When it was announced that the Duchess and Duke of Sussex will be stepping away from their senior royal roles, it sparked a frenzy. Amid the memes, tweets and think-pieces, the news sparked a discussion about one vital issue that we must continue to explore: racism. Meghan is, undeniably, the target of constant toxic tabloid headlines deeply rooted in racism. With this in mind, is it really any wonder that she and Prince Harry have decided to move away from the UK with their baby son?
One woman who has perfectly articulated this is Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu. The political and women’s rights activist has appeared on various TV interview this week, explaining what we need to learn from the treatment of Meghan. Her powerful words have been absolutely spot-on. However, presenters such as Piers Morgan and Phillip Schofield have refused to accept their white privilege, and the split reaction on Twitter proves that we still have so far to go in order to educate ourselves about racism in the UK.
Here, Mos-Shogbamimu explains to Stylist why the events of the last couple of weeks are so important.
What does the tabloids’ treatment of Meghan tell us about the state of racism in the UK in 2020?
It shows a very unfair, imbalanced and, quite frankly, unjust misinterpretation of every personal choice or action taken by Meghan, in a way that shows a preferential treatment towards other members of the royal family. When she does something, she’s criticised. If she does something that another royal member has done, like guest-editing a magazine, she’s criticised. Others like Kate and Prince Charles were applauded for the magazines they edited. When she doesn’t do anything, she’s criticised. It’s clear she cannot win. There’s nothing she’s going to do that can satisfy people.
The fact that the tabloids can get away with it again and again is systematic of the state of affairs in our country. Because I don’t think that these tabloids are representative of the majority of British people, who are more than capable of making a fair, balanced and accurate summation of Meghan in her role as Duchess of Sussex. These tabloids are deliberately selling fabrications of the truth: they take one thing and spin it into something else.
It’s also disheartening to see that they’re not being held to account for doing this. Like all this nonsense about Meghan “fuelling murder” for eating avocados? It makes no sense. And what about the fuss over Meghan rubbing her baby bump? Kate did the same, but she didn’t get any of the same criticism. Many pregnant women in the world just unconsciously do it – I did it!
Why should women have to hold back from what they want to do and how they choose to live their lives in the 21st century? It is hypocritical to expect members of the royal family, particularly the women, to adhere to some standard of behaviour that we would not live by ourselves.
And what does it say about racism towards women of colour in particular?
I think the important thing to understand here is this: black and ethnic minority women don’t get to choose which inequality trumps the other – we experience racism, misogyny, sexism… everything all at once. So we don’t get to go ‘oh sorry, it’s racism now, it’s sexism now’.There’s negative behaviour we experience which is steeped in racism. The racism feeds the sexism and misogyny; and vice versa.
People really need to understand that, in the 21st century, racism is not just about using the N word or carrying a burning cross. Racism has actually evolved from that. Yes, you hear people using blatant words. But the reality is that the inflammatory language and behaviour they use portray racism without them writing on their heads ‘I’m a racist’. The lived experience of racism by women in ethnic minorities is such that you literally either need to walk in their shoes to understand it or, quite frankly, shut the heck up and listen to what they’re saying.
There is a culture of racism in the UK. I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone can deny it when it is evident. People have been talking about it long before I have, and I’m not going to be the last person to talk about it. Racism is a cultural issue. When it comes to racism, those who reject it so vehemently are either guilty by association or guilty of racism. How can you deny racism exists in this country, and then demand that we justify something that’s racist to you?
Why do you think people like Piers Morgan and James Jordan have denied the fact that Meghan’s criticism was rooted in racism? Are they completely ignorant?
It is the height of white privileged petulance to demand that ethnic minorities, oppressed by racism, should justify racism to them. The thought that they can sit as judge and jury over our lived experience of racism is such bigoted, arrogant, intolerant nonsense. None of them can walk a day in our lived experience of racism. It is one of two things: they are either being deliberately obtuse about overt racism, or willfully ignorant.
What about white people who are insisting they are being subjected to racist treatment?
It’s laughable. I am anti-racist not anti-white. Calling out racism doesn’t make me anti-white. I do not believe for one second that all white people are racist. Period. All white people have white privilege. That does not mean that you’re racist, it just means that you are given an advantage over a person of colour, irrespective of your social economic background, purely because of the colour of your skin.
If a black person and a white person walked into a store dressed identically, 99% of the time it would be the black person who is followed by the sales assistant. None of them have it written on their foreheads: their class, their wealth, their education etc. Nothing. It’s just the colour of their skin. That is an example of white privilege.
So when people say ‘I grew up on a council estate’ or ‘I had to work really hard to get to where I am today’ – this has nothing to do with the advantage you get over black people and ethnic minorities based solely on the colour of your skin. If people do not understand this in 2020, once again: go educate yourself. I refuse to enter into discussions where people refuse to understand. If you’ve gone to educate yourself, and you know what you’re talking about, please come and talk to me about why it’s not white privilege. But don’t come to me to prove and justify an act or language to you as white privilege or racist. It’s the audacity to think I have to prove something to you.
So my response to that? Heck no.
What reaction have you seen online to this week’s interviews? What have you taken away from this?
There’s clearly still a whole lot of work to be done. But it’s time for those who are ignorant about white privilege or racism to take responsibility for their own ignorance. They do not get to enable racism through their complicity. They do not get to benefit from their white privilege and then deny our own lived experiences. And those who have tried to twist my words and say that I’m a racist for calling out white privilege and the racism experienced by Meghan as symptomatic of the culture of racism in this country; are the ones who are race baiting. They are the ones who are deliberately misleading and distracting. This is because they are either guilty of racism or guilty by association. This is why I say white folks need to educate themselves about racism perpetrated by white people. This is not the job for black people and ethnic minorities.
There’s been a lot of fantastic support from people from all races, backgrounds and faiths. I love, love, love my white brothers and sisters who just get it. They understand. I’ve been getting lots of supportive messages from people who are saying sorry that I’m being exposed to this ignorance. White people are saying that. And they get it.
In dealing with things like white privilege and racism, it requires a conscious intention to address it. You must be consciously intentional about addressing your privilege by ensuring you’re not being complicit of enabling inflammatory racist behaviour, language, bigotry, intolerance towards people who don’t look like you. Because this happens every single day to people in different parts of the world, not just the UK.
And those who have tried to twist my words and say that I’m a racist for calling out white privilege and saying that the racism experienced by Meghan is symptomatic of the culture of racism in this country? Those people are lying, they are the ones who are race baiting. They are the ones who are deliberately misinterpreting. Because they are either guilty of racism or guilty by association.
Images: Getty, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu