Episode 104: Meghan Markle and The Royally Toxic Institution of Whiteness

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She+ Geeks Out Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion facilitators Fatima Dainkeh and Jacquis Watters sit down to respond to Oprah With Meghan And Harry: A CBS Primetime Special. Fatima and Jacquis look at the Royal Family’s connection to and complicity with the institutions of whiteness and white supremacy, and why it’s dangerous to separate institutions from people. They also dive into the universality of Meghan Markle’s experiences as a Black woman, how we can all think about dismantling racism in our own families, and a legacy of support within BIPOC communities.


Fatima: All right. Well, I finally got a chance to watch, I don't think it's the full interview according to Oprah, but I watched a 90-minute version of what was able to be shared, in the recording of Meghan and Harry. And that interview, before I even watched it, I just remember seeing so many memes, so many tweets, so many news articles, I mean, I remember even being downstairs and seeing my family watching the news, and that's all I would see in headlines, and I was in a different space personally, so I just couldn't emotionally and physically give enough time to watch it. So now that I've finally watched it, I have a lot of feels. A lot of feels just about the responses that I saw before watching the video. And I tried not to go looking for them, but they popped up and then feels of just watching the video. I remember like the first 10 minutes in, I was like, wait, hold up. There was no research done. Like there were a lot of questions that I had. And then towards the end, I will say that I think it was helpful to have Meghan and Harry sort of tell their side of the story. Obviously none of us are there. But I'm happy or at least interested in talking with you, Jacquis to see what your feelings are. I don't want to automatically start sharing, but I have a lot to say. So I want to pause there to just be like, that's where I'm at. I'm going to say a lot about the beginning, the middle, the end, currently, and hope to sort of connect that with what we see happening in the workplace, especially, but I'm interested to see what you thought or felt when you watched the video.

Jacquis: I'm laughing. I took multiple notes. I would echo some of your initial thoughts. So I did not watch it, it wasn't on my agenda to watch when it came out. I ended up seeing so much about it via social media, folks that I follow on Instagram, friends, posting things, and then I was finally able to see it last night. So I think it's important to acknowledge my context is that, similar to you, I probably had this tint to the lens that I was watching, when I was watching it last night. I had this tint to my perspective and my perception, and of course my own identities were popping up for me as I was reflecting on the interview with Meghan and Harry. I think like anything else, there are multiple truths to the story. There are multiple truths to how I am digesting the story, and how I encourage others to complicate their understanding and digest as well.

Fatima: That makes a lot of sense. And I guess it's probably helpful for us to go dive in, cause folks are probably listening, like, "Hey, so what did you think?" I'd say in the beginning, in terms of the memes that I saw before watching the video, similar to your point, I tried not to read it too much. I know on our team, we try to stay on top of things. So our marketing manager, Vienna, did an awesome job of just compiling some top tweets that are just out in the universe that are just like, here are reactions to Meghan's experience as it relates to being a Black person, specifically a Black woman in this country, in the West, right. Whether it's in the US or the UK. And I remember seeing that and being like, okay, not surprised, but obviously I didn't know the details.

And as I was watching it the first 10 minutes, when Oprah asked Meghan, like "you knew you were marrying into this family, yada, yada yada, well, why didn't you, or did you, do any research?" Um, and I remember Meghan saying, you know, no, and obviously this is a translation. I don't remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of, you know, no, she didn't do any research. She didn't feel like she needed to, especially because of the relationship, what sounds like a loving relationship she had formed with Harry. And in that moment, I found myself pausing because if I was to mirror this to being a Black woman in America, or being a Black woman at work, or in a corporate space, that's mostly white or most of the employees and CEOs and leadership team are white as a Black woman, that is the first thing I'm doing. And that is the first thing I'm doing because of my experiences prior to entering that space, and/or because of other Black women's experiences. And something that was interesting for me to witness is the fact that, you know, racism looks different for everyone who identifies as Black or as a person of color in terms of specificity. And at the same time, we all know that like, when that story comes up, everybody's like, ah, yeah, okay. It hasn't happened to me, but I have a sister that it happened to. I have an aunt that it happened to. And so I found myself being a little surprised, appreciating her going in without bias, which is what we try to talk about when we do our workshops, and then also realizing that, huh, did she intentionally try not to paint a picture because she wanted to get to know the family for who they were versus saying, okay, this is a whole institution that has been connected, and we talked about this earlier, Jacquis, with colonialism, with slavery, and still as they call it the Commonwealth, even the countries that they are visiting outside of the West, um, are predominantly Black, African people who recently just became independent, you know, in the sixties where my mom is still alive. And so I found it a little unsettling in those first few minutes. But as the story continued, I sort of was asking myself questions of this double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois talks about, where it's like sometimes being Black is like, sometimes you gotta let some stuff go and don't bring it into spaces. Sometimes it is psychological. You don't even know that you're consciously or unconsciously doing that. And I found myself wondering with her, as she identifies as biracial or multiracial, I believe, having a Black mother and a White father, if at any point that happened within her life, that created her experiences and her lens going into this space, which happens to a lot of us, whether we are aware or we don't do our research, or we do our research, there is a double consciousness that exists for many Black people and people of color in general.

