When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced that they were “stepping back” from their duties as senior royals, it triggered a number of interesting reactions on this side of the pond.
Some Americans lifted their noses in the air and said, “We fought a revolution not to have to pay attention to these people. Not interested.” (Of course, these were the same folks who kept commenting on social media about how “not interested” they were when no one asked for their opinion in the first place.)
Some people argued whether Harry was a henpecked husband who should not let his commoner wife drive a wedge between him and the rest of the Windsors, while others took Meghan’s side and argued that she had been unfairly treated by those stuffy old Brits and had every right to pen her own Declaration of Independence.
But there was one reaction which troubled me, because it was both predictable, and designed to put people on the defensive: calling all critics of the Duchess racist.
There is no denying that the British press can be cruel to members of the royal family. Remember when they called Fergie the “Duchess of Pork” and ridiculed the looks of Camilla Parker Bowles? And of course many people, including Prince Harry, blame the press for having essentially hounded Princess Diana, literally, to death.
While they haven’t gone to that tragic extent with Meghan, they have been very harsh, making unfavorable comparisons with Kate Middleton and essentially nitpicking every aspect of her life.
And there have been some clear incidents of racism, especially when a BBC journalist likened Harry and Meghan’s new baby Archie to an ape. That should not be tolerated.
But it is possible to criticize Meghan Markle without being racist. The fact that I don’t like Meghan Markle has nothing to do with her skin color. It has to do, as someone once said, with the content of her character.
Meghan has shown a capacity for mean-spiritedness in cutting off communication with family, simply because they embarrassed her. Her treatment of her father, with whom she is voluntarily estranged, is particularly cruel.
And certainly, her decision to step back from royal life after such a short time raises questions about gratitude. After all, the royal family threw her an amazing wedding (with public money), for the renovation of her exquisite home (with public money), sent her on two fabulous world tours (with public money) and showered her with praise whenever she appeared at public outings.
In fact, it is this public generosity that is at the root of another Meghan criticism. Her unprecedented insistence on privacy is something that the British do not expect from their royals. Unlike Diana, Fergie, Kate and pretty much every other royal mother, Meghan refused to be photographed coming out of the hospital with baby Archie. It’s not like the Brits paid for the baby, but they did have an expectation of seeing him.
As a society, we cannot get to the point where criticizing someone who happens to be black or another minority is viewed as being “all about race.”
Meghan Markle is a world leader and a public figure. While that doesn’t take away her right to any privacy, it also does not exempt her from criticism. Dismissing genuine critiques about her is unfair because it both silences legitimate criticism of a person’s character while, at the same time, diminishes the impact of real racism.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.