Watching Megan Markle’s story unfold will be all too familiar for many Black and Brown British citizens. Racist microaggressions have become the daily norm for all too many in this country. For Black people, this trauma is compounded, with anti-Blackness and colourism, the strain of this daily experience has a tremendously devastating effect on their mental health.
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“There is not one place on the planet where racism does not exist and therefore becomes a defensive rhetoric that confirms white fragility.”
In a survey on Black mental health recently undertaken by Black Minds Matter, they found that 61% of those surveyed have had their mental health negatively impacted by their experiences of racism in the UK.
The immediate response of distrust and derision by a large percentage of the British public and popular media, to Megan Markle’s statement that she considered suicide as a result of the racist treatment she had experienced (at the hands of that same public and media), reflects the lived experiences of so many Black and Brown people.
Psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council of Psychotherapy, Anthea Victoria Benjamin speaks on this re-traumatising experience: “When the majority response across the media is a push-back and denial of lived experiences, it can become not only traumatising but re-traumatising.”
She continues, “the coverage of the racism claims has become a world event and the continual denial that there is no racism in Britain when there are many case examples creates a sense of hopelessness about the state of affairs on race relations in this country.” Here, Benjamin gets to the very heart of the problem.
This constant denial of the true, painful and traumatising experiences that Black and Brown people experience in this country, going from daily racism on the street, in the office or even with friends, to the upper echelons of society among the Royals, is clearly preventing any real progress and not just that: causing continued mental health struggles.
The impact on the mental health of People of Colour in the wake of Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey is far-reaching. An experience as heavily reported on and as prevalent in public discourse as this, results in huge amounts of emotional labour. Especially in this age of social media, the pressure put on individuals or communities to educate, explain, share stories so that the White masses can simply ‘understand’ is unimaginable.
Dr Mayowa Aina from Black Minds Matter for Grazia summarizes this, saying “it is the constant positioning of Black people, the expectation placed on the Black community to always explain, debate, fight and call out obvious racism that is exhausting.” This kind of emotional labour is guaranteed to have further negative impacts on the mental health of Black and Brown people who are forced to fight for their perspectives to be heard.
The ignorance at work here and unwillingness to face the truth of racism in the UK is the very thing that is the catalyst for this re-traumatising
Dr Dwight Turner, also of the UK Council of Psychotherapy speaks on the notion of shadism being at the heart of the racism present in Meghan Markle’s experience, stating, “to witness shadism and the racism behind it raise its ugly head within the Royal Family, whilst shocking, is no surprise for a good number of Persons of Colour.”
He expands on his point further adding that this resurfaces experiences of having to “adapt to ideals of whiteness, be it the adoption of a certain style of speech, or the suppression of certain habits or ways of being, all of which were deemed too black”. Turner ends, stating “to witness this exploration and denial of racism on our screens once again is undoubtedly traumatic for us all.”
Going back to Anthea Victoria Benjamin, she describes the nature of this toxic relationship as “racial gaslighting” and further “this has far-reaching consequences for people of colour. Until we can find a way to address race in a meaningful way without dismissing people's lived experiences, it is re-traumatising and silencing people of colour.”
Addressing the Duke and Duchess’s claims in the Oprah Winfrey interview, the Society of Editors initially issued a statement questioning Meghan Markle’s claims sating, “it is not acceptable for the Duke and Duchess to make such claims without providing any supporting evidence.”
They have since followed this up with a reviewed statement admitting their initial statement “did not reflect what we all know”, acknowledging that “there is a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion. We will reflect on the reaction our statement prompted and work towards being part of the solution.”
There is clearly plenty of work to be done to undo the damage of the past but actively addressing racism in the UK is the only real way to honour and respect those Black and Brown people who, like Meghan Markle come forward and tell their lived experiences.