Jacquis: I was nodding to everything you said. Yeah. So I guess my context was pretty vague, right? The tint that I was coming in with was why would I be shocked by these revelations about the institution that is quote unquote, the Firm, or the Royal family. And what I found is in that first portion of the interview, I did find myself providing more grace for Meghan. It was a way, like any interview often can be, to humanize her. Right. And so, I would say one, that shock didn't go away though. And so I had this, this lens of why were you so surprised that these were the, the actions or the responses, the consequences to your love that was happening? And I say consequences, right, cause she, she started talking about not only implications around racism, but also mental health. Some of those multiple truths that were popping up for me at the beginning, were of course race is a part of the conversation, whether conscious or unconscious of it, of course it is.

Similar to you, when you talked about why weren't you looking at this before, she was thinking about them as celebrities. Within our country, within the US, celebrity status is one thing. And she then talked about how the Royal family was something so much more than that. And so I, with the grace that I was seeking to provide, I still thought this institution, or this Royal family, at minimum is complicit in both historical and current racism. So at minimum there's complicity, when you think about anti-Blackness, that's currently happening, not only in the UK, but as you highlighted in the Commonwealth, across countries. Like you had also highlighted historically, this family has profited off of Black and Brown slavery, that from these countries, that they then also pillaged in land and resources. My father's country did not get their independence from the British until 1987. So not too long ago, right? Within the last 35 years, and the queen is still on the money. The culture in his country is still very much connected to English rule, even if they're not being ruled by the English. As much as I am seeking to provide grace and I'm still reflecting and I'm still seeking to soften myself and the lens that I'm in particular thinking about the beginning of that interview, I hear that this is a struggle.

Suicide ideation is nothing to make light of. It is terrible that these were your experiences and that you are being impacted on a consistent basis via your innate identity with racism. And. I kept saying, "and" I kept thinking, "and." I don't know how to articulate it even, I think when it comes to, you know, for me, I've definitely clocked, especially as someone who identifies as mixed race myself, it definitely clocked that she was articulating herself as mixed race, as biracial, as a woman of color, and talking about representation, and I think all of that matters, and how can we name explicitly anti-Blackness and in that direct way, how do we also talk about colorism, and the nuances to what having lighter skin means. Again, it's not a race thing, how she's being treated, it's an "and." It's a further complication. I think that's something I'm still grappling with- how can we talk about "and" without erasing her experiences and also saying, let's talk about monoracial Black women. Let's talk about how anti-Blackness shows up globally. How do we hold this institution accountable? And I know it was only two hours in total. And. It's a constant "and."

Fatima: I love everything that you said. And I think at some point I was also in the moment of "and." Sometimes there's nothing before that. And sometimes there's nothing after that. I just want to hold space for you around your feels and just how complex it is, sometimes. Sometimes it's so complex that language can't really explain how we are feeling inside. Especially those of us who are DEI practitioners, specifically, those of us who are BIPOC- Black, Indigenous, People of Color, doing equity work, knowing what it feels like, even dependent, regardless or in honor of, the difference in color, whether it's darker skinned to lighter skinned. I think what Meghan Markle really highlighted for us, if anything else, is that one- racism is a thing everywhere and anywhere. Two- to your point, while proximity to whiteness does allow privilege to show up, Meghan Markle did not wholly benefit from those privileges. And to your point, that is what you're getting at, that complexity is there, right? It's saying, yeah, she might be close to whiteness and have those privileges, and it did not save her this time. Her money being in Hollywood, which she probably had coming into the space, did not save her. And Harry, to your point, made it very clear that being connected to Meghan, or with Meghan, allowed him to, what, what did he say? He said it allowed him to no longer be, what was the word he used?

