Opinion / Meghan Markle offered Queen Elizabeth a chance to lead on diversity – but the British royal family’s response to her and Prince Harry’s Oprah Winfrey interview shows how far the crown needs to go

Meghan Markle offered Queen Elizabeth a chance to lead on diversity – but the royal family’s short, staid statement prompted calls for the palace to be more progressive. Photo: AP
Viewers of dramas like The Crown and The Queen are all too familiar with the British royal family’s gift for surviving scandals of all shapes and sizes with a quizzical blend of tradition and adaptability.

The trappings of crown and sceptre, coupled with an “everyman” willingness to, for example, pay taxes (in 1992) and embrace Twitter (in 2014), are among the reasons Queen Elizabeth remains today, at 94, perhaps one of the most admired women in the world.

But a Windsor’s willingness to evolve appeals only if it’s honest. Oprah Winfrey’s bombshell-dropping interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, on first reference suggests that something less than honest, even sinister, is lurking within an intolerant royal family.

Did Meghan Markle dress like Wallis Simpson in the Oprah Winfrey interview deliberately?

A black and mixed-race generation

Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle leave after their wedding ceremony, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, in May 2018. Photo: AP
The fairy tale wedding three years ago of Harry – younger brother to Prince William, heir to the throne – and Meghan, an American biracial actress, was must-see TV. In the United States alone, 29.2 million people watched the pageantry – at 7am on a Saturday, no less, Eastern Time.

And it was particularly enchanting for a generation of black and mixed-race Britons who suddenly found a more accessible monarchy.

But for the House of Windsor, not so much.

Many say it was painful to watch Meghan Markle’s experiences with racism invalidated by the royal family, members of the media and the public, offering up yet another example of a black woman’s experience being disregarded and denied. Photo: AP
Harry and Meghan told Winfrey that the royal family worried about the 2019 birth of the couple’s first child, Archie. Meghan said there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be”. Family members said they did not want the mixed-race child to be a prince or princess. Harry and Meghan declined to say who in the family made these remarks.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, visits London’s Natural History Museum in February 2019. Photo: Reuters

Meghan also said she suffered suicidal thoughts during her pregnancy – a time when she was barred from leaving the residence and bullied by the press – and was denied inpatient care by a senior royal, who said it “wouldn’t be good for the institution”.

Harry described a life of privilege where he felt perpetually trapped. The couple stepped back from their roles as senior royals a year ago and fully left last month, when they announced they wouldn’t return to work and their royal patronages would revert to the queen.

Buckingham Palace in denial

A statement by Buckingham Palace, issued on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, in the wake of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Buckingham Palace
Their description of a Buckingham Palace sullied by racial intolerance and mental health insensitivity – if true – suggests irreparable damage to the Windsor “institution” going forward. And this was clearly a missed opportunity for the palace to embrace Britain’s growing diversity. Thousands took part in racial justice protests in London last summer after the police killing of George Floyd in the US, with protesters invoking the names of local victims of police violence or racial injustice.
The front pages of British newspapers on March 10, 2021, did not paint a rosy picture of life inside the palace. Photo: EPA-EFE

Moreover, millions in the United Kingdom and elsewhere might benefit from a royal family willing to address emotional despair and embrace those, even within their own family, who suffer from mental health crises. That was another missed chance for Buckingham Palace to lead, rather than slip into denial over something deemed to be uncomfortable or unseemly for the institution.

Meghan Markle wore Princess Diana’s Cartier bracelet for the Oprah interview – what message was she trying to send?

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, attend the opening of the Mersey Gateway Bridge in June 2018. Photo: Reuters

The queen’s popularity is so unassailable, she might weather the crisis. Her grandson and his wife spoke warmly of her during the interview. But when she’s gone, valid questions may persist about whether the monarchy remains tragically impervious to change and truly relevant to future generations of Britons.

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This article originally appeared on USA Today.
  • The Crown reminded us how adept the UK royals are at dodging scandals, yet the Oprah interview fallout is a controversy the United Kingdom cannot ignore
  • Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry offered a chance for Queen Elizabeth to lead on diversity and mental health – but Buckingham Palace is falling short