Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Editorial | Throwing out the royal rule book

Published:Saturday | December 2, 2017 | 12:17 AM

Ardent supporters of the British royal family are no doubt thrilled at news of the engagement of Prince Harry and America-born actress Meghan Markle.

This fairy-tale romance of how Miss Markle moved from being a descendant of cotton plantation slaves to claiming her prince is the kind of story that’s worth a smile in this tragedy-warped 21st-century world.

But not everyone is taking the news well. Once the relationship between the prince and the actress was made public last year, it touched off a great deal of frenzy in the tabloids. Back then, Harry defended his girlfriend and called out the media for the racial rhetoric common in stories about Miss Markle and the intrusive coverage of her and her family.

The relationship with Miss Markle, a woman of colour, a divorcee who was raised Catholic, and star of a television drama, was certainly pushing the boundaries of tradition in the eyes of conservatives. She is the first divorcee to marry into the royal family in nearly 81 years. Now that they are engaged to be married next year, gross racist comments have resurfaced in social media, as well as traditional press. Critics have taken to Twitter and Facebook, in particular, to issue insults at a woman whom they think doesn’t quite match up. One news outlets gave assurance to readers that marrying into royalty does not give one a right to the throne.

OVERBEARING STIGMA

Some critics seem not able to overcome the stigma of divorce. This, notwithstanding the fact that Harry’s father, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, are both divorcees. Students of history will recall the royal scandal of divorcee American Wallis Simpson whose 20th-century marriage to King Edward VIII led to his abdication in 1936. Simpson was still married when their relationship began, which is not the case with Harry and Megan.

But most seem to be appalled at her blackness. Some critics still cannot accept that a black woman whose mother wears dreadlocks will be joining the House of Windsor in the future. Obsessed as some are with blood lines, many Britons feel that Harry should have chosen someone from his circle, meaning race, ethnicity and religion.

Harry, once dubbed a party animal, is soon to be sixth in line to the British throne. He has always been something of a rebel, comfortable in the company of the likes of our own Usain Bolt or American rapper Jay-Z and counting former President Barack Obama as a friend. And now as a mature man, Harry appears to have pulled off the greatest act of rebellion.

It’s a historic moment for the British royals because this endorsement of a black woman among their ranks may be taken as a signal that the family, known for its snobbery, is finally embracing diversity, which is a crucial step in breaking down negative stereotypes. Many will question whether this is really so, for looking at the centuries-old history of the family, one finds, for instance, that there had never been an ethnic minority or female serving among the Queen’s bodyguards.

In the current era of fearmongering and racial tension, there are so many reasons to celebrate Prince Harry and Megan Markle. Note that Megan has dimensions far greater than her acting skills; she is a UN advocate for women and a World Vision global ambassador.