Jacquis: He started to become aware that race was actually an issue. Where I'm providing grace for her, I don't think I have grace for him. I really appreciated the brilliant being that is Oprah, for challenging him. Towards the end, he said I was struggling too. I was feeling lonely too. And she said, "How? You were a Prince. You've grown up as a Prince." And so, again, I don't want to make light of what they have collectively been impacted by. And I say he should have been doing the work sooner. He should have reflected on what, there's no erasing, it's anti-Blackness that she's been impacted by and continues to be impacted by, especially with the English media. Why wasn't he doing this work sooner?

Fatima: Yes. Absolutely. Thank you for saying that. I had that thought as well. And the words just came to my mind, it was trapped. That was the word he used, because I remember him saying trapped and sitting there and being like, I understand where you're going with this, but that choice of word can also be questionable when Meghan is right beside you explaining her experiences. And it's not to say that one must compare because honestly, most of us only know our reality based on how we're living. So we're not saying, "oh, this person's experience is worse than yours," but the way he was explaining trapped, and for his brother and father, being trapped in this institution that's racist, it sounded like, I know that our institution is in great, but hey, that's just how things are. And at some point, and he was part of that narrative. Yes, he probably has pushed and no longer is, he's trying to fight that, but he was part of that. A lot of times when we talk about being a bystander or being an ally, or accomplice, or a co-conspirator, it was like he had to be married to someone to finally say, hey, I have a child and now one coming, there's something that I need to do.

And to be fair and honest, everyone doesn't do that, even when they're connected with someone because they're their partner. How many of us have sat at that table during dinner? And our family has said something sexist, racist, homophobic. Even if we're part of those communities, we sit there and let it go on because we say that's how things are supposed to be. And unfortunately, that narrative, we see it in the workplaces, a lot of us enter the workplace and we try. We say, I know something isn't right. The hiring might not be making sense. There's not enough visible and non-visible diversity, but it's not that bad. This is the way things have always been. And for you to really go against the grain and resist is hard work. I don't want to invalidate anything that Meghan went through. And, because we love a good and, so you'll hear Jacquis and I say that a lot, and I'm also sitting here like, wow, their story gets to be put out there on the main screen, but we know people go through this every single day and don't have an opportunity to sit by Oprah. Probably things that are worse and not having the money to rely on. Harry mentioned, I have money from my mom, which is why we're making it, in addition to other things that they're doing, and I'm happy for them. And folks don't have that option sometimes. They don't have the option to leave a workplace because, "Hey, I'm a single Black mother and I have two, three kids to feed. So I know this is a racist institution and some of these policies are not okay, but I have to make do." And I think that was part of the storyline where I was like, it's important for this to go out, there for people to see how this is manifesting, because all of our stories aren't told. And there's so many other stories out there that are so hard to even listen to and hear.

I sat there thinking about how many Meghans are out there, especially when it comes to health outcomes. You talked about her struggling with her mental health. Well, as someone in the public health field, we know that stress increases cortisol levels, and cortisol levels are connected to co-morbidities and so many health ailments. And so when some of us are going into the workplace and we're having microaggressions thrown at us left and right- we're not being promoted, our healthcare sucks, and so forth, that reality for Meghan is a reality for so many Black people, not just in the US, but across the world, because racism, and colonialism, and colorism exists across these waters and land.

Jacquis: It's ingrained in, quite literally, how the world has been created. I think that's my struggle with the disconnect, I think. I'm sure they spoke so much longer than the two hours, but there was a disconnect for me, that was happening in how they spoke about the institution versus the folks. When you talk about the amplification of her story, it is so needed. I absolutely co-sign, the issue isn't that her voice is being heard. It needs to be heard. The issue and concern goes back to structurally, when we think about whose voices are consistently uplifted, we're not getting the full scope of a Black diaspora. We're talking about specifically Blackness here, an anti-Black rhetoric. So for me, it's just, how do we get the amplification of multiple voices?

