CALGARY—It’s possible that we’re starting to see the beginning of the end of the modern version of the British monarchy. Abolitionists are laughing in schadenfreude.
Last week was a week from hell for the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas who are at the apex of British society and identity, despite their German bloodlines. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are having baby No. 2, in America far from the Queen’s influence, which must hit hard for the ageing great-grandmother; Prince Phillip was taken to hospital again where he continues to exist on airplane mode; the Duke and Duchess of Sussex re-enforced their decision from last year, which was not to return to the cult known as the Royal Family; Markle won her suit against the Mail on Sunday; and Oprah will interview the Sussexes on March 7 on CBS, further staking the British media complex in the heart by continuing to leave them in the cold.
You love to see it.
Over the past four years, the British Establishment—the Crown, the aristocracy, and the media—has treated Markle with the respect and dignity one can expect from what a white supremacist, colonialist, and imperialist organization usually gives a Black woman: none. The British press in particular has been abusive, racist, misogynistic, bullying, and xenophobic towards Prince Harry’s wife, including the Daily Mail writing, “the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA”; the same publication describing her as “straight outta Compton” in a headline; tabloids harassing Markle for #LivingWhileBlack with headlines criticizing innocuous things such as eating avocado and wearing black clothes; and the double standards of coverage that framed Markle as the Wicked Witch of the West. The sexism and misogynoir (hatred of Black women) propelled the British press to pit Markle against Duchess of Cambridge Kate, painting Markle as the aggressor, another slavery-infused stereotype that plagues Black women.
Even Prince Harry had to tell the media to shut the hell up in a formal statement that called out the “the racial undertones of comment pieces.”
The story of Markle’s entry into the British Establishment is a story at the intersection of race, class, and gender. The abuse that she endured is what Black women experience when they dare to enter institutions as whole people who don’t blend into whiteness—especially when those institutions use cosmetic statements of diversity to exculpate themselves from the racist and misogynistic environments they create. When the feces hits the fan, these institutions stay silent and not only allow this behaviour to continue, they also tacitly condone it. Court filings from Markle’s lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday, as reported by Newsweek, demonstrate that this approach was used by Kensington Palace, with its “policy of standard ‘no comment’ responses to requests from the media.” As Markle said on her African tour, “not many people have asked if I’m okay.”
People who never saw your humanity have a tendency not to show theirs.
The Centre for Community Organizations provided an infographic for women of colour entering non-profit organizations (this graphic can be used for Black women entering any organization) that explains how they go from being valued as a tokenized subject used to fulfill the organization’s diversity mandate, to experiencing the realities of a white-dominated space: “After a period of time … [the] racialized woman experiences recurring microaggressions and structural barriers.” When she attempts to confront these dynamics, “both the organization as a whole and individuals within it will deny her experiences of racism. In fact, her attempt to address these dynamics can often become the arsenal for retaliation: the racialized woman becomes the source of the problem. She is viewed as no longer being ‘a good fit’ or ‘not qualified.’” Then the attacks from within the organization occur which cause her to flee: “In response to these experiences, the racialized woman leaves the organization, having been fired, quitting, finding a new job or going on sick leave.”
This is what happened to the Duchess of Sussex, and it happened to Celina Caesar-Chavannes, as she describes in her new book, Can You Hear Me Now? It also happened to me.
In my interview with Caesar-Chavannes for the Bad + Bitchy podcast, we talked about this process and how it became part of her story in her time as Liberal MP for Whitby, Ont. As she put it, Black women have one of two choices in white-dominant institutions: “One, you either blend into the fabric…or you stand up and get pushed out. Those are the two options, there’s no middle ground for us.” And when Black women get pushed out, they are gaslit on the way out into believing they brought this behaviour on themselves and their accomplishments and contributions to the organization erased.
For a Black woman, it doesn’t matter how high you rise, shattering the glass ceiling means you will always be cut by the shards.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.