I Talked to Meghan and Harry About Systemic Racism. Here’s How It Went.

Surprisingly the Duke and Duchess of Sussex addressed the issues head on

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arrive at an event in London in March 2020.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex meet children as they attend the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 on March 09, 2020 in London, England. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

This week an edited recording of a conversation between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and four young people was released to media. I — a queer Black feminist woman — was a part of that conversation, choosing to put myself in proximity to significant power, privilege, and influence while exercising my own to highlight the efforts of young people in social justice work and make recommendations on the way forward.

Choosing to be a part of this conversation was complicated. I decided to be there, knowing that there would likely be criticism of a pro-Black, anti-capitalism advocate who is calling for wealth distribution to dare to sit with people whose titles are symbols of a legacy from which we need to be freed. Additionally, the Bahamas, where I live, will soon celebrate its 47th year of independence. We are a sovereign and democratic nation, yet the country remains “loyal to the Queen” who is still the head of state.

The persisting relics of colonization do not sit well with many of us, and we struggle to challenge and uproot them. Often, any mention of Britain or the royal family is cause for argument. It is against this backdrop that I joined a conversation with Meghan Markle and Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. The former royals, now president and vice president of a foundation named the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT), participated in our weekly discussion on racism and injustice — a series I have been helping to coordinate since George Floyd’s murder. The July 1 conversation was the first time in recent memory that anyone in the royal family plainly spoke out on Britain’s colonial past and the resulting, and ongoing, issues of racial injustice and inequality.

“When it comes to institutional and systemic racism,” Harry said, “it’s there and it stays here because someone somewhere is benefiting from it.”

Meghan seemed to be pushing for privileged people to be more aware of their actions and to do more than talk about it, but to work and actually do something about it.

“It’s not just in the big moments, it’s in the quiet moments where racism and unconscious bias lies and thrives,” she said.

They both addressed the elephant in the room and said exactly what we, and so many others, know. And that is part of the reason why the conversation was so groundbreaking. After all, the first item on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s 10-point Reparations Plan is the expectation of an apology from European nations. An apology is an admission of wrong and, by extension, it commits the party to a process for repair. It carries weight. But apologies in this polite society are hard to come by. Theresa May, for example, when called upon to apologize for Britain’s role in legislating against LGBT+, alternatively issued a “statement of regret.”

In order to have the change we need, we have historically sought a seat at the table. In recent times, we have moved away from this. Some of us are building our own tables. I often want to smash them. I am also occasionally invited to sit at them, and I have to determine the impact of my presence or my absence.

Whatever privilege I have that can help to end systemic racism and free us from the clutches of colonialism? I intend to use it.

So what was it like at that virtual table with Meghan and Harry? Unmoved by the cult of celebrity, I was not at all nervous about the event. The couple brought a calm, relaxed energy to the call, so it didn’t feel formal or high-pressure. We weren’t told what to say or what to ask. They showed genuine interest and responded to our comments with substance. Host and QCT Trustee Chrisann Jarrett expertly moved us from one part of the conversation to the next, and it was great to hear from founder and CEO of the Common Sense Network Mike Omoniyi and leader of Global Shapers Abdullahi Alim, who brought interesting insights. Mike focused on allyship and the need for White people to start with humility and a willingness to be uncomfortable. Abdullahi pointed out that we are not the first people to work toward equality and justice, and if we are to be successful in making significant progress, we need to study and learn from those who paved the way.

For me, it was important to talk about dismantling oppressive systems, taking individual responsibility to end participation in oppressive systems, and the necessity of holistic community building. I asked two questions I hope the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and anyone holding the power to end oppression will remember and ask themselves: “What am I willing to do right now? How will I contribute to the change that we can no longer pretend is not necessary?”

I am a queer Black woman, a feminist, and a women’s human rights defender, and being a part of that conversation was critical for me. I had no delusions about it being a magic wand that would change the world, but saw it as an opportunity to leverage the platform of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to reach a wide audience and bring more people to the conversation about racism and injustice and what is required of us to bring them to an end in these island nations.

Conversations are a part of the process, and impatience, desperation to act, and formality can get in the way. The six of us, however, took our seats at that table to share our ideas and offer recommendations that can help fuel burgeoning movements. The thinking, rethinking, and overthinking about this event has brought me to my newest affirmation: My perspective is important. Nothing is off limits. I will take up space.

Whatever privilege I have that can help to end systemic racism and free us from the clutches of colonialism? I intend to use it.

Women’s human rights defender, research consultant, gender expert, public educator, movement builder, writer. #Caribbean #Bahamas #Equality242 @_AliciaAudrey

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