Also, Harry highlighted a piece of him wanting to show compassion towards his family. From my notes I found what he had talked about. He didn't realize what was going to happen or what was happening until he sought to walk in her shoes. And that's when he realized there was an issue. Gosh, y'all, there's a structural issue happening everywhere, right? Like you said, it is a global issue. How do we not just wait until we're ready to show compassion to someone connected to us versus saying, we are a part of a larger community. How are we engaging with our community members in a workplace, outside of a workplace? How do I see you in your full being? And how do I say, "what's happening is not okay?"

Fatima: Yeah. So much that you just said, I'm just sitting here, like you could talk about this for another hour. And just another note about Harry, or the identities that Harry holds and represents, is that as I was watching the interview toward the end, I was having a hard time. I know it's not personally his fault, but the systems in the country and the world that we live in, and a lot of the headlines that were shared, and I don't know if other headlines said things about Harry, but the headlines that were shared on the Oprah show, everything was blamed on Meghan. None of us probably were surprised, but I think it's hard to be a woman, and then a Black woman or a woman of color or a biracial woman, to know that sometimes you're the one that's blamed for everything. Personal note, I remember hearing some of my family members say, "Meghan knew she was entering this family. Now she's removed her husband from the Royal family. And this is just such a bad thing that she has done." And so not only was I seeing that on social media, but I was hearing that within my family. I find it so interesting because I think there's a cultural dynamic at play for some of my family members who are not from this country and really hold tradition and culture near and dear to them. Sometimes there's a fear to remove yourself from what you're used to. And then there's also that gender piece at play. Where very often, even when we talk about children and their parents, if something happens to the child, and we're talking heterosexual relationships here, but if that child is a child of two parents that are within a heterosexual relationship, and something happens to that child, the mother is usually the one to blame. Somehow somewhere there there's nothing involved with the father. And to see some of that narrative played out was so interesting. And to see that he had to be the one to make the choice to say, "Hey, after all these two-plus years, I finally see and hear it." Even though he said, I knew it was going to be an issue before we even got married, because there was already talk about skin color. Again, this is that conversation about intent and impact and good versus bad. And they kept using that language. Even Meghan being like the institution is problematic, but the people within the institution are good. And we can use that lens here in the US and think about the workplace. "Well, the CEO is a great man, but we just aren't doing a great job with recruiting! And diversity, equity, and inclusion is something that we're trying to do." It's not about someone being good or bad. We need to really dissect what racism is, what it looks like. Because if we get stuck on values and attributes and not really look at the ways that we perpetuate racism consciously or unconsciously, we're going to get stuck in figuring out how do we dismantle it? So Harry had to leave because how does he change an institution if he's separating institution and family, when in many ways they're both the same? People make up institutions, institutions don't stand by themselves.

Jacquis: It's that! You hit it. I've been co-signing everything you say, I'm continuing. This is not about the morality of a particular person or a family. It is not to demonize folks. Their family is a physical representation of the country, quite literally going back hundreds of years. And for many folks, like we highlighted earlier, the colonization of Black and Brown countries and people and land are connected to this physical manifestation of oppression that is the Royal family, full stop. The people are a part of that. And that's not to say "let's demonize people." I appreciate that Harry is like, "Oh, goodness gracious. I need to do some more work for myself, for my family, for this woman that I love." I appreciate that she's talking about how he was holding her hand, knuckles so tight they're white, that he was not leaving her side. And. Please see that compassion for your family doesn't allow us to dismantle anything. You can have compassion and care for your family and call them out. How do you hold people accountable? How do you hold yourself accountable? When we say institution, the way they're using it, we're still conceptualizing it. People are a part of institution. It's not, "oh, well, the CEO's lovely. We're just not doing well in retention." No, is the CEO actively engaging in saying we must have both external and internal resources for our employees to better themselves holistically? When we're doing leadership development, leadership development should also talk about identity because identity is what's going into the workplace. It's what's leaving with us and coming in with us. I'm not hanging up being a woman like a coat on a coat rack. That's not taking place. And so with Meghan, also what you highlighted, it's not just anti-Blackness. It's anti-Blackness and sexism, or misogynoir, misogyny that's coming into play. So again, I say, Harry, why didn't you see this earlier?

