Teachers Should Understand the Vitriol Against Meghan Markle, Here is Why:
There has been much speculation and online discussion regarding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s resignation from royal duties and their move to America. But far from being mere tabloid fodder, Meghan Markle’s treatment shines a light on the covert racism and misogyny that plagues the U.K. Here is what teachers should understand in this situation.
Despite some very blatant examples of racism (such as a podcaster with over half a million followers posting a meme of the Sussex’s child as a monkey), many commentators argue that there have been no examples of racism in the mainstream media. However, when you compare Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s newspaper coverage doing the same (innocuous) things, Kate receives favourable coverage while Meghan gets criticism. Coded racial slurs such as ‘uppity’ (a word used by white slave owners to describe slaves who got ideas above their stations) or ‘exotic’ have been used to describe Markle in the media. Teachers (especially white teachers) must realise that most racists don’t have swastika tattoos, and most people will never admit to being racist. Racism is often something subtle and challenging to ‘prove’. If we have pupils in our care who confide in us that they feel targeted because of their race, we must not ask them to ‘prove’ their experience. This just further gaslights the young person when what they need is our support, our allyship and for us to believe them.
What happens in the celebrity world is a reflection of our broader society and culture. The ‘Framing Britney Spears’ documentary has highlighted the misogyny of the mass media. There is a thirst for derogatory stories and unflattering photographs of young women. As a slim and conventionally attractive woman, there is little mileage in attacking Meghan’s physical appearance, so what the media do to women like her attacked her character with stereotypical, sexist insinuations. She is portrayed as a diva, an ‘angry black woman, a dangerous master of manipulation, who has alienated poor, helpless Harry from his family. Girls and women often suffer from racism, compounded with sexism.
Meghan Markle’s experience in the U.K is an extreme case as she is an actor who married into the British Monarchy. However, there are schoolgirls, who look like Meghan who will recognise this very British brand of racism and sexism from their own life experiences, and may not yet have acquired the vocabulary needed to describe what is happening. Black girls may be called ‘angry’, ‘too loud’, ‘too much, and we may even have our own subconscious biases to examine and reflect on how we perceive some girls. The media’s ability to send us subliminal messages about certain kinds of people is compelling. Are we paying attention to how girls from ethnic minority groups in our schools are spoken to and spoken about? Are we listening to these girls? Are we having conversations with pupils about implicit bias and stereotypes? Are our classrooms environments where it is safe for girls to speak out?
Many excellent antiracist social media platforms can be a great source of information for teachers. The Instagram account @everydayracism_ recently posted a sobering message “Do not underestimate how the treatment of Meghan Markle is a major trigger for Black and Brown women right now. It replicates our existence in a white supremacist society and acts as a stark reminder that our acceptance is based on a set of conditions – don’t challenge, don’t defend yourself, don’t disrupt the system, or this is what you’ll get”.
Since writing this initial piece, the Oprah Winfrey interview has aired in the U.K. Meghan and Harry disclosed some horrific racist abuse that both Meghan and even their child were subject to by a royal family member. Despite this, the right-wing media propaganda against the Sussexes has continued, and Piers Morgan declared that he does not believe Meghan’s struggles with suicidal thoughts. Having finally encountered some consequences (due to his sinister obsession with a woman who rejected him), Piers is now framing himself as the victim, who bravely exercised his right to ‘free speech. This culture of white male bullying behaviour is something that teachers need to be paying attention to. We need to ensure that our students understand exactly what free speech is, i.e., the government’s right to criticise. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Free speech does not stop hate speech from being illegal and punishable. We are not ‘free’ to bully and target anyone we like and then cry ‘free speech!
It is, above all, necessary for teachers to be aware that what has happened to Meghan Markle has not occurred in a vacuum, it has happened here in our society, and many of our girls are Meghan Markle.
This piece is from Gemma Clarke