Meghan Markle’s baby a symbol of hope for diverse Britain and a target for racist trolls

Article by Samantha Hawley and Rebecca Armitage /
ABC News /
May 2, 2019 /
Click here to view original /

As a bi-racial, divorced, American actor, Meghan Markle revolutionised the British Royal family simply by marrying into it.

Key points:

  • The Duchess of Sussex is due to give birth to her first child soon
  • Her child with Prince Harry will be seventh in line to the throne
  • Kensington Palace put out new social media guidelines to combat racist trolling of Meghan

Many Royal watchers have welcomed the Duchess of Sussex as a breath of fresh air for a family which has mostly been dominated by white Anglican aristocrats.

Anticipation is now mounting for the birth of her first child with Prince Harry, who will be seventh in line to the throne.

The significance of a bi-racial Royal baby is not lost on many British people.

But where there is hope for a more inclusive monarchy and society, there is also apprehension.

‘The family she is creating gives us a sense of hope’

Students at one of London’s most diverse girls’ schools, the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (EGA) school, are excited about baby Sussex.

“It’s a sign of hope because it’s not going to stop at her,” 14-year-old Maryam Daaudd Manamud told the ABC.

“Her child could marry another black person. You never know. Looking at the family she is creating gives us a sense of hope.”

Fellow student Milton Zelalem, 15, spoke passionately about the change the American actress had brought to the Royal family, which dates back a thousand years.

“History of any Royal family has been whitewashed and made to fit society standards,” she said, referring to Queen Charlotte who married George III more than 250 years ago and who historians say was of African descent.

“That was completely erased from history, and [in] any paintings you find she has very light skin.”

“You can’t whitewash this because this is going to be a generational thing. It’s not going to stop at Meghan — it is going to continue,” Milton said.

For 16-year-old Analise McDonell, who is also bi-racial, the Duchess’s entry into the Royal family has been a “massive step forward”.

“There’s a lot of stereotypes of black people and people of colour, especially now with a lot of racial tension and Brexit.”

Marwa Bounna, 16, said the baby would symbolise hope for many young people across Britain.

“Bringing the child up in a Royal society can maybe enlighten people about the fact that being mixed race is OK,” she said.

Meghan faces unprecedented online trolling

However, there are concerns Meghan and Harry’s baby could face the same racism experienced by his or her mother.

The Duchess of Sussex has been subjected to online racist abuse so severe the Royal family was forced to set up new guidelines for its social media channels.

Kensington Palace, Clarence House and Buckingham Palace said they spend hours each week deleting hateful comments made about Meghan as well as her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge.

“We reserve the right to send any comments we deem appropriate to law enforcement authorities for investigation as we feel necessary or is required by law,” Buckingham Palace said.

Emily Nash, the royal correspondent for Hello! magazine said abusive comments had been constantly posted on the magazine’s online stories about Meghan.

“There are people criticising the way she walks, the way she’s holding her baby bump — really personal, really unpleasant and racist commentary, which is obviously completely unacceptable.”

It prompted Hello! to start its own campaign, #HelloToKindness, and urge its readers to take a stand against online abuse.

When Prince Harry first began dating Meghan Markle in 2016, Kensington Palace criticised the media for “racial undertones” in their reporting of his new girlfriend.

Among the headlines they objected to was one by the Daily Mail describing Meghan as being “(almost) straight outta Compton,” in reference to her mother’s Los Angeles neighbourhood.

Earlier this year, US pop stars Beyonce and Jay Z stood before a portrait of Meghan by illustrator Tim O’Brien in a show of support for a “melanated Mona [Lisa]”.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey has also described the media coverage of Meghan as “really unfair”.

Lauren Rosewarne, a social scientist from the University of Melbourne, said she expected Harry and Meghan’s child to also face racism.

“The racism is inevitable in the sense that people look for low-hanging fruit to taunt others, and I think that [race] just provides another entry point,” she said.

“If you want to attack the Royal family, this will be a way to do it in a cruel, but predictable way.”

Social media has transformed the way people interact with the Royal family, according to Dr Rosewarne.

“Social media helps popularise them in certain respects —there are a lot of accounts charting the fashion of Kate and Meghan,” she said.

“But on the downside, social media is where the backlash, and inevitably the racism will come.”

‘It’s a powerful thing’

For British DJ and commentator Edward Adoo, the arrival of a bi-racial Royal is a culturally significant event for Britain.

“We have a new baby which is, let’s put it straight, a mixed-race Royal baby,” he said.

“It’s a powerful thing … the Royal family has caught up.”

“I think it is a strong and powerful thing because certainly in my life I would not have seen someone like Meghan being part of the Royal family.”

The significance of a bi-racial person taking their place in the line of succession cannot be overstated, according to Dr Rosewarne.

“This is the first visible presentation of a mixed-race person in the current blood line,” she said.

“I think the idea of Harry marrying a woman of mixed race and having a child together helps bring the Royal family into the contemporary zeitgeist.”