Last summer, the U.S. and much of the world experienced a racial reckoning as George Floyd’s murder reignited the Black Lives Matter movement sparking protests around the globe. Somehow the British Royal Family missed the memo. Royal reporters said Black Lives Matter was an American phenomenon, too “political” for the Royal Family to comment. This despite John Boyega rallying demonstrators in London, while another protest was held right on the royals’ doorstep at Windsor Castle.
Regardless, the royals decided to sit this one out, and with few exceptions, the public and the British media gave them a pass.
However, when three Black players on England’s football team (soccer to us Yanks) received a flood of racist comments on social media following the team’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, Prince William, President of the Football Association (FA), joined those condemning the “abhorrent behaviour.” He tweeted that he was “sickened by the racist abuse” directed at Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, who each missed a penalty kick to close the game.
While William’s intervention was commendable, many wondered why that same energy had not compelled him to speak out in support of his biracial sister-in-law, Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, at any point over the last five years. Instead of universally denouncing racism in all forms, William’s gaze has been narrowly focused outward demanding reforms in sports and entertainment, yet unwilling to address the same issues within the corridors of the palace.
During Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special, which was recently nominated for an Emmy, Prince Harry said that he and Meghan stepped back as working royals due to “lack of support and lack of understanding” from the Firm as they tried to contend with the UK press. William has made no less than four public statements on racism in football in the past two years, while Harry maintains the Sussexes’ pleas were met with “total silence, total neglect.”
Could a tweet from William have made a difference? A message similar to his impassioned plea for the footballers? Harry seemed to think so. Now, Twitter users have taken the liberty of drafting one for him.
Prince William is learning that you can’t be anti-racist when it’s convenient or politically expedient. People can sniff out performative allyship. What exactly does that look like? Allowing racist trolling to go unchecked under the Kensington Palace social media account for over a year, as a barrage of monkey emojis, racial slurs, and threats are leveled at Meghan, before instituting new social media guidelines — which are not even enforced.
It’s spinning the new guidelines into a PR campaign that disingenuously claims Meghan and Kate Middleton receive equivalent online abuse, while letting the lie that Meghan made Kate cry stand. William backed the football community’s social media boycott to protest racist online harassment this April, but when the Sussexes have been similarly targeted he chose not to close the comment section or hold his followers accountable. Does racism only count on match days?
In the docuseries The Me You Can’t See, Harry said his one regret in hindsight was not taking a stronger stance against the media coverage earlier. He released a statement condemning “the racial undertones” in the press just eight days after his relationship with Meghan was revealed. Contrast that with Prince William whom sources said at the time just did not “feel this was a big enough issue to make a fuss about.”
True to his word, William didn’t make a fuss. Not when Meghan received a racist anthrax threat three months after the couple’s engagement announcement in November 2017. Not a year later when a neo-Nazi terrorist group called for Prince Harry to be assassinated as a “race traitor” while Meghan was five months pregnant with their first child, Archie. The two people convicted on charges of encouraging terrorism in the summer of 2019 proved that online abuse could have real-world consequences.
Still, William did little to “create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated,” as he would later implore football fans to do. Often, the Royal Family and their staff did more to contribute to the abuse than alleviate it. In briefing the press on derogatory nicknames and office gossip, it was hard to separate the trolls in the palace from those online. Me-gain, Hurricane Meghan, the American, that bloody woman, and the degree wife were just a few of the nicknames.
If they were bold enough to put these in print, what do you think they called Meghan off the record?
Prince Harry told Oprah that he felt there were many times his family could have stepped in to offer public support before things reached the breaking point. Like in 2019, after William launched the Heads Up mental health campaign, a joint initiative of his two patronages, the FA and the Heads Together charity, he committed to “doing stuff on racism” because of its impact on mental health.
Unfortunately, that “stuff” did not include defending his 2-day-old nephew when a (former) BBC Radio host likened Archie to a chimpanzee. William claimed to be “fed up” and “bored” with racism, but the bigots were not. Like a Sussex family rite of passage, last month, Harry and Meghan’s daughter, Lili, was also introduced to racism online at just two days old. In response to her birth announcement, a (former) Sunday Telegraph columnist tweeted “What a missed opportunity! They could’ve called it Georgina Floydina!” Given a second chance to step up to the plate, William abstained again. Two strikes. Luckily, Harry and Meghan have said they aren’t planning to have more children, so William won’t get a third.
The Royal Family’s failure to publicly acknowledge the bias from the British press and address the allegations of racism in the Oprah interview will continue to haunt them. Prince William’s assurances that they “are very much not a racist family” were feeble at best and don’t stand up to the glare of scrutiny. Recent reporting from The Guardian found that the Queen’s household had a policy not to employ ethnic minorities as clerical staff as late as 1968, and to this day is exempt from laws against racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace. While it’s unclear when the policy was revoked, the latest Sovereign Grant report indicates that ethnic minorities comprise just 8.5% and 8% of Buckingham Palace and Clarence House’s (Prince Charles’s household) staffs, respectively.
Embarrassingly, after admonishing the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) last year for their lack of diversity, in his role as BAFTA president, Prince William refused to release diversity staff numbers for his royal household at Kensington Palace. Those bullying accusations against Meghan from Kensington Palace staff take on a different tenor when you consider that many of the staff may never have worked with a woman of color much less working for one. Too bad the Queen has tabled the idea of hiring a diversity tsar. There’s plenty of work to keep them busy.
When the England football team chose to take the knee throughout Euro 2020, they weren’t just highlighting racial inequality and discrimination on the field or social media but throughout British society. Too often Black people’s value as humans is synonymous with our entertainment value or the utility we offer to others.
When Harry and Meghan refused to be a human shield for the rest of the Royal Family, they became expendable. Likewise, when Marcus Rashford’s penalty kick clanked off the post, in some people’s eyes, he reverted from pandemic humanitarian and football star to just another “23-year-old, Black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester.” But, as race car driver Lewis Hamilton said, “Tolerance and respect for players of colour should not be conditional. Our humanity should not be conditional.”
He went on to add, “We must work towards a society that doesn’t require Black players to prove their value or place in society only through victory.”
Reading the notes fans wrote to thank Rashford for being part of the best England team in 55 years gives me hope that that society is possible. Knowing those notes were in part to cover the racial slurs that defaced his mural tells me we still have a long way to go.
R.S. Locke is a multimedia journalist and entrepreneur. Staying positive but petty is a personal creed that underscores her writing and her life. She writes about the world’s longest-running reality series and family business – the British Royal Family.
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