Diana, Meghan and Listening to the Voices of Women on International Women’s Day
Also, my thoughts on the interplay between racism, jealousy, racism, class, racism and misogynoir in the retelling of her story to Oprah.
“I will not stay, not ever again — in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.” — Glennon Doyle, Untamed
Once upon I time, I wanted to marry into the British royal family. I had always been into reading about royalty, but the truth was I was actually more enamoured by Diana, Princess of Wales and all of her pretty dresses and charity work. I calculated the age difference between myself and William and myself and Harry (only seven and four years respectively) and set my thoughts on figuring out how I could finagle a chance meeting between myself and the third or fourth in line to the British throne. I was twelve, and everything is possible when one is twelve. I gave nary a thought about my race or class, or the fact that we lived in two different countries and two completely different worlds.
In retrospect, it was highly naive — not to mention unlikely — that I, a Black middle-class Canadian would somehow marry a White prince of the United Kingdom and very White British monarchy — one of the very authors of colonialism. Meghan’s marriage into the family was the closest I ever got to seeing myself as part of the British monarchy. But the more recent truth, and why I am so very glad that my wish as a twelve-year-old wasn’t granted is that I hadn’t the foggiest idea the extent to which one could be so absolutely miserable as a part of this grand institution.
Like many, binge-watching The Crown on Netflix was part of my newfound epiphany. But the real revelation was the narration of Diana in the Netflix documentary Diana: In Her Own Words taken from snippets of private interviews she had done that laid bare that Diana was deeply, desperately, unhappy in her marriage and in that family — that grand institution, or the “establishment” as she called it — and the signs were there even before the wedding.
The infamous bulimia that plagued her? That started on her honeymoon. She slit her wrists. She flung herself down the stairs. People thought that she was just seeking attention. She was, in fact, crying out for help.
A cry that Harry heeded several years later.
Harry could not help his mother, of course. He was too young and probably was denied a full picture or understanding of his mother’s suffering. But when Meghan told Oprah that she had passive suicidal ideations and that she didn’t want to be left alone for fear of what she thought she might do to herself, I immediately was reminded of Diana. I commend Harry for shifting into action when he saw, “history repeating itself,” before his very eyes. In a strange twist of fate, it was the inheritance from Diana — not his income from the royal family but from his late mother — that gave him the income he needed to start his life anew.
I couldn’t have written a better story if you had asked me to.
Unlike Diana, however, it’s the racism for me.
Meghan’s treatment by the “firm” and the media is made worse by the unrelenting undercurrent of racism.
But of course, when we talk about Black women, we must talk about intersectionality. We see misogynoir at play here— that unique interplay of Blackness and womanhood and how it denigrates (how fitting a word!) the person who lives at that intersection in the larger neighbourhood of racism.
I wandered around my apartment while seasoning chicken, uttering “racism” under my breath as a response to each of Oprah’s questions — at times a whisper and at other times an exclamation.
Not receiving any training on how to be a royal? Racism mixed with jealousy. (At least Diana got a week of training).
Letting the lies about Meghan go unchecked in the public? Racism.
The warm reception that Meghan received and how natural she was at the job, much like her mother-in-law? Jealousy. And racism.
Suggesting that Meghan should carry on acting because there wouldn’t be enough money to pay for her security? Racism.
I couldn’t help but answer their questions for them.
I couldn’t help but finish their sentences.
“Nobody ever helped me — at all. They would be there to criticize but no one was ever there to help me,” Diana once said.
All the while watching the interview with Oprah, I kept thinking to myself, “They are jealous because you are beautiful. They are jealous because you are beautiful in the way that Diana was beautiful. Your Blackness makes them uncomfortable.”
That people would be concerned about the skin colour of a male heir who would be 3/4 White is telling. To quote Sonya Renee Taylor, colourism has you light enough to marry into the family but White supremacist delusion has you Black enough to be put out. Racism runs deep, and their story shows that it is endemic as much as it is systemic.
As Diana matured and emerged from her unhappy marriage she found her voice. How ironic that the unrelenting press — voices really — would snuff out her voice in their pursuit of her?
