The Duchess and Duke of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, revealed in a blockbuster interview on Sunday how the royal family had “concerns and conversations" about how dark her son Archie's skin would be and how the family didn’t speak out against British tabloid’s racist coverage of Meghan.
Meghan and Harry’s stunning remarks came during a stunning, two-hour televised interview with Oprah Winfrey on CBS after she and her husband decided to step down as working members of the royal family in January 2020 and amid ongoing tensions with “the firm.”
The interview focused heavily on race. Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, called out British tabloid coverage of her that had a visible double standard when comparing her to Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. Harry admitted he had unconscious bias about racial issues until he saw what Meghan went through in the spotlight.
Meghan declined to name the family member who raised the “concerns” about “how dark” her son’s skin color would be, saying that it would be “very damaging” for her in-laws and the British royal family, whose monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of state for millions of people around the world.
Oprah asked Meghan about her son’s birth in May 2019, and the duchess said that while she was pregnant she and Prince Harry were told their son would not be given a royal title or security.
"In those months when I was pregnant, all around this same time, so we have in tandem the conversation of '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," she said.
"There were several conversations about it," she said.
“That was relayed to me from Harry,” she said. “Those were conversations that family had with him. And I think — it was really hard to see those as compartmentalized conversations."
“Because they were concerned that if he were too brown, that that would be a problem? Are you saying that?” Oprah asked.
“I wasn't able to follow up with why, but that— if that's the assumption you're making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one, which was really hard to understand, right?” she said.
Oprah also asked Harry about the conversation.
“That conversation I’m never going to share. But at the time, at the time it was awkward. I was a bit shocked,” Harry said. “What will the kids look like?”
“That was at the very beginning when she was not going to get security … There were some obvious signs before we got married that this would be very hard.”
Markle discussed the conversation in the context of the British Commonwealth and its history of colonialism:
Especially when — look, I — the Commonwealth is a huge part of the monarchy, and I lived in Canada, which is a Commonwealth country, for seven years. But it wasn't until Harry and I were together that we started to travel through the Commonwealth, I would say 60%, 70% of which is people of color, right?
And growing up as a woman of color, as a little girl of color, I know how important representation is. I know how you want to see someone who looks like you in certain positions.
Even — even Archie. Like, we read these books, and now he's been-- there's one line in one that goes, "If you can see it, you can be it." And he goes, "You can be it!"
And I think about that so often, especially in the context of these young girls, but even grown women and men who when I would meet them in our time in the Commonwealth, how much it meant to them to be able to see someone who looks like them in this position.
And I could never understand how it wouldn't be seen as an added benefit. And a reflection of the world today. At all times, but especially right now, to go — how inclusive is that, that you can see someone who looks like you in this family, much less one who's born into it?
They also discussed their harsh treatment on the front pages of the British tabloids, and the cozy relationship the royal family shares with the nation’s powerful newspapers.
The two decided to step away from the family because of “this constant barrage,” Harry said. “My biggest concern was history repeating itself,” he said, referring to the death of his mother, Princess Diana, during a paparazzi chase in the 1990s, “and I've said that before on numerous occasions, very publicly. And what I was seeing was history repeating itself, but more, perhaps — or definitely far more dangerous, because then you add race in and you add social media in.”
Harry said the royal family had the power to “help and share some truth or call — call the dogs off, whatever you want to call it. So to receive no help at all and to be told continuously, ‘This is how it is. This is just how it is. We've all been through it.’”
“I hadn't really thought about the mixed-race piece, because I thought, well, well, firstly, you know, I've spent many years doing the work and doing my own learning. But my upbringing in the system, of which I was brought up in and what I've been exposed to, it wasn't — I wasn't aware of it, to start with. But, my god, it doesn't take very long to suddenly become aware of it,” Harry said.
“Because you said you really weren't aware of unconscious bias,” Oprah asked. “Until you met Meghan.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You know, as sad as it is to say, it takes living in her shoes — in this instance, for a day or those first eight days — to see where it was going to go and how far they were going to take it.”
“And I guess one of the most telling parts and the saddest parts, I guess, was over 70 members of Parliament, female members of Parliament — both Conservative and Labour — came out and called out the colonial undertones of articles and headlines written about Meghan. Yet no one from my family ever said anything over those three years. And that hurts,” he told CBS.
Harry discussed the “invisible contract” between the palace and the tabloids — and how the royal family fears the press’s influence.
“I think there's a reason that these tabloids have holiday parties at the palace. They're hosted by the palace, the tabloids are. You know, there is a construct that's at play there. And because, from the beginning of our relationship, they were so attacking and inciting so much racism, really, it changed our — the risk level, because it went — it wasn't just catty gossip. It was bringing out a part of people that was racist in how it was charged. And that changed the threat. That changed the level of death threats. That changed everything,” Meghan said.
Harry said the palace’s decision to remove security from his family was a major turning point.
“I never thought that I would have my security removed, because I was born into this position. I inherited the risk. So that was a shock to me. That was what completely changed the whole plan,” he said.
“And I even — and I even wrote letters to his family saying, ‘Please, it's very clear the protection of me or Archie is not a priority. I accept that. That is fine. Please keep my husband safe. I see the death threats. I see the racist propaganda. Please keep him safe. Please don't pull his security and announce to the world when he and we are most vulnerable,’” Meghan said.
“And they said it's just not possible.”