During a segment on Good Morning Britain, Judge Robert Rinder, MBE expressed his deep disappointment and disgust at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex accepting an award for their work in human rights.[1] The Daily Mail called it a “furious rant,” though, as Rinder explained, he is “passionate” about this topic.[2] After all, Rinder just could not fathom how they have “done anything to help bring awareness to systemic racism.” This statement, out of his entire speech, stood out because it is precisely the opposite. Meghan Markle, before becoming a Duchess, probably did not see herself being this type of champion despite devoting a considerable amount of her time to humanitarian works. Yet, when the Sussexes’ encountered the result of the dark side of the UK’s racial history that academics know all too well, they had two choices. As of the 18th, we all know the choice they made: Netflix’s six-part docuseries Harry and Meghan was born.

The reactions form a dichotomy: those in favor/supportive and those who are not. An aspect that is loudly silent pertains to a statement presented early in the first half of the docuseries: British slaveowners collecting reparations for their loss in human capital, with their descendants still collecting money as late as 2015. Though the talk of reparations has been loud in the United States, this conversation is now at the crux of discussions surrounding Great Britain and its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. Additionally, some Caribbean nations are trying to remove themselves from the Commonwealth, and there is an overall question about the relevancy of having a symbolic monarchy as head of state. Netflix’s Harry and Meghan contributes to this conversation by questioning why this supposed “symbolic” “neutral” entity has such power and to what end? What does the Royal Family do for its denizens? What do they do for the countries in the Commonwealth? What does it mean to be head of state for Australia and Canada? The UK faces economic troubles, and their government is in disarray, with a revolving set of prime ministers. Yet, the monarchy sits with generational wealth cleaved from stolen goods, and exploitations of foreign lands and peoples, whilst living by the implicit understanding that they were “chosen by God” to do so.

This connection to race, imperialism, and identity is at the core of Netflix’s docuseries. For those who see the “ungrateful, entitled whiners” that represent Harry and Meghan misinterpret the overarching premise of the series. The docuseries’ purpose is two-fold. One is to share the Sussexes’ side of a story that took life of its own due to the British media’s shaping of the couple’s personal narrative. The other illustrates the formation of the current narrative informed by the UK’s past and social/cultural present. Topics about Brexit, the Commonwealth, imperialism, and colonialism are all a part of this narrative. For historians, the Duke and Duchess’ experience would be an example of what academics call microhistory. As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, Microhistory is the “historical study which addresses a specific or localized subject; a historical account of this nature, a case study.” [3] The Duke and Duchess of Sussexes’ lived experience – the micro-historical event – serves as the starting point to draw in topics many of the public have heard of from a macro-historical perspective. The macro-historical perspective will look at broad topics such as imperialism – a word used in the documentary by the late Queen- to the xenophobia underpinning Brexit.[4] The documentary tried to illustrate how these all linked together into a society, that at its head, still has a symbolic identity from the past.

This symbolic identity is what Stuart Hall, FBA – a noted sociologist/one (of three) founders of the school of Cultural Studies- explained when trying to describe the English identity. Hall employs the term “Englishness,” where the English’s nationality transcends belonging to a place geographically to a type of ethnicity.[5] To be English is not just to be born in its lands; it is its own race.[6] One example comes from a recent segment of the show Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) with television presenter Sangita Myska, where a Tory party member tries to explain why former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should return. The caller complains that Rishi Sunak is not British despite being born in Great Britain.[7] Myska correctly points to Johnson’s birthplace of New York, which initially derails the caller’s argument. His final response is that they (British) could not go to other countries/societies and be their leaders and not even look like the citizens. The unspoken message is that Sunak’s birthplace is irrelevant because he is brown skinned while Johnson is white. Therefore, despite this Tory member’s lack of historical accuracy about his own nation regarding imperialism and colonialism, he aptly illustrates Hall’s theory of Englishness as an ethnicity rather than just a nationality.

Rinder has the right to believe that others were more deserving, but to say that “he cannot fathom the award being given to the Sussexes for bringing awareness to systemic racism” ignores one of the main implicit points of the docuseries: the British Monarchy is emblematic of this systemic racism, with certain factions within the British media as one of its tools. The British media focuses on the Sussexes “slamming” the Royal family, while avoiding questions like why slaveholders were reimbursed, with their descendants still receiving money almost two hundred years later. In his rant, Robert Rinder mentions Marie Antoinette, yet the Royals post on international platforms banquets, jewels, and money: a stark juxtaposition to their citizens’ current suffering. Royalists may say that it is the government’s job, not the Royal family’s responsibility. The question then becomes: what is the job of the Royal family?

This piece is not meant to advocate abolishing the monarchy, but tradition over progress almost always ends in eradication. Duchess Meghan’s royal entry should have signaled proof of the British Monarchy’s progress. Yet, if the Caribbean tour by the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was any indication, the opposite is true. The Royal Family hides behind the “silence of the Palace” stance to avoid scrutiny, while being actively symbolic of a tradition where certain individuals are inherently better by virtue of birth. For former colonial subjects/some Commonwealth nations, the monarchy is that constant reminder of being colonized, where the current denizens enjoy the leftovers of plundered land and its natural resources through slave labor.

Netflix’s Harry and Meghan does more than “tell a story.” The docuseries asks its audience to question the veracity of information presented about an institution that upholds a system of oppression whilst dressed in stolen jewels and blood money. Robert Rinder, Piers Morgan, Jeremy Clarkson, and the ilk function as good foot soldiers to redirect viewers from taking a good introspective look to protect the status quo. The Sussexes’ docuseries exemplifies another micro action towards truth versus the current revisionist realities.

[1] Daily Mail article https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11506955/Rob-Rinder-launches-furious-rant-Harry-Meghan-accepting-human-rights-award.html

[2] Ibid

[3] “Microhistory, n.”. OED Online. December 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.libproxy.utdallas.edu/view/Entry/245460?redirectedFrom=microhistory (accessed December 23, 2022).

[4] Macro-historical- a historical look to topics on a broad scale and how they trend/compare among societies and eras.

[5] Stuart Hall, “The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity,” in Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, ed. Ann McClintock. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 173-187.

[6] Ibid

[7] Rishi Sunak is the current Prime Minister of the UK. At the time of the recording, his approval was in discussion.

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