Why Meghan Markle broke free from stifling British Royalty

This momentous month, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle - announced on their joint Instagram account that they would be taking a step back as senior members of the royal family, working to become financially independent from the British Crown, and splitting their time between the United Kingdom and North America.

The move is unprecedented for two reasons: Aside from the sublimely millennial move to release news on a social media account, according to Jonny Dymond, royal correspondent and presenter of BBC News, they did not consult any member of the royal family prior to announcing this decision. One could see from how hasty Buckingham Palace’s response to the breaking news was that they were completely blindsided by Harry and Meghan’s exit. But the question begs: Why should they be? Meghan Markle was never the British monarchy or media’s first choice. She’s been unfairly scrutinized from their courtship to the birth of their son Archie. Because she’s always been an outsider predominantly because of her racial background, there is poetic justice in that she was always destined to break protocol because she never was meant to exist inside of the order in the first place.

There was a moment that, in retrospect, was a turning point in our understanding of Markle’s strength. Back in October 2019, just five months after she gave birth, in an interview with reporter Tom Bradby for a documentary called Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, Meghan was fighting to hold back tears although the rest of her face confessed her despair. Bradby asked about Meghan’s wellbeing, and she frankly told him, “Not many people have asked if I’m okay … it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.” She pulled back the veil a little further when Bradby asked her if she’s not really okay and if it’s been a struggle, and she replied with a faint yet succinct, “Yes.” The short clip was a disgrace.

The royal family still has not learned their lesson from another woman, who unlike Markle, was born into aristocracy and still struggled to exert her agency: Princess Diana. Twenty-five years ago, in 1995, Princess Diana did an interview with BBC in which she told reporter Martin Bashir that she doesn’t think she’ll be queen (even though she was still married to Prince Charles at the time) because the “establishment” that she married into wouldn’t want it. When Bashir asked why, Diana responded, “Because I’m a nonstarter…Because I do things differently. Because I don’t go by a rulebook. I lead from the heart, not the head.” The stark difference between Meghan and Diana is that Diana’s rebellious nature is not compounded by her race. Because of Meghan’s Blackness, her controversy is attached to not only what she does but also by her being in the royal family at all.

The stark difference between Meghan and Diana is that Diana’s rebellious nature is not compounded by her race.

By Markle being an outsider, culturally, racially, and socioeconomically, she has been the royal family’s scapegoat through which they can shield other members’ indiscretions, like the pestering rumors about Prince William’s alleged affair with socialite Rose Hanbury, who runs in their same blue-blooded circles, or Prince Andrew’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and the underaged victims who were allegedly abused by both of them.

This is a legacy of girls and women whose lives and bodies are no match for the ironclad protection of men, and Meghan, as a mixed-race woman, became a part of a perfect storm.
BuzzFeed reporter Ellie Hall made a Twitter thread in which she’s said that out of all of her seven years of reporting on the royal family, Meghan is the only one who gets this intense amount of vitriol. There needn’t be any mental calisthenics as to why that is. The Daily Mail and Mirror Royal pit Meghan against her sister-in-law Kate over their fashion and behavior. Piers Morgan insinuates that Meghan’s supposed abandonment issues are influencing Harry to ruin his relationship with his family. Media personality Katie Hopkins mocks Meghan for her emotions.

It has been a maelstrom of insults for Meghan and per her admission, not many people are checking on her. Not many people are coming to her defense. There are 49 members in succession in the House of Windsor. If Meghan is one of the newest royals and she has not been supported after the racism and sexism that is the British media, then the royal family is at the whim of the tabloids, not vice versa. And furthermore, the royal protocol is a byproduct of Whiteness, entrenched to maintain a caste system in which those like Meghan can never be protected but only subjugated further into psychological ruin as long as she remains in that family.

With this in mind, Meghan unequivocally leaned into that outsider status, leading with her heart and not her head, and reminding herself that the most important family is who she wakes up to, not the crown to which she must submit. With her husband, they agreed together that the media will not break their union or their mental stability as they had once done over 20 years prior with Princess Diana. This solidarity is a victory in and of itself because with their departure from tradition, they reaffirmed to the world that rules should not be prioritized over one’s humanity. Meghan has regained her life with her newfound title and the support of her husband, who has esteemed who she is in her Blackness, Americanness, and “commoner” status, in what a love story and a precedent should be for the ages to come.

* Morgan Jerkins is the author of the New York Times-bestselling essay collection, "This Will Be My Undoing" and Senior Editor at ZORA. She is based in Harlem, New York, USA.