conversation with you —
MEGHAN MARKLE: With Harry.
OPRAH WINFREY: — about how dark your baby is going to be?
MEGHAN MARKLE: Potentially, and what that would mean or look like.
OPRAH WINFREY: Ooh. And you're not going to tell me who had the conversation?
MEGHAN MARKLE: I think that would be very damaging to them.
AMY GOODMAN: Meghan Markle said she was surprised by the racism she felt inside the royal family.
MEGHAN MARKLE: I lived in Canada, which is a Commonwealth country, for seven years. But it wasn't until Harry and I were together that we started to travel through the Commonwealth, I would say, 60, 70% of which is people of color, right? And growing up as a woman of color, as a little girl of color, I know how important representation is. … And I could never understand how it wouldn't be seen as an added benefit and a reflection of the world today — at all times, but especially right now — to go, "How inclusive is that, that you can see someone who looks like you in this family, much less one who's born into it?"
AMY GOODMAN: Meghan Markle also opened up to Oprah Winfrey about feelings of suicide during her time as a royal.
MEGHAN MARKLE: I just didn't want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening, constant thought. And I remember — I remember how he just cradled me, and I was — I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help, said that I've never felt this way before and I need to go somewhere. And I was told that I couldn't, that it wouldn't be good for the institution.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Meghan Markle speaking to Oprah Winfrey.
We're joined now by two guests. Ash Sarkar is a senior editor at Novara Media. Trisha Goddard is a British journalist and pioneering talk show host. She's been credited with being the first Black woman to host a talk show in Britain.
Trisha, let's go to you first. If you can just respond to your feelings as you watch this interview and what was revealed?
TRISHA GODDARD: Well, yes. It was bombshell after bombshell. It was absolutely shocking, but not surprising. I remember the headlines that came out around the time when Prince Harry just started dating Meghan Markle: "Straight Outta Compton," as one newspaper put it. Another newspaper article, written, actually, by Boris Johnson, our prime minister's sister, Rachel Johnson, called her "exotic," with a "dreadlocked mother" "from the wrong side of the tracks," and what have you. And, you know, it started there. And although the British media would have you believe that this was a fairytale wedding and everything was gorgeous and they were wonderful to Meghan Markle from the word go, there was always that undercurrent running through it. So, when she talked about her feelings and when she talked about the conversations around the color of the baby when she was pregnant, it didn't really shock anybody of color, I don't think, not in the U.K., anyway.
And the talking about her mental health — I've been a mental health campaigner for some 35 years. I was an Australian government adviser on mental health for 10 years. I was a member of the World Psychiatric Association. I've been all over the world trying to chip away at the stigma of mental health with Mind, a charity, and what have you. Now, when Meghan Markle actually spoke about how low she had got, and Harry did, as well — he said he went to a very dark place — what we saw was almost an upswing of people saying, "You know, if she can talk about how desperate she was, then I can." And then, unfortunately, we had somebody in the British media kind of discount or say they didn't believe a word she said. And then the door shut again. So, this whole interview has had a massive impact in the U.K.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip from the show Good Morning Britain. The issue of the media is so critical.
TRISHA GODDARD: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We all know now that Piers Morgan has quit. But this is before he quit. And this is you, Trisha Goddard, clashing with Piers Morgan over his ongoing attacks against Meghan Markle.
PIERS MORGAN: Sorry, I'm calling this out for what I see it as, which is somebody who is a ruthless social climber and is now destroying, or trying to destroy, the image of the monarchy in this country. And I think it's shameful.
TRISHA GODDARD: Piers, listening to you this morning, I am saddened. You know what I wish for you? I wish for you only really wonderful things. I hope that one of your sons meets a beautiful Black woman and gets married to them, and then you will understand.
PIERS MORGAN: Actually, I would love that. Why would I would have any problem with that? Why does every criticism of these two have to be framed as racism?
TRISHA GODDARD: You won't have a problem if you'll have to hear her problems.
AMY GOODMAN: Soon after this, the British journalist Piers Morgan quit his position as host of Good Morning Britain, after he was widely criticized for his response to Meghan Markle's interview. Morgan walked off the set of the show Tuesday after the weather presenter, Alex Beresford, who is biracial himself, finally confronted Piers Morgan on air.
ALEX BERESFORD: I understand that you've got a personal relationship with Meghan Markle, or had one, and she cut you off. She's entitled to cut you off if she wants to. Has she said anything about you since she cut you off? I don't think she has, but yet you continue to trash her.
PIERS MORGAN: OK, I'm done with this.
ALEX BERESFORD: No, no, no.
PIERS MORGAN: Sorry. No, sorry.
