Meghan Markle (Photo: Getty Images)


The significance of Prince Harry condemning the sexist, racist treatment of Meghan Markle

In an unprecedented statement released by Kensington Palace, Prince Harry condemns the “outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments”   

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By Lynn Enright on

As soon as the rumours of Prince Harry’s relationship with actor Meghan Markle began to swirl, the British tabloids took aim. They found estranged relatives willing to call her narcissistic and social-climbing; they unearthed bankruptcy documents relating to her parents; they printed photographs of her in acting roles without context. They did everything they could to make her look bad. 

The Daily Mail sketched a “difficult childhood”, hard “both due to her mixed-race heritage and her financially strained family background”; The Sun called her Princess Pushy. Misogyny was to the fore and, in the background, a sense that perhaps this women wan’t good enough for Prince Harry. She’s American, she’s biracial, she works, she’s not from a wealthy background – you could hear the tabloid journalists stacking up these facts as though they were accusations. It was deeply depressing. And it also felt wildly out of step with attitudes – including the attitudes of the royal family – in 2016. 

Tabloids deal in insinuations, cloaking blatant sexism in euphemisms, thereby allowing the trolls and below-the-line commenters to continue the hateful fire they have started

Today, Prince Harry has confirmed that Meghan Markle is his girlfriend in a statement condemning the racist and sexist harassment she has faced. Issued by Kensington Palace, the statement says that, while the prince is accustomed to interest in his personal life, “a line has been crossed” in the treatment of Markle: “Meghan Markle has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public – the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.”

It’s an unusual step to take for the royal family – especially as the relationship is believed to be quite new; the statement says, “It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms Markle should be subjected to such a storm” – but it feels entirely warranted given the ugly attention Markle has attracted. And it’s important that the royal family are calling out the racism, classism and misogyny heaped on women in the tabloid press. They are naming the problems boldly and plainly, which feels brave and, above all, useful; often, tabloids deal in insinuations, cloaking blatant sexism in euphemisms, allowing the trolls and below-the-line commenters to explicitly continue the hateful fire they have started. 

Public thinking has changed enormously since the papers hounded Prince Harry’s mother and, even in the years since Prince William began going out with Kate Middleton, attitudes have shifted. We recognise and name sexism and racism more frequently and with more conviction than we once did. Prince Harry regularly speaks out about the stigma surrounding mental-health issues; he is a millennial, even if he is also a royal. So, of course, bearing that in mind, he’s going to speak out on behalf of his girlfriend in the face of sexist trolling.   

The tabloids, though, have changed very little over the years and, actually, it’s possible that their tactics are getting worse. Today’s statement outlines the struggles Markle and her family have faced since the news of her relationship broke: “the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life”. It sounds horrible – but it sounds like people, including Prince Harry, are standing up to it. And that is good news.


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Meghan Markle (Photo: Getty Images)
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