By Eric Valentine
If this “4th Estate” column does what it’s supposed to do—provide a sober examination of media’s role in society—then Oprah Winfrey’s latest re-entry into television prominence and water-cooler conversation deserves the royal treatment here. No pun intended, really. I’m referring to her recent interview of the former British prince and princess, Harry What’s His Name and his wife Meghan Markle.
You’ve probably heard by now, the former royals got a chance to explain why they left the family. And in doing so, their story asserts, alleges and implies that somewhere in a palace far, far away, there are white people who think they’re better than black people (or at least would rather not have to deal with them). Shocker.
To recap briefly, there were claims that someone of high ranking in the Royal Family had multiple conversations about Markle’s specific family lineage because they were worried about the relative darkness of her yet-to-be-born son Archie’s skin. The couple was also informed (prior to them leaving the Royal Family) that security would not be extended to their however-dark-or-light son and that he would not have the title of prince. And, from day one, the British tabloids took a let’s-find-ways-to-trash-her approach toward Markle that her white counterparts didn’t endure—at least not to similar extent.
So, what’s that got to do with me? This: Markle said she doesn’t believe the Queen is a racist or white supremacist. And that shows diplomacy. Piers Morgan, a British TV personality who had a brief omnipresence in American media, said he believes Markle’s story is a lie. And that shows privilege.
Two young fish are swimming in the water and they pass an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish says, “Morning gents, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on, and the one looks to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”
Blind certainty. Resting assured we understand what there is to understand. That’s what Piers Morgan was revealing, not overt or latent racism, necessarily. (And, for the record, Morgan walked off his show and later quit his show. He was not fired for stating his opinion.)
In our minds, we are not racist. We never wronged a person of another race in our entire life. In our hearts, we believe all mankind is equal. Because we see—and admire—the talents of people of color in all walks of life. Show us a white guy who thinks astrophysicist Niels Degrasse Tyson isn’t smart, and we’ll show you a stupid white person. Tragedy and struggles can happen to people of all races, right? And so we walk through life thinking we are not part of the problem, therefore not realizing we can become part of a solution that goes so far beyond our limited perspectives and experiences.
For Piers Morgan, he has reconstructed the Harry and Meghan interview to believe Harry did not say he had a conversation about Archie’s skin color with anyone. While it’s true that part of the more detailed conversation happened when Winfrey interviewed Markle solo, Harry did in fact corroborate the conversation happened. He has also never publicly stated anything that invalidates his wife’s statements.
Morgan also claims that Royal Family protocol doesn’t permit the great-grandchildren of the monarch to receive princehood and security protection. It’s a budget thing, more or less, Morgan and other (especially white folks) observed. Well, yes and no. One day, when the now 94-year-old queen dies, Archie would be a grandchild and would indeed qualify for the title and its protections. According to Markle, the conversations she took part in made it clear conventions would be changed to not make Archie a prince.
Morgan’s willingness to speak out against Markle and stand up for the monarchy is not an act of racism. He has logical reasons to argue what he believes. He’s not making up facts to reach his conclusions. Rather, he’s reaching his conclusions with only the facts that can lead him to his conclusion. He is blindly certain his perspectives are enough.
But what conclusion would Morgan have reached were Meghan not black or, for that matter, not American? I have a hunch he would have done his homework and would have learned quickly that in 2012 Queen Elizabeth had gone against protocol for the children of Harry’s brother Prince William (he’s married to a white British woman if you’re keeping score) and named all of his children prince and princess. Protocol dictates only the eldest child of Prince William should have been given a title.
Winfrey did her homework. And although she didn’t know going in what Harry and Meghan would say, her experience as a Black woman in the circles of power probably gave her an inkling. She has been that fish out of water, wishing people could just see their world more clearly. She was trying to get us thinking and talking about what we’re all swimming in. And now we all are.