Oprah with Meghan and Harry was filmed in an idyllic garden in California. Without cynical scrutiny or harsh examination from the outside world, Meghan Markle candidly shared unanticipated details of her repressed life as a member of the British royal family for the first time. In contrast to the couple’s bliss permeated in the interview released in 2017—when their engagement was first announced—the interview with Oprah was loaded with bombshells of abuse and racism that Markle experienced in the UK: the cruelty of the British tabloids' scorn and ridicule aimed at her, the apathy of the monarchy regarding her predicament, and the suicidal thoughts she suffered through during her pregnancy because of the poor treatment she received.
But some royal watchers or casual viewers who were interested in the matter suspected that Markle’s progressive values were ingenuine. Some simply dismissed it as another click-bait headline derived from the fanatic media attention coming after her.
Whether the public resonated with these views or not, the hurt Markle suffered from living in the palace was palpable in the interview. And the compassion we need to muster for her, or for anyone--celebrity or ordinary people--who fall victim to such traumas should never be submerged into the deep end of fresh opinions and smart theories.
Why did all of these adversities happen to her, and who enabled them?
These are the hard questions we might need to ask if we choose not to treat Markle’s trauma as another sensational, yet meaningless celebrity news we all consume. Rather, her story underpins some persistent structural patterns in our society that elicit suffering to many, often regardless of our social status.
The Tabloids’ Attacks and Racism
Markle’s plight was a direct consequence of the British tabloids' incessant and ruthless smear campaign targeting her. Oprah mentioned a few in their interview, from “Hurricane Meghan” to a made-up story the tabloids fabricated, in which Markle was the one to blame regarding a rift between her and Kate Middleton. But Markle disclosed to Oprah that, in reality, “the reverse happened.” Somehow, the tabloids obtained the story about the rift, distorted it, and caricatured Markle as a rude and mean woman “who made Kate cry.” The tabloids not only twist and alter the facts, but they also deploy a harsher standard to negatively evaluate Markle--something we can also name as racism.
The first sign of Markle’s suffering wasn’t revealed until the birth of her first child, Archie. In a documentary that recorded the couple’s trip to Africa by ITV, there was one point where it looked as if she desperately wanted to say something to the journalist, but not many words were uttered, except, “Thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I’m okay. But it’s... It’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.” As constrained and helpless as she was, what she conveyed silently through her dark eyes was louder and more heart-breaking than words.
We all know racism is a complex, yet somehow well-functioning “ecosystem.” It contains endless energy from sturdy institutions and people to sustain it, if not increasingly emboldening it. But for those on the receiving end, racism often creeps in everyday life via microaggressions, just like the tabloids' regular attacks on Markle. Over time, it has the capability to accumulate in volumes and find occasions to explode in a way that makes its subjects feel hopeless and defenseless. Markle is not an exception.
The Stony Castle and She
What made things worse for Markle was the indifference of the monarchy toward her plight.
In the interview with Oprah, when Markle referred to the monarchy, she made a distinction between the management within the institution and the family, especially of the Queen, who Markle fondly mentioned several times. But the scar the monarchy inflicted in general on Markle still felt fresh.
From what she revealed, the monarchy neither intended to protect her from the attacks of the tabloids nor to lend a hand when she suffered from a mental health crisis. Alternatively, they left her defenceless and isolated, despite her actively seeking help from the institution.
A question might be raised: if it is true, why would the monarchy do that?
In 2018, the British comedian John Oliver first pointed out the value difference between Markle and the British royal family which might cause her to suffer. “I would not blame her if she pulled out of this at the last minute,” he jokingly replied to Stephen Colbert who asked about his thoughts on Meghan’s marriage to the royal family. It was months before her wedding in May 2018, and many across the world seemed to be waiting for the actualization of a new royal fairy tale in bated breath. Against the public sentiment, John Oliver surprisingly indicated the hardships Markle might have to face in the monarchy in The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:
“They are an emotionally stunted group of fundamentally flawed people doing a very silly pseudo-job. That’s what she is marrying into. So I hope she likes it. It is going to be weird for her.”
Markle has embraced progressive values, such as speaking out against injustice and empowering women, for years before joining the family. But the values she advocated for are usually at odds with the monarchy—they often seek to disclose and change the inadequacies of the authority, and the British monarchy is, in a sense, an authority itself.
Although it is not easy to accurately understand an institution without being an insider of it, the logic behind those who run an institution that is traditional and monolithic often shares some common threads. First, it operates stubbornly in its own way. And those who oppose it could be regarded as a threat that needs to be tossed.
The proposals raised by a not-submissive woman could potentially expose deficits of the monarchy and damage its lofty image. Markle’s demand for mental health treatment could uncover the suffering she experienced under the care of the palace, or her rejection of the mistreatment of her son could disclose the racism within the monarchy. Moreover, with too much material abundance at hand, it is very “inconvenient” for those in charge of the royal family to change, not to mention if the noises were made by a person whose skin is dark and whose birthplace is foreign. Therefore, instead of treating Markle’s demands as opportunities to improve the institution, the monarchy chose to ignore and silence her as the better way for itself to remain dominating in the “ball game.”
Scripts like these between a corruptive institution and powerless individuals are old and persistent. Even if in this version of the story, the latter is a woman with money and fame, the toll it took on her for being in such a position probably would not be significantly less severe.
Yet, is the “powerless” indeed weakly power-less?
When Markle allowed the world to know the suicidal ideation she endured in the UK, she had already broken away from the institution and is now carving out a new life in the United States. The determination to revert her dire situation was resolute through several phrases and approaches she and her husband Harry have taken since 2019. They stepped down as senior members of the royal family, became financially independent from the monarchy, and relocated their home to California—Markle’s hometown in 2020. Since 2019, Harry has launched several lawsuits against the British tabloids to fight back against their aggression towards Markle.
Although experiencing traumas and hardships like these could be devastating, Markle and her husband have worked together to face up to the pains. They have actively found ways out of the difficulties to resist the script that is written for them, by either the tabloids or the monarchy, and pen down their own stories.
During the interview, the most exuberant moment was perhaps the announcement of the imminent arrival of Markle’s second child—a baby girl—into her family in summer this year. Now staying thousands-miles away from the stony castle, Markle is reconnecting with an authentic community and embracing the environs she is familiar with. The healing and regrowth journey of her and her family seems to be on the right track: while she is braving out of the pain, a new life has already arrived.
(The couple’s daughter was born in June 2021, and they named her Lilibet.)
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