Buckingham Palace’s statement on Prince Harry and Meghan’s allegations or racism and mistreatment has failed to quiet the controversy, with some observers criticizing the royal family for failing to forcefully condemn racism and suggesting that the couple’s version of events may not be accurate.
“Too little, too late” was the verdict of royal commentator Peter Hunt, who also criticized the palace’s 61-word statement for saying the issue would be dealt with privately as a family matter.
“This delayed, tame statement went for predictability when unpredictability — stepping out of the Windsor comfort zone — was what was needed,” Hunt wrote on the website of the influential British magazine The Spectator.
The statement, issued on behalf of the queen, was released 36 hours after Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was broadcast in the United States.
“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” the palace said. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.’’
The comments were the palace’s first word since the interview rocked the royal family — and touched off conversations around the world about racism, mental health and even the relationship between Britain and its former colonies.
In the interview, Meghan, who is biracial, described feeling so isolated and miserable inside the royal family that she had suicidal thoughts, yet when she asked for mental health assistance from the palace’s human resources staff, she was told they couldn’t help because she wasn’t a paid employee. She also said Harry told her there were “concerns and conversations” about the colour of her baby’s skin when she was pregnant with her son, Archie.
The interview, seen by some 50 million people worldwide, has divided opinions around the world.
Many people have backed Meghan, saying the allegations demonstrate the need for change inside an institution that hasn’t kept pace with the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements. Others stand behind the royal family, criticizing the couple for making their damning allegations at a time when Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather, Prince Philip, remains hospitalized in London after a heart procedure.
Anna Whitelock, director of the Centre for the Study of Modern Monarchy at Royal Holloway, University of London, said the palace’s brief message had “hardened the lines” between people who believe the monarchy is an outdated bastion of inherited white privilege and those who see it as cherished national institution.
Fallout from the interview is likely to only fuel the debate over the future of the monarchy and its role both in Britain and the other countries around the world for which the queen serves as head of state, Whitelock said. The queen remains the head of state for 15 countries, most of which were once part of the British Empire, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and island nations in the Caribbean.
“That’s a debate that’s been held in check, in large part, given the length of the queen’s reign and in respect to her and the role that she’s played,” Whitelock said. “But it’s going to happen, and it’s just a question of when, not if.”
After Harry and Meghan married in May 2018 at Windsor Castle, the royal family seemed to welcome Meghan, a glamorous former TV star, and the couple were seen as providing a fresh young face for the monarchy of an increasingly multicultural nation.
It didn’t take long for the fairytale to unravel. The couple stepped away from royal duties last year and eventually settled in California, saying they wanted to escape racist coverage and unwanted intrusions on their privacy by the British media.
The interview especially struck a chord with many Black people in Britain, some of whom were not satisfied with the palace’s remarks. Bell Ribeiro-Addy, a Black member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, said Buckingham Palace should have directly condemned racism.
“The monarchy is a public institution that receives public money and any criticism of the institution should really be met with a forceful response from the institution about what they are going to do,’’ Ribeiro-Addy told the BBC. “We expect (that) of any institution. Why not the monarchy, why not the palace?”
Danica Kirka, The Associated Press
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