Race, Class and the Royals

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We Americans like to think of ourselves as egalitarians, not at all interested in separating people into social classes. Yet we have an endless obsession with the life of the royals across the pond. Last week the world was riveted by the rift exposed when Prince Harry and his wife Meghan declared their intention to live apart from the royal family for some  portion of the year and to become financially independent.

While our own Senate begins its deliberations about whether to remove the president from office, our obsession lies with “Meghxit” and what it will mean for the future of the dynasty that has had us in its thrall for decades. There have been no shortage of news stories and op eds about the defection of Harry and Meghan. Speculation about how Queen Elizabeth will handle these upstarts also runs rampant.

Many in the press are sympathetic to Meghan Markle and the fact that she has had to endure some racially biased attitudes since her engagement to Prince Harry. Despite the huge influx of immigrants from around the world into the UK, English society holds onto strict class distinctions. Kate Middleton may have been a “commoner,” but she was a distinctly well-bred white woman. With Meghan Markle’s mixed racial heritage and her past as an American actress, she has had to fight the disdain of this class-conscious society in which she lives. Even baby Archie is not immune from the thinly-veiled racism, having been described as looking like an ape by a British journalist.

On the other hand, Meghan Markle did not exist in a bubble when she met her prince. The royal family’s stuffiness, the British public’s relentless prying and open criticism of various members, and the tabloid nature of many British publications should have clued her in that her every action would be scrutinized and that is was unlikely she would remain unscathed under such a microscope. As Maureen Dowd put it in her spot-on column, “It is hard to feel sorry for the Duchess of Sussex complaining that her diamonds are heavy.” (“Gone With the Windsors,” Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, Jan. 11, 2020)

There is also some sense that Meghan has been responsible for causing, or at least exacerbating, the enmity between brothers Harry and William. And as a royal living off of public funds, she has certain responsibilities to that public that she has refused to honor. For example, she refused to be photographed leaving the hospital after the birth of Archie. She and Harry have insisted on a level of privacy that is just not possible in their positions. Now they want to abscond to Canada, necessitating expensive security measures that they are in no way able to afford “independently.”

Is Meghxit a sign that the authority of the British monarchy is on the wane? Is it a breath of fresh air into the stuffy halls of Buckingham Palace? Or is it an entitled and childish tantrum against the golden chains that bind the royals to their destiny? Whatever the case, our enduring fascination with monarchs and class distinctions indicates that we may not be as democratically-minded as we like to think.

 

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