Whether you’re excited or disinterested by the extensive coverage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement, it’s undoubtedly caused a stir. Many papers have dissected Meghan’s heritage and broadcast their findings, using their power to represent and promote “race”.
Many of the mainstream media’s (MSM) stories clearly show that interracial relationships remain a juicy taboo and, in some cases, have presented an opportunity to reinforce racist colonial narratives regarding “race” under the insidious guise of support. I unapologetically declare that I am of mixed heritage (Jamaican, Scottish, English and Irish) and argue that we must not underestimate the impact of racist representations in the media.
Western MSM has been repeatedly accused of institutional racism; promoting negative stereotypes of non-white people and reinforcing an ideology of “natural” white superiority and black inferiority. A Prince marrying someone who historically has been perceived as inferior, not just in title but also in “race”, has the press salivating. Resulting in Harry being presented by the press as a saviour to Meghan’s black woes and “natural” inferiority.
In true racist historical fashion, the media have chosen to focus on Meghan’s blackness; her achievements as a successful actress given minor attention. She is, according to the MSM, black first. Despite being mixed, many stories and photographs of Meghan focus on her blackness and her black mother, emphasizing her dreadlocks. Dreadlocks have historically received a great deal of negative attention in MSM, often being associated with hardened criminal “yardies” and portrayed as the epitome of blackness. Her white father’s role is often omitted or diminished in the press because whiteness is not taboo in a racialized world. Instead, her black ancestry creates a clickbait fervour, generating ad revenue for right-wing media outlets.
Several stories refer to Meghan’s “slave” ancestry, thus portraying her as inferior in the minds of the public. A sinister example is provided by The Daily Mail (30/11/17), whose front page stated “Now that’s upwardly mobile! How in 150 years, Meghan Markles family went from cotton slaves to royalty.” This headline is not just demeaning, it’s racist and demeaning but delivered in a way to almost sound supportive.
This is a historicically racist tactic, legally sanctioned (Racial Integrity Act of 1924) by British colonizers in the US, with the intention to prevent mixed marriages and the birth of poor ‘mongrel’ children. The Act created the one drop rule of hypodescent, which stated that any African ancestry (or one drop of black blood) meant you were classified as black; despite appearance or being able to ‘pass’ as white, you could not inherit if you were classified as black.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, these laws focused on preventing the mixing of white and non-white, as these relationships posed a threat to the myth of white superiority. No law banning miscegenation was passed in Britain, but social shaming and exile was an effective tool. There are unmistakable echoes of this throughout the media’s commentary on the engagement.
Numerous stories on Meghan have seized upon the popular historical and racist ideology regarding the “problem of being mixed race”. The widely promoted “tragic mulatto” narrative found in Lydia Maria Childs’ book the Quadroons has been sited. The “tragic mulatto” is described as beautiful, nearly white but not quite; her blackness letting her down, doomed to be rejected and ostracised. To the press, Meghan fits this bill and luckily for us, according to the racist media’s devised fairy-tale, Meghan has been saved from this fate by a handsome Prince.
This may sound exaggerated, but when you review and collate mainstream media stories of Meghan and Harry, this is one of the dominant narratives. The engagement comes at a very convenient time for a right-wing press, who profit from xenophobic headlines and division. It could also sadly be used to quell support for anti-racist and black organisations campaigning for justice and equality.
Similar to the inauguration of Obama, headlines imply that this engagement somehow represents the end of racism, whilst simultaneously being very racist in their coverage.
The impact of this coverage cannot be underestimated. Racial tensions in the UK have recently been exacerbated following the deaths of 4 young black men at the hands of police. Data from the race disparity audit and deaths in police custody report show that we still live in a racist, unequal society. My concern is that that we are going to hear, “Britain’s not racist, we have a black Duchess”, as a reproach for any type of meaningful discussion and action towards justice and racial equality.
After all, a non-white royal means we are finally accepted and part of the establishment right? Just like a black president.
Written by Marsha Garratt