Gray matters: Harry, Meghan and the monarchy

The Harry and Meghan story – whose latest installment plays out in an Oprah Winfrey interview airing from 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 7 – is one of opportunities lost.

It’s the interview many will be talking about whether you’re a royal watcher or not – Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, which airs on CBS Sunday, March 7, from 8 to 10 p.m.

Already snippets of the interview have provoked a strong reaction, with monarchy loyalists decrying the Sussexes’ whining about being relieved of their royal duties and patronages and Sussex supporters lambasting the crown for shutting the pair out amid an atmosphere of stultifying tradition and corrosive racism. Not since the War of the Roses – or at the very least, the “War of the Wales” between Prince Harry’s parents, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales – has an English dynasty been so divided, you might say. But actually a better analogy is what one poster described as a Wimbledon final played not on grass but across the Atlantic.

If so, the serve-and-volley game just got harder:  Buckingham Palace is now investigating claims that the duchess bullied staffers, which she has labeled a smear campaign. All this is playing out as the Mountbatten-Windsor patriarch – Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh – remains in the hospital after having been admitted with an infection and then undergoing successful surgery for a preexisting heart ailment.

What, you might ask, is the point? Why should what amounts to a squabble within a family-owned business, albeit a rather glamorous one, matter to the reader? Perhaps because the monarchy is rich in metaphor, the metaphors here offering insight not only into how you conduct a professional-personal relationship but how we limit our thinking in this partisan, black-and-white digital age when most issues are really several shades of gray.

On the one hand, those loyalists who claim – as do many posters on the conservative Daily Mail – that Great Britain is a welcoming country impervious to the former Meghan Markle’s race or ethnicity are being disingenuous. You have only to look at Brexit and film footage of some native Brits telling Poles and other European workers that they should go back to their home countries to understand a particular kind of nationalism that is also deeply rooted in the United States of America. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Secondly, there’s no question that some reporters and posters directed racists comments toward the duchess. You can find them for yourselves online even now.

But the royal family itself seemed to go out of its way to welcome her. That Queen Elizabeth II ultimately removed the couple not only from their duties but their patronages when they decided to “step back,” stripping them of their HRH titles as well, may seem cruel. But, as I’ve written, it’s totally in keeping with the nature of work and family dynamics. And herein lie lessons for us all. When you join any group, unless you’ve been invited to transform it – as is the case with some CEOs – you feel your way and see how you can contribute. You’re patient, picking your spots. You give it time.

Then if after sufficient time and effort things don’t work out, you prepare to make a clean break. You don’t go half-out, half-in, because – and this is the crucial point – those who leave don’t usually have leverage.

All of this seems to have been lost on Harry and Meghan. It really is a shame. Loss is something the duchess talks about in the Oprah interview – “there’s a lot that’s been lost already,” she says. But the real loss from a public perspective is that she and her husband, as a modern, biracial couple forged on both sides of the Atlantic, could’ve done so much within the royal family on a global stage and within the United Kingdom.

Sometimes the great opportunity is not the one out there but the one right in front of you.

Georgette Gouveia

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