Several stories in recent weeks have brought a new focus on what equality activists call ‘covert racism’. The opposite of overt racism. Meghan Markle was certainly subjected to overt, racial slurs on social media but according to some of her defenders it was the covert racism from mainline media and broadcasting that made life impossible and forced her flight from the royal world.
A very different story centered on the out of court settlement received by teenager, Nick Sandmann, from CNN for accusing him of racism towards a Native American elder during a school outing in Washington. Despite making the settlement, CNN did not retract the charge other than by saying ‘racism of its nature is not provable’. But no chargeable offence exists unless it is considered overt enough to bear the burden of proof. Imputing racist intent on the basis of a MAGA baseball cap is another category of bias. Our government is considering hate legislation based on such ambivalent signals.
Discriminatory selection of people for criticism or violations of their privacy based on their race or political views does of course happen. When it does, it can only be challenged on grounds of accuracy, fairness and legality. Initially at any rate. It is too easy to play the race card or the gender card or indeed any other victim suit as a way of deflecting legitimate criticism.
Flashing the race or gender card can be an easy out. You can dress failure as thwarted success. Taking her cue from Hillary Clinton, former UK Liberal Party leader, Jo Swinson, took aim at ‘sexist’ media coverage during the British election, that criticised everything about her, she said, ‘from her voice to her vision, from her ideas to her earrings’. Breaking the glass ceiling by becoming the Liberal Party’s first woman leader, meant ‘ a lot of broken glass comes down on your head’. But it was she who was being unfair in patronizing and insulting her electorate who were more likely to be put off by the Liberal Party’s radical social policies and their complete disregard for the results of the Brexit referendum rather than her jewellery or vocal timbre. Certainly they were not sexist since the candidate they chose to replace her was another even younger woman, Scottish Nationalist Party’s Amy Callaghan.
The major take on the Meghan Markle story is that she is the victim of British racism. Several women of colour in journalism and broadcasting, including prominent pundit, Afua Hirsch, insist that only people of colour are qualified to recognize racism in all its forms, overt and covert. But just as white people can be told to check their opinions against their privilege, historically disadvantaged ethnic minorities need to check their grievances against the facts
Evidence matters. Other royal brides before Meghan got ferocious treatment from the press. Diana and Sarah Ferguson had compromising photos splashed across the world’s front pages.They seemed to attract odium until Diana underwent a metamorphosis from ‘dotty Diana’ to ‘Peoples’ Princess’ after her unexpected death.The coverage Kate Midleton gets tells a somewhat different story. Before her relationship with Prince William was a settled thing, and it appeared her socially ambitious mother pushing behind the scenes, the press were merciless. She and her sister were dubbed ‘the wisteria sisters’, fragrant, empty headed social climbers. The trajectory of her mother’s family from mining background to online retail implied that several more points needed to be mapped before a member of the family could realistically aspire to marry a prince. Once Kate became William’s wife we heard very little but high praise for her, both in her public and family roles. In fact it was Hilary Mantel, the right-on, liberal author who alone found fault with Kate in recent years. Mantel considers her a ‘plastic princess’ whose only purpose is to breed. Nobody called that sexism.
A lot of the negativity towards Meghan Markle arguably derives from the suspicion that she is on the make and take at taxpayers’ expense. She comes with the trappings of international celebrity. It is that rather than any other factor that is creating bad press for her. Marrying the handsome Harry, she has fast created a brand to overtake the super wealthy, established power couples she knows and circles with, the Clooneys, the Beckhams, the Obamas, the Clintons. However. anchored in the royal family and in Britain, she and Harry will always be in the shadow of another couple,William and Kate especially in the new slimmed down monarchy. So Meghan and Harry need to find a new global sphere in which to orbit where they can maximize their influence and,to be frank, their earning potential. Former employees of both Obama and Clinton already work for her and Harry.
British taxpayers and the royal family are paying for all this plus a high flying lifestyle while they pay lipservice to environmentalism and social equality. Saying they want to be financially independent on the one hand, while retaining their titles and registering a trademark under the royal moniker on the other, suggests a low opinion of the British electorate’s intelligence. But will playing the race card trigger enough guilt to buy their indulgence? It will be interesting and instructive to see if it will.
This fairy tale turning sour, like most fairy tales, carries a cautionary lesson.