Why Are People Still Denying The Endemic Racism In The UK?

Kelechi Okafor explores the British reaction to Oprah's interview with Meghan and Harry.

Meghan Markle and Oprah

by Kelechi Okafor |

When people ask me what I envisage for the trajectory of my career, I often tell them that I see myself as a ‘Baby Oprah’ and most times a look of slight confusion scuttles across their face. What I mean when I make this comparison is that I wish for the space, as a Black woman to be able to express my creativity through various outputs - whether that be acting, podcasting, writing or running my own pole dance studio. I am clearly already well on the way to realising my aspiration but now I wonder, at what cost?

Watching Oprah interview Harry and Meghan about the British tabloids’ disparaging representation of Meghan brought up waves of conflicting truths within me. The most obvious thought that struck me as the interview began is ‘Who is Oprah’s equivalent in the UK?’ The truth is that there is no equivalent to Oprah in the UK because Black women are rarely given the space and the trust that they can excel as standalone talent.

I bring this observation to your consciousness because while the conversations heave about the racist motivations behind the British tabloids’ approach to Meghan, I notice that yet again Britain is unwilling to accept that there is a massive racism issue that continues to grip this country like a stranglehold.

The commentary since the Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry aired in the UK last night has been worrisome, because people are insistent on talking in absolutes and failing to consider that many truths can co-exist.

It is possible to acknowledge that Meghan willingly married into an imperial institution which has maintained its relevance due to the oppression of formerly colonised states, and still feel empathy for the very vicious manner she has been treated by the royals.

What if there are no absolutes, but rather numerous truths that we can respect simultaneously?

We can definitely discuss the detrimental aspects of Meghan wanting ‘representation’ within the monarchy so that little Black or brown girls within the commonwealth can ‘relate’ to her, while holding space for the fact that many people are yet to learn that we marginalised communities do not need representation within the institutions that are marginalising us. Rather, we would actually need for those institutions to be abolished, so as to limit further harm.

Monday evening consisted of me reading the reactions to the ITV broadcast of the interview and witnessing people falling over themselves to settle on a concrete thought regarding what is playing out in front of us through this royal fallout. What if, in fact, there are no absolutes, but rather numerous truths that we can respect simultaneously?

Many people tweeted that they saw no issue with speculations about how dark Meghan and Harry’s son, Archie, would be before he was born, and most said that at worst this was a case of ‘casual racism’. A similar sentiment was uttered on yesterday by Jane Moore on Loose Women, much to the dismay of fellow panelist Charlene White, as well as Black women like me who have experienced a similar conversation.

The only type of people who could possibly group racial trauma in terms of perceived severity, seem to be the ones who will never experience that specific violence. There is no such thing as ‘casual racism’ because it isn’t casual to the person who is experiencing it.

All types of racism are harmful, whether they’re through words (falsely frequently ascribed to the ‘older generation’) or actions. To attempt to minimise and categorise racial trauma that you would never experience, is callous and a means of further dehumanising the person living through that experience. It can also be true that since last summer when a lot of white people realised that racism exists and they posted black squares to combat it, a number of the same people may be feeling conflicted about realising that change needs to happen but feeling very awkward about how they could bring this up to older relatives without hurting their feelings.

There is definitely a necessity for spaces to explore these nuanced observations and I’ve become acutely aware that social media is rarely the space, however it can be a space to signpost and share learning resources.

I will now contradict myself here by saying that there is one absolute truth that we should all hold dear, and that is the fact that it is abhorrent for any daytime TV host to assert that he doesn’t believe Meghan’s account of her suicidal ideations because she could possibly be acting.

Suicidal thoughts are personal to the individual and in Meghan’s case, she shared that she felt so isolated within the royal family and the persistent bullying by the press, that she had considered no longer living. That is a courageous truth for anybody to share, only to be met with doubt and ridicule? As a Black woman I am often told not to ‘play the race card’ and to ‘leave race out’ of things, as if I have the individual power to simply press the off button on a system that took centuries of intricate design to construct. If we were to take race out of it for just a moment though, would we as a nation feel comfortable watching a man pester a heavily pregnant woman simply because she set a boundary with him years ago? I doubt it.

Meghan had not been subjected to the full manifestations of the insidious racism that is synonymous with Britain and it was still too much.

I will finish my musings with another consideration that I feel we must all commit ourselves to exploring; Meghan is a very light skinned biracial American woman who was brought into the highest echelon of British society, yet she still fled this country because she hadn’t experienced racism like it.

Meghan had not been subjected to the full manifestations of the insidious racism that is synonymous with Britain and it was still too much. Meghan was able to choose an option which could preserve her sense of peace, but what about the women who are darker than Meghan and aren’t afforded the same socio-economic privileges?

When people like myself go onto national news to discuss what Meghan has experienced, it is so we can all understand that what is happening to Meghan continues to happen to Black women daily in the UK and something must be done about it.

So when I ask, where is the UK version of Oprah, it is because while one truth might be that Britain is making progress in diversity in some fields - another truth is that it won’t ever be quick enough if we continue to deny and debate the impact of racism in this country.

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Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust works with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds aged 13 to 30 to inspire and enable them to succeed in the career of their choice

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