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Race and the Royals: Meghan and Harry Interview Plunges Palace into Crisis

UK daily newspapers on March 8, 2021, show front-page headlines reporting on the story of the interview given by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wife of Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, to Oprah Winfrey, which aired on US broadcaster CBS.

Britain’s royal family was plunged into crisis Monday, a day after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, known popularly as Harry and Meghan, said in an interview that a royal had raised concerns about the color of son Archie’s skin and that the child would not be made a prince.

“So, we have in tandem the conversation of, you won't be given security. He won’t be given security. He's not going to be given a title. And also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he's born,” Meghan told media mogul Oprah Winfrey in the interview broadcast Sunday evening on U.S. television network CBS.

Meghan is the biracial child of a black mother and white father.

Questioned about the allegations later in the interview, Prince Harry said the conversation had taken place early in his and Meghan’s relationship. They did not name the person who made the comment.

“That conversation I'm never going to share. But at the time, it was awkward. I was a bit shocked,” the 36-year-old prince said. “But that was right at the beginning when (Meghan) wasn't going to get security, when members of my family were suggesting that she carries on acting because there's not enough money to pay for her and all that sort of stuff. Like, there were some real obvious signs before we even got married that this was going to be really hard.”

Buckingham Palace has yet to respond to the allegations. It is currently conducting an investigation into allegations that Meghan bullied members of her staff, an accusation she denies.

Harry and Meghan stepped back from their duties in March 2020 after struggling with royal life and moved to California.

Meghan said Queen Elizabeth had always been “wonderful” to her. The 39-year-old told Winfrey that she had struggled with what the couple saw as racist attacks in the media. Meghan also said she had regularly suffered suicidal thoughts while pregnant but had received no support.

“It was only once we were married and everything started to really worsen that I came to understand that not only was I not being protected, but they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family. But they weren't willing to tell the truth, to protect me and my husband,” Meghan said.

Harry described how the couple had been cut off financially from the royal family. He said his father, Prince Charles, the future king, had refused to take his calls.

“I had three conversations with my grandmother and two conversations with my father before he stopped taking my calls and then said, ‘Can you put this all in writing what your plan is?’” Harry said.

British analyst Richard Fitzwilliams said the extent of Harry and Meghan’s broken relationship with the royal family has been laid bare.

“They feel angry and bitter. This is an ultimate act of revenge, because it’s unclear precisely how the palace will respond to it. However, you cannot do nothing when allegations of this sort are made. And most particularly, the allegation of racism — that will be absolutely toxic. But this is, I would emphasize, only one side of the question,” Fitzwilliams told VOA.

Critics said Winfrey should have questioned Meghan’s behavior more closely.

“This is a woman who seems to make a habit of falling out with people. But none of Meghan's real behavior was questioned. It was an absolute exercise in torching the House of Windsor, and I came away with a very distasteful taste in my mouth,” royal biographer Anna Pasternak told BBC News.

The revelations will be painful for Queen Elizabeth, Fitzwilliams said.

“What they paint is a portrait of isolation, and the palace is portrayed (as) a form of prison. This is extremely destructive, and I don’t think it will play out happily in any way at all. The queen, at nearly 95, will be deeply hurt by it. It’s worthwhile remembering Prince Philip (the queen’s husband) at 99 is recovering from a procedure to treat a preexisting heart condition.”

Divided public

The interview is proving divisive among the British public.

“As a Black woman, she (Meghan) didn't get it very easy within the royal family, and the newspapers weren't exactly friendly about it, either,” said Karen Louise, a 39-year-old photographer from London.

Seventy-five-year-old London resident Elaine Naylor criticized the couple’s decision to go ahead with the interview.

“I think they've done the wrong thing. And I'm sorry, really, because I don't think they've done themselves any good at all,” Naylor said.

The royal couple visited South Africa in 2019, a country with which Harry has forged a lifelong bond. Residents of Johannesburg Monday offered support for Meghan.

“As soon as they got married, you know, the British tabloids just started attacking her. From the word, 'go,' they started attacking her. So, I think there is racism playing a part,” said Johannesburg resident Timmy Mathebula.

Problem for Britain

The acrimony of Harry and Meghan’s separation from the royal family sits in stark contrast to the hopes of their marriage in 2018, Fitzwilliams said.

“Harry and Meghan were going to be the couple who would modernize the monarchy, reach out to young people — particularly persons of color, and especially in the Commonwealth. It was a fantastic idea, and she was so articulate, too. But this does not represent anything resembling the reality with the resentment behind this interview.”

The accusations could impact Britain’s image abroad.

“I think Britain perhaps has got a problem here, because younger people, persons of color, you will find perhaps different views. … It will be interesting to see the polls. But this is terribly destructive,” Fitzwilliams told VOA.

Harry also revealed he and Meghan are expecting a girl.

“To have any child, any one or two, would be amazing. But to have a boy, then a girl. What else can you ask for?” he said.

But the interview will be remembered most for the couple’s allegations made against the royal family as the world awaits its response.