And, great, you're doing some work now. How do you continue that work? How do you allow that work to be what pushes you and pushes your family to be a better representation for your people? Because they have people. They have a country that they represent. It needs to be a continuous conversation of how we dismantle systems and also give folks the tools to build themselves back up. To be better at understanding and better in community with folks. How do we be "in community" with folks in a workplace, or when we're at a Thanksgiving dinner and a relative says something foolish?

Fatima: Ah, spot on, spot on. To that end, at some point, and we were talking about this as colleagues, a lot of other things are happening in the media beyond just commenting on the experiences of Black people and Black women in the west, in the world, in the workplace, all. But we also find that there were some tweets or memes, apparently that some folks, specifically folks who identify as white women, were saying things like, "Oh, this is a show. This is entertainment. This is my Superbowl," according to our internal resource that we have that always keeps us up to date with what's going on. When I heard that, I didn't even know that that was being said, I think both you and I were both like, wait, what? People are saying this is entertainment? It's scary because when I heard that, I automatically thought about this past summer (and many summers before this past summer) if we think about social unrest and we think about police brutality and we think about videos that are being shown. And I fear, or fear probably isn't the word, but it's concerning that harm and hurt and pain within the Black community very often is seen as entertainment. It's seen as something to just not be connected with, but to be a witness and say, huh, that's interesting to those people. That's interesting that it's happening to them over there. And if we are truly going to create change at any space, whether it's the workplace, which is a microcosm of what's happening in the larger world or in our day-to-day society, we have to start questioning ourselves who we see as humans and who we don't. Often we talk about compassion, and we use words like empathy, which we're trying to move away from even using the word empathy, because the truth is none of us can truly know what it feels like to be in someone else's shoes.

But compassion says, Hey, I might not know what it feels like in terms of what you're going through, but I'm holding space for you. And here's my role. Here's the action steps that I need to take. We have to reflect on how we're absorbing some of these materials and to say, no, this is happening to real people. It's not funny. It's not a show. And maybe one can say, well, being in the US and watching things that are happening in the UK, in many ways like, "Oh, we're better over here. They don't have first amendment rights," or things of that nature, but it's the one and the same. We have to remember that some of the folks who (and this is air quotes) "founded this country" were running away and wanting to be free from that very institution that we're talking about. And so some of the ideals that we have here directly, historically comes from the UK/European ideals and so forth. So I just think it's so interesting thinking about that and forgetting that history and connection that we still have in many ways.

Jacquis: I love that you brought it back to the historical piece. Many folks, as we think of the US now, came here from Europe, right? And from this wanting to push back on their parents and say, I'm a teenager now, I'm starting my own thing. Of course, colonizing this land and taking away indigenous people and land is important to note. But again, that's even an extension of this Royal family, what they taught their people was allowed and what wasn't allowed, and what was allowed is that you are not inferior to others, but rather they are inferior to you. Even if folks are not consciously saying that now, some are, but most aren't. It is still very much something that is in the air because it is that insidious, regardless of whether the root is from 10 decades ago or 10 days ago, it is still insidious.

And so I just keep going back to this institution, or these people, they are one and the same. Because you are folks that represent such a significantly powerful family, your platform could have been (and at this point, hopefully moving forward, will consistently be) to challenge the narrative that's currently out there for Black and Brown people, for multiple marginalized identities. That's really my hope.

I'm leaving watching this interview and saying, gosh, I really hope that Meghan and Harry continue to do the work and consistent work. Cause there's work on both of their parts. There's work as they welcome a family unit. There's work that they have for their family. That's where I say, okay, we can give some grace, some compassion to our family members. We all know that's always a little more complicated. And that shouldn't stop action. I'm really expecting or hoping to see more action. And maybe this means I'll actually follow them and follow the things they do.

