I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m into the British royal family. It’s one of the things about me that is least aligned with my politics – to be clear, I am not okay with hereditary monarchy or the British Empire. But through The Crown I became fascinated with the family dynamics of multiple generations navigating rigid class hierarchy, gender, and vast amounts of inherited power and wealth. The show is a fun form of “research” and studying the .01%.
That’s why I’ve been following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s “stepping back” from the royal family with interest. I had watched their royal wedding and been rooting for Meghan as a Black woman of color navigating the racism, sexism, and classism of the Windsors, the monarchy, and British media. I’m glad she and Harry are setting boundaries and practicing self-determination, and I may soon join in with the people who use “Meghan Markle” as a verb, as in “Meghan Markle, a verb, past tense – Meghan Markled: to value yourself and your mental health enough to up and leave a room/ situation/ environment in which your authentic self is not welcomed or wanted.”
Although there are no royals (that I know of) in Resource Generation’s network, this situation also brought up interesting parallels with our work organizing young people who are upper and owning class:
- Organizing our families: Although Harry and Meghan say that they want a “progressive new role within this institution”, there has been some commentary that Harry and Meghan could have had more impact in modernizing the monarchy if they stayed. Although the institution of monarchy is not the same as inherited family wealth, I know that RG members also struggle with a similar “insider/outsider” tension. I hear questions like: Will I have more of an impact if I’m actively a part of my family’s foundation? How do I change our grantmaking without it feeling like a personal attack on my family’s values? Can I influence my family’s giving more if I make some personal compromises to stay in closer relationship? Many of our members have decided to move back to their hometowns and family of origin to take on family organizing.
- Setting boundaries with toxic families: At the same time, many members find that they need to set hard boundaries with their families, and that money and class privilege have fueled and enabled dysfunction, toxicity, abuse, and violence. Most of our members identify as queer and as women, gender non-confrming, and/or trans and have to challenge cispatriarchy and homophobia as they are also challenging classism and organizing towards redistribution. I respect and understand folks who decide to Meghan Markle it, and acknowledge and send love to those who have experienced being forced out and cut off from their families.
- Losing titles, but not privilege: Harry and Meghan have lost their “His/Her Royal Highness” titles but they are still the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and will likely be continuing to use their highly popular “Sussex Royal” brand in commercial ventures. They will continue to reap the benefits of their proximity to the royal family and their ruling class privilege. Similarly even if our upper and owning class members redistribute wealth they and their families have access to, there is no “giving up” the class privilege of lifelong access to health care, elite institutions, education, and networks. Harry and Meghan have even more of a safety net than other wealthy and class privileged people, and I was disappointed to see they didn’t use their position and this opportunity to critique the monarchy as an institution.
- Financial “independence”: Harry and Meghan will no longer receive public funds set aside for royal duties, and are returning the $3.1M in public money used to renovate their house. At first I found this admirable and aligned with their expressed desire to be financially independent, but then I learned that they’ll still be receiving $2-4M a year from Prince Charles, not to mention with a net wealth of $45M they could easily live the rest of their lives without working. I’ve heard from some high net wealth RG members that when they worked jobs that paid a living wage and covered their expenses, it gave them enough confidence and security to redistribute their inherited wealth or set healthy boundaries with their families. What are ways that being tied to family money keeps us under family control? Can we have full self-determination if we don’t have real financial independence?
In the end this is not the dramatic breaking of ties that the media is portraying it to be. In many ways Harry and Meghan are keeping the greatest privileges of being ruling class – vast wealth and influence built on racial and economic inequality – while distancing themselves from the nonsense. They certainly aren’t class traitors (it’d be cooler if they were), but their decision has opened up space in the public narrative to question the harm caused by the monarchy. Instead of an individualistic act of self-preservation, what would it look like for them – and us – to truly “exit” the upper class as an act of solidarity, because we fundamentally don’t believe class hierarchy should exist? #classtraitorshiplookslike