Ros Griffiths, a 57-year-old community organiser in London, was initially hopeful when Meghan Markle married into the British royal family. She regarded their wedding and Meghan’s initial acceptance into the family as a step in the right direction for the institution.
“That’s what I thought initially. Then it went all downhill very quickly,” said Griffiths. “I think [the documentary] further compounded what I suspected all along – that this family that lives off the public purse is not reflective of society.”
Griffiths is not alone. The turbulent years that followed the wedding, and the latest revelations in the Netflix Harry & Meghan documentary, has either worsened or reinforced critical views of the royal family among other black women, and has them questioning whether the institution can be reformed at all.
Griffiths, who was a teenager when she witnessed the Brixton riots in 1981 and has campaigned against racism for decades, described Meghan’s treatment by the royal family as the opening of Pandora’s box: “I just think that if they’re going to live off the public purse, they’ll have to be doing more than just going to a few events and shaking hands. We really need to question the relevance of the monarchy in today’s society. We need to have the grown up conversation about race and their role.”
Natasha Mulenga, a 32-year-old writer and host of the podcast A Soulful Storm, said: “It’s changed my opinion more towards the negative. So much information has come out that really has made me doubt whether the institution can be reformed.”
She also pointed to the recent incident involving Ngozi Fulani, the black charity boss who said she was repeatedly questioned about her background by the late queen’s former lady-in-waiting. “The experience that she had inside Buckingham Palace, it just seems that there’s a determination to basically stay in the 1940s,” Mulenga said.
She did not believe that the palace’s alleged racist incidents were down to ignorance alone, she said. “Where ignorance happens, there is a chance for learning and change, and it doesn’t seem like that has happened. If anything, it seems like it’s got worse.
“I think that there’s something very telling about the fact that they use the bi-racial woman as a scapegoat that can be used for slander, for insidious stories, and giving her no real support; no chance to help even when someone makes her aware that this isn’t just harassment she’s receiving, there’s racial aspects to it as well.
“And then when you find out that there is a mental health element and you still don’t want to help, it makes me wonder: where is not only the moral compass, but just even the sense of care as a human being.”
Kaia Allen-Bevan, a 20-year-old poet, said she believed Meghan’s experience would resonate deeply with black women around the world. “When I watch this documentary, I see me in some way, shape or form, from the feeling of being an ‘outsider’ to being failed by an institution.”
She said Meghan’s revelation that she had had suicidal thoughts forced her to think of the traumatising, and at times, deadly impact of racism in the UK.
“When we do demand justice, we are met with deliberate misreporting, denial and invalidation of our pain,” Allen-Bevan said. “She could have been another life taken due to the failings of our systems and its people. Meghan’s entry to the royal family was an opportunity to do better, and this has only shown us that not just the royal family, but institutions and individuals across the UK, have been unsupported, to say the least, and that racism is still rife in our country.”
Kimberly McIntosh, the author of the upcoming book Black Girl, No Magic, admits that though she is a staunch republican, she was interested in Harry and Meghan’s story. “I didn’t think it was going to reform the family and bring about social change, but I did follow the story and I was kind of rooting for them in a way that surprised me.”
She sent her friends web links about the wedding, including the song choices used, and found herself reading about the couple, but the documentary, and the last few years, had compounded her belief that the royal family cannot become egalitarian, she said. “Ultimately, the premise is you have to be born into the family in order to be part of it, or marry into it, and there is no other meritocratic way to enter it. And so an institution that is built on that premise can never be modernised.”
She added: “Without an acknowledgment of the way the royal family came today, and kind of the oppressive systems that they have been part of – whether that’s their role with enslavement or the British empire – I just think it’s impossible to reform them.
“If we want to say that it’s important to us that we try to tackle racism and that is a feature of a modern and progressive society, then I think that that is the antithesis of the royal family as it stands.”