Jen Gerson: Dear Meghan and Harry: Welcome to celebrity
The once-royal couple are celebrities now. That's their chosen job. And their claims need to be considered accordingly.
Let me start off by noting that I was on Team Harry and Meghan. I wrote a column in the Washington Post welcoming them to Canada, and even argued in favour of spending taxpayer dollars on their security detail. I didn't think then — nor do I believe now — that members of the Royal Family by birth or marriage ought to be trapped in an institution that makes them miserable. It's a wealthy lifestyle, but also a difficult one, and there ought to be an opt-out clause. Harry and Meghan Markle were within their rights to decamp, take their allotted millions, and seek out a better life for themselves and their children.
And Canada, a Commonwealth nation notable for its muted celebrity culture and greater respect for privacy, ought to have been an obvious and welcoming landing pad for the pair.
Well, look at how well that has worked out.
In this week's explosive Oprah interview, the couple announced that they were figuratively airlifted out of here by Hollywood filmmaker Tyler Perry.
“The biggest concern was while we were in Canada, in someone else's house, I then got told, [at] short notice, that security was going to be removed," Harry said.
"So suddenly it dawned on me: 'Hang on a second, the borders could be closed, we're going to have our security removed, who knows how long lockdown is going to be, the world knows where we are, it's not safe, it's not secure, we probably need to get out of here.'"
Oh yeah, the COVID-addled zombie hordes were really coming for them on Vancouver Island. The fantasy that coastal British Columbia was somehow a less secure place to wait out a lockdown than California — Cali-fucking-fornia! — a paparazzi-ridden state with a population larger than all of Canada and stricter lockdown measures to boot. There is no measure by which California compares favourably to British Columbia if pandemic-related safety issues are your primary concern.
Look, I get that if you're trying to pursue deals with Netflix and Spotify, Vancouver Island is not the place to be, but don't invent some kind of absurd security rationale to justify your decision to flee the country for someplace more glamorous.
Yet this was only one claim in what can only be described as a long chain of bullshit Harry and Meghan flung into the ether during that interview.
Now I will be honest: as my previous pro-Harry and Meghan positions now indelibly registered to the forever archive of Internet hot takes, I've not been able to completely purge my sympathies for the pair. As someone who also struggled with pregnancy-related mental-health problems, I feel for Markle's struggles on that front. We don't speak honestly or candidly enough about these issues, and if she can open a dialogue, all to the better. I have no doubt that members of the Royal Family have been assholes to Markle — it would be unexpected for a stuffy regal family at the head of a centuries-old institution nicknamed “The Firm” to welcome any new member with cherry cake and kisses.
The press in the United Kingdom has been particularly awful to Markle and, yes, much of the coverage has been tainted by racism. The press over there is pretty awful to most women who enter The Firm, I'll note, but Markle really has been cast as a villain from the beginning. Given this, perhaps the Royal Family ought to have relented by contributing to a security detail for the family. (Although why U.K. taxpayers should pay the bill to support non-working royals pursuing celebrity in the United States was never fully explained to me.)
Perhaps the Palace ought to have been more aggressive about refuting claims that Markle made Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, cry — although I can certainly understand why the monarchy would decline to get involved with petty infights played in the press.
But therein my sympathy ends. Because there is simply too much nonsense that is currently being slurped up by a credulous American audience ravenous for celebrity tea.
Are we really expected to believe that a 30-something woman with a career starring in well-known television shows was so totally naïve to the pressures of royal life? She was not a teenage waif cloistered in a faraway palace before she chose to marry in; the comparisons to Diana are not apt. If Markle really did fail to Google her future husband's name before she committed to him, then her ignorance was a choice.
But then, ignorance seems to be in no short supply with Markle. Let’s start with the implication that Harry and Meghan's son, Archie, was denied the title of “prince” because of racism.
In 1917, a proclamation was decreed that described who could be styled "Prince," "Princess," and "Royal Highness." The titles are granted to the children of the monarch, the monarch's grandsons, and the eldest son of the eldest son. In other words, only a great-grandson who is directly in line to succeed to the throne would be granted the title of prince.
By this century-old statute, Little Archie doesn’t qualify.
In 2011, the rules of succession were changed to allow a female to be added to the line. And so a year later, when Prince William and Kate became pregnant, the Queen issued a Letters Patent granting the titles of Prince and Princess to their children.
These rules apply after the monarch dies, as well. So once Queen Elizabeth II passes, the title of Prince will presumably be granted to Archie, and any future children of Harry and Meghan. (For a fuller breakdown of the interview and statute by a proper Royals expert, click here.)
Now this is some arcane stuff, granted. But it all predates Markle's entry into the Royal Family. Harry, born and raised to this system, ought to have understood it and, frankly, Markle should have been able to pick it up by now as well. To imply that Archie, who was granted the title of Earl of Dumbarton, was skipped for princely favours because of racism is both misleading and opportunistic.
And then we get into the big bombshell: that at some point, some members of the Royal Family had some conversations with Harry about the colour of Archie's skin — but Harry will never reveal the details of those conversations, presumably out of some sense of reserve and loyalty that conveniently makes it impossible to assess any of his claims.
Now, I'm not reflexively defensive of the monarchy. Is it possible that a pale-skinned family at the head of an institution that serves as an artifact of British colonialism might be racist? Gee, I wonder. This is clearly well within the realm of possibility.
But the context of the conversations that happened matter. What, did Prince Charles caution Harry against dating Meghan Markle because she was dark? Did he make a drunken comment at the family Christmas party at Balmoral? Or did someone raise a concern about how Markle or Archie was likely to be treated by the press due to their race (a concern that would prove prescient, if so)? The nature and context of these conversations matter. If our future head of state is a raging racist, that's something those of us actually living in the Commonwealth need to know. Vague insinuations in a puffball interview do not cut it.
And that's what brings me to the heart of what irks me about all of it — that these allegations are being made in a prime-time interview with Oprah. What can Oprah reasonably be expected to know about the Royal Proclamation of 1917? Why would she have enough of an understanding of the intricacies of the monarchy to challenge this couple on its claims? Why else would she have been chosen except for her American fame, and her ignorance of an institution that she is not subject to?
Stop for a moment and ponder this tweet by the New York Times' Nate Cohn.
As if Canada should be rushing to heed Americans on race relations — or governance, for that matter. This is like Harry's own claim that his family fled the U.K. to escape racism and landed in that that post-racial haven of, uh, Los Angeles.
Americans have the luxury of being so self involved that these allegations can be treated as celebrity trivialities, nothing more than a profile-building exercise for a young couple running through their inherited millions.
But an interview that belongs to the cover of U.S. Weekly in California is a matter of statecraft in Canada. Already, this interview is fuelling conversations about our relationship with the monarchy, and what kind of constitutional challenges might be faced in breaking with it.
The arguments for and against the monarchy are best saved for another day.
All I can note is this: Meghan and Harry are celebrities, not figureheads. We should treat their claims with all the deference accorded to the professions that they have chosen for themselves.
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