March 10: The fissures of racism run deep in Britain

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This is not exactly a theatre column today — but it’s full of drama.

The genie is now, finally, out of the bottle: the open racism that permeates every channel of public life, from the highest-born royal (whose privilege, wealth and entitlement is built on racist structures long before they got to the planet) to the lowest-rung on the evolutionary scale, namely Piers Morgan, has now been exposed, and there’s no going back.

It’s all thanks to the bravery and brilliance of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Harry, the prince she rescued from his excruciating ivory tower of dysfunctional family life, and the raw honesty of both of them in exposing just how they were both treated, when they faced the utterly impossible obstacle of living their lives under a constant glare of hostile media intrusion and lack of Royal Family support and decided to walk away.

It has also provided the nation — and indeed the entire world — with the latest episode in a public soap opera or reality TV show that’s simultaneously more gripping and distressing than anything since Donald Trump’s (finally failed) attempts to gaslight America about his clear election loss.

But this time the stakes aren’t the continued health and survival of American democracy but something that’s also incredibly important: the way mental health and a woman’s very survival have been handled by the guardians at the gate of public discourse, namely journalists. At least unlike with Harry’s beloved late mother Diana — who was married to his philandering father Prince Charles — we’ve not had to wait for her death, caused by a car chase when she was just 36 years old when so-called photo journalists were in hot pursuit of her, to ignite this conversation,

But it was, of course, a journalist — probably the world’s wealthiest, the media billionaire Oprah Winfrey — who conducted the interview, aired on Sunday in the US and on UK television on Monday. So it is a journalist who has created the story in the first place, and whose own celebrity — and talent — has made it into the phenomenon it has now become. As former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, who was married to the great British newspaper editor Harry Evans until he died last year, put it in an interview on CBS news:

“By the way, let’s all bow down to the real queen here, who is Oprah. I mean, what an extraordinary interview that was. It was just for the history books.”

And the repercussions are going to play out for years, if not decades. As Brown also said, “This is a hand grenade that has been thrown into the heart of the institution [of the Royal Family]. It’s immensely damaging and I really think it’s extremely hard for them to refute a lot of the things that they said.”

Most explosive, perhaps, was the revelation that Harry and Meghan were asked by a member of the family, whom they declined to name, what colour their unborn son Archie was likely to be. This exposed the deep vein of racism running through the family that came right to the surface when one of the Queen’s grandchildren married a bi-racial woman.

And the way the British tabloid press, in particular, has treated Meghan from virtually the beginning is proof positive of this embedded racism, with criticisms of her for everything from her appetite for avocados to how she handles her baby bump — all things the same papers give Prince William’s wife Kate praise for.

Yet the British press — via the Society of Editors — insists that the UK media is not bigoted, as it stated here. Ian Murray, its executive director, writes:

“The UK media has a proud record of calling out racism and also being at the forefront of campaigns to support mental health awareness, another of the issues raised by the couple.

It is also unreasonable for the Duke and Duchess to conflate the legitimate coverage provided by the edited and regulated UK media with the wild west of social media…. The UK media has never shied away from holding a spotlight up to those in positions of power, celebrity or influence. If sometimes the questions asked are awkward and embarrassing, then so be it, but the press is most certainly not racist.”

I think the tweets above proves otherwise fairly decisively.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Piers Morgan — the nation’s thin-skinned troll-in-chief — seems to have blocked most people I know on Twitter (I once wore it as a badge of honour that he’d blocked me, but these days he must be in danger of getting RSI from the number he blocks). And now he thinks HE’S the victim of racist bullying, when he publicly challenged the narrative of the Harry and Meghan interview, and even cast doubt on Meghan’s own admission that she was feeling suicidal as a result.

As Hugh Jackman posted in a video,

But of course Morgan is having none of anything that clashes with his own senses of outrage and entitlement, precipitated (it seems) by Meghan’s snubbing of him. And yesterday, this led him to walk out of his own show, when co-presenter Alex Beresford challenged him publicly (you can watch this unseemly spectacle here).

