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Invalidations of Meghan’s claims of racism hurt Black women

For many Black women worldwide, the headlines and social media discussions were painfully familiar.

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Prince Harry, from left, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey.
This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Prince Harry, from left, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey.
AP

CHICAGO — As Prince Harry and Meghan’s TV interview reverberates internationally, it’s left the more than 50 million viewers who tuned in grappling with the couple’s claims of racism and lack of support that the Duchess of Sussex says drove her to thoughts of suicide.

But for many Black women worldwide, the headlines and social media discussions were painfully familiar. With social media conversations questioning whether racism affected treatment of Meghan by the British press and royal family, many Black women say it is yet another example of a Black woman’s experiences with racism being disregarded through denials and gaslighting.

“White supremacy seeks to isolate you, make you feel like no one is listening and no one is supporting you. It uses that as a tool to keep in power,” said Gaye Theresa Johnson, associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at UCLA. “And so when you aren’t validated in your feelings or feel supported, that does real harm.”

Meghan, the daughter of a white father and a Black mother, said that when she was pregnant with her son Archie, a member of the royal family expressed “concerns ... about how dark his skin might be.” The former television star also said she sought mental health help through the palace’s human resources department but was told there was nothing it could do.

Almost as soon as the interview with Oprah Winfrey aired, many were quick to deny Meghan’s allegations of racism. The New York Post published a column titled, “Meghan Markle’s interview was full of bull.” British television host Piers Morgan quit his job on “Good Morning Britain” after facing backlash for saying on air that the duchess lied about suffering suicidal thoughts in what he called a “two-hour trash-a-thon of our royal family.”

On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace released a statement saying the “whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan” but that “some recollections may vary.”

Johnson said the doubts and questioning cast against Meghan’s claims were emotionally exhausting to watch for many Black women, who may relate to the trauma of having their personal experiences with racism invalidated by others.

“It’s an insult when people are incredulous about the racism people like Meghan Markle experienced because that incredulity speaks volumes about what people refuse to see, what is right in front of their eyes all the time and that some people have to navigate daily,” she said.

“That takes a toll on a person and their mental health.”

Dr. Anita Thomas, executive vice president and provost at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, said watching Meghan’s interview with Winfrey was emotional.

“It speaks to the burden that many African American women face,” she said. “For Black women, it was upsetting to see that, even when she had the courage to speak out about her experiences with racism, that she didn’t get the support that she needed and, in many ways, her experiences were invalidated.”

Thomas said facing this kind of racism, as well as any invalidation of those experiences, requires “ psychological and emotional energy” to navigate.

“As a psychologist, I hope people talk about this effect of racism and sexism on psychological functioning,” she said.

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pointed to the racist attitudes of the British media as reason for stepping away from royal duties and moving to North America last year, something Harry reiterated in the interview with Winfrey.

As Meghan and Harry began dating, many pointed to the relationship as evidence of Britain entering a “post-racial” era, but the racism Meghan faced from the British media told another story.

When the news first broke of their relationship, publications were quick to refer to Meghan in racist terms, with one tabloid columnist referring to her “exotic” DNA. A Mail Online headline stated Meghan was “(almost) straight outta Compton,” and a Daily Star headline asked whether Harry would “marry into gangster royalty.”

Then, when Meghan and Harry announced they would step away from official royal duties last year, people quickly began to question if racism was what drove Meghan away.

Heather McGhee, author of the book “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” agreed the immediate rush by some to deny Meghan’s allegations following the interview were upsetting.

And that denial is something Black women face every day, she said.

“Very often, Black women in conference rooms and offices experience discrimination and have no recourse, in the same way that one of the more powerful Black women in the world had no recourse except to give it all up,” McGhee said of Meghan.

“I hope we realize there’s a much less powerful version of Meghan likely at your office or school who is being discriminated (against) and doesn’t have champions. I hope this encourages more people to stand up for their Black co-workers, neighbors and friends.”

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Fernando is a member of The Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christinetfern.