Meghan Shows Us We Can’t Keep Having The Same Conversation About Race – So Here’s What We Can Do Next

The reaction to the royal racism allegations exposes the need to face up to history, says Emma Dabiri, author of Don't Touch My Hair

Meghan Markle racism

by Emma Dabiri |
Updated on

I’m TIRED and I know I’m not the only one.The Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan and Harry has been nothing short of incendiary - shock waves rippling out from the former seat of colonial power, its reverberations felt across the world, throughout its former colonies from Ireland to The United States, not to mention the entire commonwealth! Remember this was Great Britain we’re talking about - the Empire on which the sun never set. That’s a fair ole whack of the world!

Horror, shock and outrage has ensued, much of it centred around the bombshell announcement that a Royal had expressed concern about Archie’s complexion. The underlying implication, rich in historical resonance: would his African ancestry be visible? Would Archie be able to pass?

Racist ideology present in the Royal Family?! Nooooo. It couldn’t be so. Cue round the clock coverage, and countless discussions of opposing views.

READ MORE: Here's The Story Behind Piers Morgan's Weird Obsession With Meghan Markle

One side insists, 'It's not racist' while the other is adamant that it is, and so it goes on ad infinitum. Right now, it’s all eyes on Meghan and Harry but the ‘It’s Racist’ ‘It’s Not Racist’ formula shows up again and again - at this stage we could probably make it a prime-time telly family gameshow - and it will continue to do so.

The confrontational nature of it all is great for ratings and the building of personal brands, but it changes few people's minds, with each side just preaching to the converted. As an approach it does little to shift attitudes, or make any real change to entrenched and endemic racism, which continues to flourish and will continue to flourish until we find a new narrative.

What's stopping us having the conversations we need

When I was researching my new book What White People Can Do Next I came across an old transcript of James Baldwin, the writer and civil rights activist, in conversation with a white anthropologist, called Margaret Mead. Despite the fact it was 50 years ago, their conversation could have been happening in March 2021. The fact that we have progressed so little since then really should be cause for alarm. I am so tired of it all. I don’t want us to still be having this conversation in 20, 10, even five years from now.

A better understanding of history would bypass all of the denial and the racial gaslighting, the 'shock' and 'surprise' that racism might, you know, actually exist. While we remain locked in this 101 back and forth it prevents us from moving on to have the more generative conversations, so urgently needed about what we do next.

The starting point could be the mainstreaming of knowledge about the invention of ‘white’ race. 'White People' have only existed since as recently as 1661, when the English introduced the idea of 'white people' in colonial Barbados and codified it into law. From Barbados it spread throughout the English Caribbean colonies and what was soon to become the United States.

Why we can't move forward without facing history

As a concept, it was created for a number of reasons. One of these was to shut down solidarity that was emerging between indentured labourers; both Irish and English, and the enslaved Africans they worked alongside, but also to convince the European poor that their interests were aligned with their European landlords, rather than with the enslaved Africans, who in many ways they had far more in common with. As I say in WWPCDN, 'whiteness is an erasure, a generic term that collapses crucial distinctions in order to consolidate capital.'

Central to the concept of whiteness was the idea of a white superiority (there was already an existing belief in English superiority) and by extension 'black inferiority' (this was necessary to justify the enslavement of millions of people of African descent). The concept of whiteness became increasingly central to the concept of Englishness, and a subsequent deeply held belief in white superiority became a cornerstone of English identity, as well as in many other countries that came to understand themselves as 'white' countries.

With this basic historic understanding we could drop the perennial back and forth - the quite frankly exhausting replay shock, horror and denial in regards to whether individual acts are racist or not - and move on.

I do not say any of this in an accusatory way, it's quite simply that we need to have an honest reckoning with history so that we can move on to see the ways in which our respective struggles are interlinked.

In our increasingly fractured and divided times, we must see that our current framing of conversations about race simply don’t work. To continue on the same path is a self indulgence we can no longer afford.

Its time for a new narrative, for reframing, and joining the dots.

What White People Can Do Next proposes the following manifesto:

Stop the Denial: Race was created to cause division. We must acknowledge its centuries of conditioning and move forward together.

Interrogate Whiteness: Explore the origins of ‘whiteness’ and why the myth of a codified ‘white race’ and ‘white superiority’ was created in the first place.

Interrogate Capitalism: Race and capitalism are siblings. Any anti-racist narrative devoid of class analysis or examining capitalist imperatives is doomed to fail.

Denounce the White Saviour: ‘Allyship’ is today’s ‘on trend’ articulation of white saviourism but black people do not need charity. Coalition is the way forward.

Abandon Guilt: We must acknowledge the past and how it impacts our opportunities and advatages, but we shouldn’t allow guilt and shame to paralyse us into a state of inaction and avoidance.

Pull People Up on Racism: There is a balance to be struck between action on a macro level and a personal one but challenging racism when you see or hear it is the latter and is something you can do more immediately.

Read Read Read (and Dance): Google is not (necessarily) your friend. Educate yourself by reading widely – not just anti-racist books! And go beyond the written. We need to ‘think less with our eyes’ exploring other senses and forms of consciousness.

Recognise This Shit is Killing You Too: ‘Whiteness’ as a system is destructive for everyone. Race is not the only framework to live by and it distracts us from acting together to face our biggest threat. The destruction of our planet.

This is the part that comes next!

'What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition' by Emma Dabiri is published by Penguin Press on 1 April (£7.99 paperback original)

READ MORE: 'Like Harry And Meghan, We've Endured Comments About Our Future Mixed-Race Children - The Effects Are As Painful As They Sound'

READ MORE: Oprah Reveals More About Her Harry And Meghan Interview, Including Who Asked About Archie's Skin Colour

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