This tweet by newspaper feature writer Sirin Kale says it all:

Morgan, of course, was himself formerly a tabloid editor — until brought down in 2014 by the exposure of having published fake photographs of British servicemen abusing Iraqi detainees. As The Guardian wrote at the time of his sudden departure from the Daily Mirror, after eight-and-a-half years at the helm,

It is believed that [the paper’s chief executive Sly] Bailey summoned the embattled Morgan to a meeting late this afternoon and demanded he apologise for the alleged fake photographs. Morgan refused and he was asked to leave the building. The company announced he had resigned with “immediate effect” just after 6pm.

Fake news: It all goes back a lot further than Trump. And it’s good to remember that Morgan was at the heart of it.

But meanwhile, real lives are being affected every day by this dross. And its sometimes time for a re-set.

Prince Harry not only wanted out, but needed out: as New York Times writer Sarah Lyall commented on the paper’s online live blog of the interview,

“I’m struck all over again by the contrast between the two of them. Meghan: independent and forceful; Harry: traumatized by what happened to his mother and totally supportive of his wife. It feels as if she rescued him, rather than the other way around.”

Of course every angle of the event and their lives together is now being minutely dissected, from the way the couple dressed for interview onwards: as the New York Times reported, Meghan

“wore a $4,700 black silk wrap dress by Giorgio Armani with a white lotus flower print spilling down one shoulder.According to Town & Country’s royal whisperer, Ms. Markle chose the dress specifically because of the lotus flower symbolism, and the fact the bloom represents rebirth, which was part of what the interview was also supposed to represent: The rebirth of Harry and Meghan as an independent entity, authentically themselves apart from the royal family; the rebirth of their voices. Plus, of course, the coming birth of the couple’s next child. Oh — and also the fact that, wrote T & C, the lotus can “flourish despite seemingly challenging conditions.”

Hint, hint.

Though there is some irony in a very expensive dress being chosen to partly represent the wearer’s victimhood and resilience in the face of pain.”

And as Zoe Williams powerfully put it in a column in The Guardian on Monday,

“Making the briefest survey of the kind of coverage Meghan received, the vehemence and double standards are breathtaking. It also goes some way towards explaining why she couldn’t just give it another year: the press seemed to be whipping itself into a frenzy; every negative story generated 10 more. If she ate an avocado, she was “wolfing down a fruit linked to water shortages, illegal deforestation and all-round general environmental devastation”. If she used lily of the valley in her bridesmaid’s flowers, she was potentially risking the lives of tiny children…. And before very long, she was in despair. So you have to wonder, what is a reasonable amount of despair for a person to live with, and to what purpose? When were the smears ever likely to end? Do you have to be Californian and touchy-feely to ask whether that intensity of hatred is worth it, just to have people who will open your curtains and run you a bath?

Harry put it surprisingly strongly, when he said he’s “acutely aware of where my family stand and how acutely scared they are of the tabloids turning on them”. In this he gave the kindest possible reading of the situation, not a family closing ranks against its own, but one cowering in terror and simply not strong enough to protect itself. Whatever the truth of that, the individuals and their possible shortcomings are less interesting than the central question, which is not why Meghan and Harry left, but why any of them stay.”

I suspect they’ve had a lucky escape, before a bigger tragedy struck them as it did Harry’s mum. But as Williams ends her piece,

“The damage done to the institution is that one person leaving breaks the spell, and you wonder why, if they are all “trapped”, as Harry says, they can’t just … change. But the hangover from the affair is the tenacious media vindictiveness that, once it finds its target, doesn’t seem able to let go. We accept it as a caper, a game, but the despair it causes is real.”

And nobody epitomises that tenacious vindictiveness than Piers Morgan. It’s high time he was consigned to the dustbin of journalism that he’d already dragged into the gutters during his time at the Mirror. Before the end of yesterday, I’m relieved to say that process had already begun: ITV and he had parted ways, and his dramatic walk-out on the live set of Good Morning Britain was made permanent. Meghan had, not by her own actions, claimed her first scalp; let the healing begin.

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