“I left the UK because I was so tired of the racism. I can relate to Meghan – North America holds promise for the Duchess like it did for me.”
Mutale Nkonde, a fellow of Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, told HuffPost UK she could relate to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s decision step back from “senior royal” duties in favour of splitting their time between Britain and the US.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex revealed these plans in a bombshell statement in January.
The news came after the couple had endured years of relentless scrutiny from parts of the mainstream media – and frequent racist abuse from the public, especially online.
Nkonde, a race and tech expert, continued: “The UK expect members of the establishment to be complicit with British racism and sexism and as a Black woman she faced both.
“Why stay there when Oprah and Gayle are in your circle?”
Anti-racism campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE said he is not surprised that the royal couple decided to step back and also believes the media played a part in that decision.
“I think the media is a key factor,” he said. “You just have to look at the recent treatment of Stomzy – which again raised concerns about racism, despite the fact that he was misquoted.
“The media and other mainstream institutions still have an issue of our visibility and success. When you call racism out you are punished with little support.”
Vernon, who has co-authored a book called 100 Great Black Britons to be published later this year, added: “The impact of racism on our mental wellbeing is still not acknowledged and I guess Meghan and Harry are developing their own solutions: self-care and charitable venture.
“The experience of Meghan clearly reminds us we are millions of lights years from a post-racial Britain.”
In November 2016, Harry took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement about the harassment being experienced by the duchess – his girlfriend at the time – and her relatives.
Calling for privacy, the statement condemned the “wave of abuse and harassment” aimed at Markle, calling out “the racial undertones of comment pieces and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments”.
Since their wedding, the hounding of the couple by some media outlets has intensified. It recently culminated in the couple launching legal action against The Sun and the Daily Mail.
Reacting to news of the couple’s decision on Wednesday, Marcus Ryder, a media executive producer and diversity champion, tweeted: “My Twitter time-line (full of black journalists) talks about the importance of race in this story. The BBC’s main online story currently does not mention race once.”
He added: “I cannot think of any major UK broadcaster or newspaper who has a royal correspondent who is a person of colour or any who report to a person of colour. (I may be wrong & happy to be corrected). This fact alone influences how this story is reported”
Richard Palmer, royal correspondent at the Daily Express, swiftly replied: “Because it’s not about race and never was. You’re wrong about the ethnic background of journalists certainly in the wider royal press pack. The UK’s black population is 3.3 per cent of the total and, although we could always do better, there is a fairly diverse group.”
But the wider consensus is that this is about race.
Author Bernardine Evaristo echoed the notion that the couple’s decision was fuelled by racist treatment by parts of the British press, writing: “Dear Meghan, my sister, you go and do your thing with your family and get away from the race hate you’ve been subjected to in my country.”
Evaristo, who last year became the first Black woman to win the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction, added: “Your cover for September’s #VOGUE shows us who you are and what we stand for.”
Many hailed the couple’s wedding as seminal moment for diversity in Britain – a white prince had married a mixed-raced woman.
But that status presented challenges for the duke and duchess.
In July 2019, at the European premiere of The Lion King, US recording artist Pharrell Williams told Harry and Meghan that their union as a high-profile mixed race couple was “significant for many of us” in “today’s climate”.
The duke and duchess reportedly nodded at Williams’ warm comments.
“Thank you so much. That’s so nice of you to say. [...] They don’t make it easy,” Markle replied. Harry echoed her words in the September issue of Vogue magazine.
Andrea Bruce was never optimistic about Meghan and Harry’s marriage changing the establishment’s stance on race.
“If you value assimilation then their marriage was an important moment for diversity,” she said. “But I don’t feel that an institution that was built literally on the backs of colonised people should be expected to be truly diverse or to care about being diverse.
“What went wrong was that some people maybe expected her entry in to signal a shift in the UK’s historic racism and that just didn’t happen. Instead, she exposed what was already there – racism and bias.”
The 35-year-old account director feels the couple’s decision had a lot to do with racism and hostility from the press and public.
“I think that the monarchy should pay back everything they stole from commonwealth countries and they should provide reparations,” she said. “We can’t look to them to lead diversity or anti-racism.
“Harry has defended his wife and that’s nice to see but the overall premise of the royal family is built on violence and oppression against non-white people.”
Meghan’s experience of racism is only being discussed because of her status as a duchess, added Bruce. “If she was a random woman living in the country, her experience wouldn’t be discussed – but all experiences are worth discussing.”
Yvonne Witter was full of praise for the couple, describing Harry particularly as progressive.
“He has set his priorities above materialism, pomp and ceremony and is creating a future for his family which will circumvent his mum’s fate,” she told HuffPost UK.
The international business consultant and writer said the UK’s political climate has helped legitimise bigotry to the point where racism is “no longer in the closet”.
“I find that people struggle to articulate to me their reasons for hating Meghan. They regurgitate press reports – and when interrogated further about a personal experience, of course, there is no knowledge of who Meghan actually is.
“Political leadership has made it OK to be openly racist – in addition to rhetoric from Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Theresa May, the Brexit campaign and press reporting on immigration.
“The public get their information from the press. None of us know [Meghan and Harry] personally but the press has shaped opinions. They have been relentless in their reporting which has had racist undertones throughout. Danny Baker felt emboldened to liken the baby to a monkey.”