Society

‘She Saved Me’: Meghan, Harry And The Question Of Good Allyship

As Harry is praised for calling out racism within his family, is it time to have a more nuanced conversation about what makes a good ally?

By Rhea Cartwright

9 March 2021
P

rince Harry’s diligent support for Meghan was the axis on which the couple’s candid CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey spun, and underlines the role and importance of a supportive partner. With women such as Meghan who have outwardly displayed signs of immense strength, men are often intimidated, left whimpering in the shadows of their alpha-female partners. There is often a power-play at the beating heart of modern relationships at a time in which traditional gender stereotypes are still somewhat present, but blurry. Harry, however, has stepped up and become the crutch that Meghan, like so many of us, needed in times of hardship. The tabloids vilified Meghan’s holding of Harry’s hand as a sign of coercive control, but the reality seems more like a wife in need of support, gripping her husband out of necessity to shield her fragile state.

The emotional labour of any relationship, particularly one so open to criticism, requires support and it’s often those who appear to need it the least who are suffering most. The constant barrage of micro- and macro-aggressions has taken its toll on Meghan, and she revealed she had contemplated suicide while pregnant with Archie. The fragility of her mental health was in stark juxtaposition with the opinion she had of herself. “I’m supposed to be stronger than that,” she told Oprah. There is a rigid dichotomy of what our patriarchal society will tolerate from an empowered woman. In 2021, we have been gifted with more power and independence than ever before, but if we attempt to smash that glass ceiling we are labelled manipulative, controlling or pushy. In her 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir – of which there were harrowing echoes in Meghan’s conversation with Oprah – Princess Diana believed that all strong women in history followed a similar path. “It’s the strength that causes the confusion and fear,” she said. “‘Why is she strong? Where does she get it from? Where is she taking it? Where is she going to use it? Why do the public still support her?’”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, pose with their newborn son Archie at Windsor.
Image by Dominic Lipinski via WPA Pool/Getty Images

We witnessed Prince Charles flounder as the character assassination on Diana was fatally left unchecked but Harry has vowed not to let history repeat itself. “I took matters into my own hands… I needed to do this for my family,” he told Oprah. With Harry and Meghan, we saw a husband and wife fiercely united, something not always common in any union, royal or otherwise. Diana knew that only too well herself, and we can only imagine the immense pride his mother would feel. Harry not only gathered the strength to escape an oppressive institution in which, he said, he felt “trapped”, but he was led by the needs of his wife and son.

‘Harry not only gathered the strength to escape an oppressive institution in which he felt “trapped”, but he was led by the needs of his wife and son’

As an interracial family, those needs are indisputably different from any other royal marriage in history. From his position of privilege, Harry naively didn’t think that race would be an issue when bringing a Black woman into the royal family. Like so many others, it has taken his relationship with Meghan to be confronted with the overwhelming injustice that people of colour face. It has been costly – mentally, emotionally and, as we heard, financially too, having been cut off by his family – but his many years in “the firm” have gifted him with media training and social mastery that allow him to unwaveringly support his wife in front of Oprah and the world.

With the added layer of race, the trolling of Meghan went far beyond “catty gossip”, as Harry called it. The seemingly explicit “colonial undertones” Harry speaks of are part of the same establishment as his family. For centuries, the British raped, ruined and robbed from all corners of the globe during their imperial reign – something that still has very real repercussions today. Yet it has taken Harry marrying a mixed-race woman for many to question the monarchy’s stance on race, and for him to vehemently challenge the toxic norms initiated by his predecessors. Make no mistake, this is modern civil rights activism. As one of the most privileged white men in the world, Harry is using his platform to challenge the archaic traditions of the royal family his family – which represent the ugly, decaying and destructive norms that are still unwaveringly and blindly upheld by so many in our society. Through his marriage to a Black woman, Harry has taken on the role of an ally; after a year in which the plight of Black people was violently thrust into the spotlight and everyone vowed to be anti-racist, he has actively spoken up in support of his wife.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after their Royal wedding at Windsor Castle.
Image by Ian Skleton via Alamy Stock Photo

Throughout what can only be described as an ordeal, Meghan has maintained that ability to turn her private anger and pain into public poise and power in the same way that so many Black women have to do on a daily basis. The dangerous “strong Black woman” trope highlights that, regardless of the position of Black women, they constantly and consciously have to navigate life with a premeditated, self-preserving nature and can never just be. The taxing burden of merely surviving as mothers, employees and individuals within oppressive structures and institutions that fundamentally do not protect them has virulent ramifications. Meghan and Harry said that nobody wanted to admit that anything was about race, which mirrors the lived Black experience of so many others. With racism, the burden of proof is always on the non-white person, as the institution or the press get to choose what is or isn’t deemed racist. Meghan’s mental health and narrative have been ignored, disregarded and publicly berated, like those of many other Black women, who truthfully often suffer far worse depending on where their Blackness fits on the spectrum.

‘The dangerous “strong Black woman” trope highlights that, regardless of the position of Black women, they have to navigate life with a premeditated, self-preserving nature. They can never just be.’

As for the timing of the interview: yes, we needed to hear the story, but did we need to hear it now? The unavoidable truth is that two very privileged individuals turned the spotlight on themselves during a global pandemic in which people are dying and many others are in the depths of poverty. While they are active protagonists in the media circle that they staunchly claim to despise, they are also pawns. Arguably, the best time to regain control of their own narrative and tell their truth is at a time when the entire world would be gripped. Additionally, conversations centred on mental health need to be at the forefront at a time when everyone’s mental health has been pushed to the limit. As Meghan said: “What’s so important for people to remember is, you have no idea what’s going on for someone behind closed doors... I share this because there are so many people who are afraid to voice that they need help.”

‘To some extent, it’s telling of the sorry state of our society when any man is praised for doing the right thing just by being resolute in supporting his wife; or indeed just by being not racist.’

We believed, perhaps naively, that with the marriage of Meghan and Harry, we would enter a new era for the English monarchy, but instead it became the vehicle that highlighted the true size of a tumour of racism and violence that many thought was benign. To some extent, it’s telling of the sorry state of our society when any man is praised for doing the right thing just by being resolute in supporting his wife; or indeed just by being not racist. But this man undoubtedly deserves his dues. Teetering at the intersection of race and class, their marriage clashes modern thinking with traditional ideals and Harry has proven he is more than just a 'woke' white man by publicly rejecting the opinions shared by his family. When speaking about their chickens at the beginning of the interview, Meghan said: “I just like rescuing things.” Perhaps we’ve been privy to a subversive take on the traditional prince-rescuing-princess fairytale and instead, we have witnessed them saving each other. Love was indeed the catalyst to unravel the relic that is the royal family and in this 120-minute interview, we saw a snapshot of their refreshing behaviour tackling ideals that have been sustained for centuries. Guided by hope and grounded in respect, Harry is a husband who is willing to sacrifice the world as he knows it to protect his wife and his values. “I’m really proud of us,” he says. “I’m really proud of my wife.”

Lead image courtesy of: STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Short Stack

Love, and the widened awareness that comes with it in a relationship like Meghan and Harry’s, really can have the power to move establishments as well as mountains.

By Rhea Cartwright

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