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The racist roots of Megxit

The racist roots of Megxit

Ameera Nadeem Iqbal

On January 8th, tabloids in Britain had a field day when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, announced they would be stepping away from the British monarchy.

What is Megxit?

The term, a combination of the Duchess of Sussex’s first name and ‘exit’, was first coined by the British tabloid ‘The Sun’. A play on the word ‘Brexit’, another ongoing national crisis, it has henceforth been used to describe the surprise departure of the royal couple to Canada and their announcement of leaving the royal family behind.

How much of a surprise was this?

Since the announcement, worldwide media cannot get enough of the royal couple and speculations about whether there was an ulterior motive to making this decision have started to surface. Some argue that this has been a long time coming. First, the couple moved out of Kensington Palace and established their own Instagram account as part of setting up their own court. Then, upon the birth of their first child, the couple decided not to give him a royal title despite the fact that this is an expectation among royal children.

Moreover, the couple also sued several British tabloids in 2019 for their coverage of Markle, who has been open about her struggles with the onslaught of attention.

In fact, the treatment of Meghan Markle by the British tabloids is likely at the forefront of this historic move. When analysed, the deeply racist and unfair portrayal of the former ‘Suits’ actress is extremely troubling to say the least.

UK tabloid’s treatment of Meghan Markle

Ever since she entered the royal sphere, British media’s treatment of Meghan Markle has ranged from stating that she is “(almost) straight outta Compton” to her having “exotic DNA”. The racist nature of this tabloid treatment is impossible to ignore and the sheer amount that surfaced as she entered the royal spotlight was unprecedented when compared to the treatment of any other newly royal.

Take Markle’s decision to guest-edit British Vogue, a decision that was met with much criticism from the British press when announced. However, when Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, announced her decision to edit the Huffington Post, it was met with much praise and admiration from these very same publications. This would not be the first time Markle has received backlash for things other royals have been praised for.

When the couple announced their decision to leave, the racist attacks continued and even morphed into sexist ones. One poll suggested a significant proportion of people thought it was Markle’s decision, not one made jointly by the royal couple. Although we may never be cognisant of the real reasons behind this royal departure, it is telling that Prince Harry’s previous admission that he didn’t want to be a “traditional royal” disappears, and all the power, responsibility, and blame seems to lie with Markle.

Why has there been inherently racist treatment of Markle?

Britain historically has a rigid class-obsessed society and historically, people of colour have always been placed on the peripheral of this society. The precedent has seen that there have always been very few people of colour who have risen to prominence and prosperity in the United Kingdom, which may explain why people are so critical of seemingly every move Markle makes.

Moreover, the UK is currently facing a serious dilemma of racism among it’s top political players. The UK’s current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has compared Muslim women wearing burqas to letterboxes and described black people as “picanninies” with “watermelon smiles.” Diane Abbott, the UK’s first black woman MP, receives more abuse than any other politician in the UK. Additionally, in the wake of the Brexit vote, there has been a spike in hate crimes.

What does this say about racism?

Not all racism is overt. Much of it is subtle, quietly shaping the way people are seen, talked about, and treated. Although British press defended the way it portrayed Markle, the very use of terms such as ‘exotic’ are problematic in and of themselves as they have colonial roots and work as an effective form of ‘othering’ an individual.

The treatment of Meghan Markle from the British press is indicative of a very serious issue; regardless of your looks, your title, your income or philanthropic work, societal racist roots run deep and are likely to follow you wherever you go.

Given the Megxit backlash, or rather, the Markle backlash, there should be no debate as to whether racism is still prevalent in the UK. Interestingly and ironically, the couple’s decision to leave the royal family and the inherently racist British establishment behind may be one of the most significant acts of royal leadership that we may witness for a long time.

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