The shockwaves from Oprah’s interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have revealed overlooked flaws in how we discuss race. Here’s how I see it:
No one likes to see themselves as part of the sheeple, yet no one is immune to how reactions are manipulated through teasers and sound bites. Unfortunately, we’re living in a time when watching the same thing somehow reinforces our pre-existing perspective. So when Meghan and Harry revealed an alleged private discussion about the potential skin color of their firstborn, everyone was offended — but for different reasons. As Oprah clutched her pearls at the audacious statement, many parroted her gasp. However, others rolled their eyes because they saw it as dubious exploitative race-baiting.
At this point, we know the tribal who’s who, but how can the dialogue evolve in the pinball machine of reacting to other people’s reactions? I’m frustrated because I see the elements of Meghan and Harry’s experience as a rare case study of how racism should be discussed.
In this case, we need to bury the lead that titillates who said what, especially if it was a private conversation that can be denied. Though “one-drop” family phobia is inherently racist, it’s far from surprising, especially as it relates to the bluest blood of British royalty. Similar to colonialism, our methods of fighting the racial divide are antiquated. We still use a Civil Rights era vaccine on a mutated strain of racism. We’re spending way too much time shaming the subjectivity of racism in the echoes of an “I Have A Dream” speech when many people have made it clear they don’t share Dr. King’s dream.
We need to devote less energy to changing people and more energy to changing the pillars that hold up white supremacy. We need to let racist people be entitled to their opinion as long as their actions don’t harm others or obstruct justice. I know that’s hard to digest but give them the rope space they need to melt in hatred. Too often we get caught up with surface over substance. Many of these symbolic victories create a mirage of progress. In turn, the so-called progress makes sustainable waves that allow us to tread under the optical illusion of getting closer to shore when in actuality, we’re adrift.
Allow me to use Harry and Meghan’s testimony to define the basic categories of racism.
- Racism: the alleged comment regarding Archie’s skin color.
- Systemic Racism: denying Archie a royal title and security.
- Institutional Racism: the willful negligence of not protecting/countering media smearing against Meghan while shielding other members of the family.
Everyone is focusing on #1 when they should be focusing on 2 and 3.
Think of racism as a crime and make a case based on what you can prove. Better yet, think of it like a disease; if there is no universal cure, shouldn’t the goal be to cut the cancer case by case? Therefore, exposing the family member(s) concerned with Archie’s epidermis does little except satisfying curiosity in a manner that justifies the desire to scream in the face of Beefeaters.
Meanwhile, we have a rare opportunity to hold the invisible hands that run Buckingham Palace accountable for their actions and make them explain every aspect of points 2 and 3. Obviously, this isn’t a trial. But it is a chance to force unlikely inertia of consequence. Sadly, I feel we’re too easily distracted by #1 because we’re emotionally offended.
Let me give a quick example of an offensive distraction that might hit a little closer to home.
Recently, back in America, many of us reacted to emails from University of Texas alumni who were against students protesting their school song. A faction wanted it removed because they say it was racist. So if you ask what makes it racist, there should be a clear answer about the actual lyrics or composer. Instead, the explanation is convoluted in Confederate inspiration and the history of minstrel performances. I don’t want to sound dismissive of our legacy of trauma, but this is not a righteous fight.
We must preserve our collective health and wellness; it’s necessary conditioning for this neo-hate marathon. This is the new pace and it’s a long haul. Some enemies will convert to allies and some allies will betray. White people are already experiencing racial fatigue, except their overload comes without the weight of breathing while Black.
Every day there’s a headline of racial sensitivity, so today’s tendency is to lump Dr. Seuss with the Royal scandal just because it’s in the same news cycle. Break that cycle — because this royal debacle uniquely sheds light on the infrastructure of supremacy. Most times, when the mechanics of racism are being discussed, many have a hard time grasping dual functions. Harry and Meghan did an excellent job helping us discern between the Royal family and Royal institution known as “the firm.” This distinction perfectly exemplifies how racism simultaneously works as a weaponized system of oppression and a less intentional unconscious bias. Members of the Royal family may or may not be racist. It somewhat doesn’t matter because it’s the firm’s gambit that upholds supremacy. We were just fortunate to witness Meghan and Harry put them in check.
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.