The Current

Brits in denial over 'insidious' racism directed at Harry and Meghan, says U.K.-based writer

Amna Saleem, a writer based in Glasgow, says "relentless" attacks with "coded racism for black women" contributed to Prince Harry and Meghan's decision to step away from royal duties.

'Nobody's saying the N-word,' but tabloids often employ 'coded racism for black women': Amna Saleem

Prince Harry and Meghan announced last week that they were stepping back from their roles as senior royals. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

Read Story Transcript

Racism played a big role in Prince Harry and Meghan's decision to step away from royal duties, but Britain is in denial about it, according to one writer and broadcaster in the country.

"There's a sense of cognitive dissonance in ... Britain right now, because they're claiming not to see the racism, except it could not be more blatant," said Amna Saleem, a Glasgow-based screenwriter.

Saleem told The Current's Matt Galloway that the British media has been "relentless" in their attacks against Meghan, ranging from publications "trying to debate or guess how black their baby would be," to comparisons to Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

"Kate is often described as sweet and introverted, whereas Meghan Markle is often called sexual or dominating, which is, quite frankly, coded racism for black women," Saleem said.

She added that Meghan was frequently portrayed as "angry and assertive, which is something that definitely black women go through."

"Nobody's saying the N-word or any particular slurs, but it's so insidious it's hard to escape."

Harry and Meghan announced their intention to step back as senior members of the Royal Family last week. The couple did not cite any specific reason for their decision in their statement.

The move reportedly took Queen Elizabeth by surprise, but after an emergency meeting Monday, she announced a transition period where the couple would divide their time between Britain and Canada.

Saleem said the couple's wedding in May 2018 had raised hopes for progressive change in the monarchy and wider society, but "it has actually gone exactly how most people of colour had predicted."

"That has been this unrelenting attack on Meghan Markle, to the point that we have actually hounded her out of the royal family," she said.

Saleem said that Harry and Meghan's wedding had offered hope for change in Britain, but it was shortlived. (Gareth Fuller/Associated Press)

Sneering press just from one or two tabloids: writer

Stephen Bates, a former royal correspondent for the Guardian, disagreed that the couple had faced widespread racism.

"I think that the more spiteful and sneering comments have come from a few columnists, on one or two of the tabloid papers," he told Galloway.

Instead, he thinks the coverage has been largely positive, with some reasonable criticism.

"For instance, lecturing the world on climate change while taking private jets is something that's perfectly permissible to comment on and to criticize," he said.

The couple's announcement last week received blanket coverage in British newspapers. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Saleem agreed that the couple should not be immune to critique, but added: "To deny that the criticism is underlined by race and racism is just willingly being ignorant about the entire situation."

While the details of the couple's future time in Canada are not yet clear, author and historian Carolyn Harris thinks the media coverage they receive will be different.

"[In Britain] there has been critiques of everything from what they spend on their home renovations, to Megan serving avocado toast at tea time," she said.

Royal super fan John Loughery holds a copy of a British newspaper as he poses for the media outside of Buckingham Palace in London on January 9, 2020, following the announcement. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Harris believes the couple will likely be treated differently by the Canadian press than their experience with the British tabloids.

"We don't have quite the same tradition of intruding into the private lives of public figures unless that's considered to be in the public interest," she explained.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino and Max Paris. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?