I’m thinking about Diana this International Woman’s Day, and how she recorded those secret interviews to make sure that her story would be told and that her voice would not die with her. I am also thankful that Meghan reclaimed her voice before the press could kill her or before she could kill herself.
There are people who say, “I thought that Meghan and Harry wanted to live a private life and now they’re on Oprah?”
My understanding is that they said they wanted to live a more “independent” life, not necessarily a private one. To live a private life given who they are would be a tall order, after all, and given their commitment to public service, it would only make sense for them to use their public platform to that end. Conversely, I understand the want to set the record straight, and to the extent that the publicity will hurt their future endeavours, it made sense that they would want to defend themselves and be understood. One of our most human desires is to be understood after all. To be heard.
And so since we now know that Oprah wasn’t paid to do this interview, and given that Oprah was a friend who attended their wedding and worked with them on projects and helped them settle into their new home, and given her traumatic experience in the UK, I imagine that the questions that Meghan had were not, “how can I get back at the royal family?” but rather:
Who could help me tell my story? To whom can I safely bear my truth? Who won’t exploit me? Who would make sure that I would not be misunderstood? Who would make sure that I’m painted — not in a good light or a bad light but in an honest light? Who would let me answer authentically and not twist the narrative or ask leading questions for personal gain or out of a personal vendetta against me?
Oprah Gayle Winfrey.
As Christiane Amanpour recently said, “Oprah is one of the best interviewers in the world right now. She won’t give them an easy ride, but she would be empathetic,” which was the right mix needed to coax the candour of this famous couple.
How fitting it was to see a Black woman lend her platform to elevate and amplify the voice of another Black woman? How interesting it was that Meghan chose Oprah as the custodian of her truth? I think there is something to be said about a Black woman being able to do justice to the story of another Black woman.
True to form, Oprah asked all the right questions — the questions we wanted answered. The same woman who asked Lisa Marie Presley if she and Michael Jackson had consummated their marriage was able to tease out the intimate details and the perspectives that had been perverted by the press.
And so I think that it is fitting that Meghan should be given a voice — or rather, should see her voice returned to her — on International Women’s Day. A day that seeks to recognize women’s contributions and amplify the voices of women everywhere.
Since the age of thirteen, Meghan has long been a feminist and an advocate of woman’s rights. She probably never realized the way in which she would have to fight so hard to advocate for herself and be seen authentically. The same woman who has fought tirelessly to give a voice to other women lost it and reclaimed it.
“Life is about storytelling. About the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we’re told, what we buy into. And for us to be able to have storytelling through a truthful lense that hopefully is uplifting is going to be great knowing how many people that can land with and being able to give a voice to a lot of people that are underrepresented and aren’t really heard.” — Meghan, during the Oprah interview, regarding her hopes for the Archewell podcast
I’m hoping that this International Women’s Day will mark a day that the voices of women rise from the din and the cacophony of voices that tell us to be small, to decrease, to assimilate, to conform, to be quiet, to not speak up or advocate for oneself for fear of being cast a “diva” or “uppity” like Meghan, or “nasty” like Hillary or “untamed” like Glennon.
I’m hoping we listen to women when they speak. I hope we get angry at the right things — a press that drove a doting mother of two to her death and a press that drove a young family out of England — as opposed to being angry at a woman searching, finding and regaining her voice.
I’m hoping that in a post-COVID recovery, we listen to the voices of women who say they need access to healthcare and childcare, that they need jobs and equal pay and a fair shot at career advancement.
I hope we listen to women when they say that they have been sexually violated or raped or harassed.
I hope we find (and in Meghan’s case, marry) male allies like Harry who take us seriously. Who listen to us.
I hope we listen to women when they say they can’t be themselves at work or at home, whether it’s because they wear hijab or they have kinky hair or they live with a disability or they are Meghan Markle.
I hope we listen to women.
This story ends, alas, not with me marrying a prince, but with a Black woman reclaiming her time and her voice so that she can advocate for issues the way she wants to and live the life she needs to. On her own terms. With her chickens, dogs, and two children. Becoming the hero that she needed, much like her mother-in-law.
“I’m proud of us,” Harry said.
I’m proud of you too Meghan and Harry, as I’m sure Diana would be as well.
Listen to women.