ALEX BERESFORD: Oh, do you know what? That's pathetic.
PIERS MORGAN: You can trash me, mate, but not on my own show.
ALEX BERESFORD: No, no, no, no. I'm being —
PIERS MORGAN: See you later. Sorry, can't do this.
ALEX BERESFORD: This is absolutely diabolical behavior. I'm sorry, but Piers spouts off on a regular basis, and we all have to sit there and listen. 6:30 to 7:00 yesterday was incredibly hard to watch.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Alex Beresford berating Piers Morgan, finally, he said, after the nonstop barrage against Meghan Markle. And I'm wondering, Trisha, if you could talk about the significance of this? There were 43,000 complaints against Piers Morgan, and Meghan Markle has filed a formal complaint against Piers Morgan to the — you can explain what it is — the British regulator and the channel.
TRISHA GODDARD: Yeah, Ofcom, yeah. Well, there was more of my disagreeing with Piers. Now, we're longtime colleagues, because I report from the States for Good Morning Britain. I've known him for a while. But I have no problem in calling out a colleague or anybody, you know, about issues of racism. And earlier in our conversation, I said that he didn't get to determine what was and wasn't racism against a Black person and that he should leave that to Black people.
And then, afterwards, Alex — that day, Alex reached out to me, and we had a private, short exchange about that. He thanked me, and he said — you know, he said it was difficult for him. And a lot of us support each other in — Black journalists have to support each other. And then, the next day, Alex said something himself. I note — and again, I note that Piers walked out when Alex actually talked about the fact that — and Piers has said this himself, that he was quite hurt when he gave Meghan Markle his number — they exchanged numbers — and he never heard from her again. So I think there may be some misogyny in there, as well as everything else.
But, look, Piers is a great journalist. That doesn't exclude him from holding opinions that he doesn't see as racist. Now, there is a bedrock to this, Amy. There's an absolute bedrock to this. Reporting from the States and being in the U.K. and in Australia, this last week has really brought something home to me. In the United States, you had slavery on this soil. There are people, like my partner, who can remember segregation. The fallout from redlining with housing is still going on. You have George Floyd, you have Breonna Taylor, and so on and so forth. But it happened on this soil. Slavery happened on American soil. In the U.K., slavery did not happen at home, if you like; it was outsourced to the West Indies, where slaves were put in the West Indies, where my heritage is from, Africa, and so forth. So, the British people didn't have it in their face, so they don't think they're racist.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ash Sarkar into the conversation, senior editor at Novara Media, speaking to us from London. Ash, respond to the whole controversy that has erupted. I mean, Noam Chomsky said Meghan Markle could possibly bring down the royal family, the monarchy. Talk about the family and the media.
ASH SARKAR: Well, I don't think Meghan Markle is necessarily going to bring down the monarchy, because it has survived some very dysfunctional and very nasty family dynamics before, going right from Henry VIII and his many, many marriages, right through to the abdication crisis of Edward VIII and then, of course, the divorce between Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
But the reason why I think this has really gotten to the heart of the clash between this feudal institution, which in many ways entrenches class inequality at the heart of the British non-Constitution, and also some more modern values and progressive values, is because, essentially, you can't have an institution which is premised on the superiority of bloodline and have it not be racist, and have it not be controlling of women and, indeed, quite misogynistic. One of the things that Meghan Markle said in the interview was that when she married into the family, she had to hand over her passport, her driver's license and her keys. Now, if any one of our friends was entering into a relationship where they had to hand over their passport, we'd be saying, "Get out of there, babe! What are you doing?" So I think we've got to see these features as very, very, very well entrenched within the royal family itself.
Now, as for, I think, you know, how firm support for the monarchy is in this country, support for the abolition of the monarchy and the establishing of an elected head of state rose by plus-four percentage points, according to a recent poll. And that is due to the Meghan Markle and Oprah interview. However, it's still very low. It's around a quarter of the population. And I think a big part of that is because, for most of the country, we've only known the queen when she's already quite old. And so she's been able to play into these images of almost grandmother of a nation. She also came to the throne in the 1950s, when broadcast and televisual media is still kind of in its infancy. And so, she solidified her reign at the same time as —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, Ash.
ASH SARKAR: Oh, sorry — as her image was being broadcast into our homes. So, the legitimacy crisis, I think, it's going to come when Prince Charles ascends to the throne, who's also meddled in one or two political matters, which a monarch really shouldn't do.
AMY GOODMAN: Ash Sarkar, I want to thank you very much, and we're going to link to your piece, "How Harry and Meghan Quit the Royal Family to Join the US Aristocracy." Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media. And Trisha Goddard, British journalist and pioneering talk show host.
That does it for our broadcast. I'm Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wear two.
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