Fatima: That was a mic drop. I'm sitting here like, and that's how to close out. In terms of even more tips and people saying what does this mean for me, or thinking about the workplace, because that's a lot of the work we do as a company, I love what you said about challenging and pushing, challenging that narrative. It's something that Vienna shared with us, who is our marketing manager, which I think is spot on, but something we need to wrestle with as a community, as a culture, is this idea that we're good at distancing ourselves from others. And when we do that, that's at the detriment of everyone, every time. And I appreciate Vienna sharing that with us because we see that at play here. And we sometimes stick our nose out at other people as if our stuff doesn't smell. We say, "Oh, what's happening over there is horrible."

Some other tips in terms of how to do this work, it's also not just white folks that need to listen and challenge the narrative and put some action steps towards this. When we talk about colorism and anti-Blackness, we see it within our community as well. Something you mentioned earlier, Jacquis, when we were talking offline, was the embrace and support that is currently happening. People that are giving them the spotlight to tell their stories are Black people. We can feel however we feel about Oprah. We can feel however we feel about Tyler Perry, but in this specific situation, those were two people supporting them. When I think about other Black women and men that I've seen, I don't want to name certain people. I'm going to name Candace Owens because I've been looking at other storytelling and thinking about how other people talk about this. But this invalidation, saying "she doesn't even look Black," and "if you look at the child, he's not even Black." People need to understand that racism is not just skin color. People need to understand that racism is also talking about the way we are, the way we behave. And we talk about institutions that have been existing for thousands of years, you don't have to look Black for them to know that you have Black in you, and for them not to want you to rule and to be in a space of power. If we don't sit with that and wrestle with those concepts, we are doing ourselves harm. We are doing Black people harm. Because every time we come up to tell our stories, you will find a way to invalidate them. You will say that I'm not dark enough. You will say that my child isn't dark enough. And yes, I might have some privilege in terms of being lighter skinned or having curly hair. But I am still a person of color in a system and a country that is racist. If we're not having these conversations, we will also be harming ourselves as a community, in addition to people that's not part of Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities. We will see ourselves continuing to have the same conversations, because we don't want to be honest with what is actually happening when we talk about power and privilege. It is closely tied to racism, both skin color, and also everything else that comes along with what it means to be white, AKA right?

Jacquis: I mentioned I'm mixed race. Folks could probably go on our website and see the skin color that I'm carrying. That's just real. It's just a matter of fact, I can't get away from it. So this is another example of the "and," right? I want to hold what's happening to her and say, yes, this is anti-Blackness. I also want to hold that her skin color or the lightness of skin color does play a factor into how often someone thinks the really terrible anti-Black things they're thinking about her, whether it's when folks knew who she was from being an actress on Suits, or now as a part of the Royal family. Because she's still a part of the Royal family. It's important, I think, to hold both of those.

I also think it's really important to emphasize what you highlighted of, "this is so insidious." It is also internalized by Black and Brown folk. Just matter of fact, point blank. I don't think anyone has any right to challenge her Blackness, to challenge her identity. I'm a little biased myself. That "enough" question, I think is absolutely something I am confident she has reflected on and probably continues to reflect on. And I laugh, but it's terrible. And. I see that we have multiple prominent Black folks within the US supporting this couple. And that's also important to note, because I think especially Black community, when we say community overall, we are down for each other. For the most part, right? I think we should challenge each other- I think everybody should be challenging themselves and challenging others. But for the most part, within a Black community, there is so much interpersonal care that's often given. And it's often, often on the backs of Black women.

All of that is happening and it gets further complicated, yes, by her own racial identity, and that doesn't take away the oppression that she is feeling. It shouldn't take away the oppression that is structurally and ideologically happening for folks. That's just so important. The gas lighting that's taking place for her narrative by others. Why? Why are we gatekeeping? Because truly everyone should have the moment to be introspective and say, gosh, when we say that we actively are here for Black lives, we are here for all Black lives. That includes Black women, Black queer folks, Black trans folks, Black folks with disabilities. We are not critically thinking about how ableism is at the crossroads with race and we need to. In this example with Meghan, it's gender. And that's just the two that we're talking about, I'm sure there are more that maybe we're just not articulating. So it's just so important. My big hope is that folks just have a conversation after seeing the interview and they want to further complicate their understanding of race. And.

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