They are probably the most famous sofas in America. Nay, maybe the world now that Oprah has long since retired her trusty upholstered TV sidekick.
Over the last couple of months, the taupe couches belonging to Prince Harry and Meghan in their spiffy new $20 million California home seem to have made as many public appearances as Joe Biden, cropping up in headline-grabbing Zoom interview after Zoom interview.
Overnight, one of The Sofas got another very public outing, this time when its owners Harry and Meghan did a video interview with the UK’s Evening Standard newspaper as part of Black History Month in Britain.
The duo – she embodying West Coast chic in a camel asymmetric top and leather pants, the Prince clad in another of his seemingly endless supply of banal blue shirts – spoke about ending structural racism and the world “created by white people for white people”.
Harry said during the interview that previously, he “wasn’t aware of so many of the issues and so many of the problems within the UK and also globally as well. I thought I did but I didn’t” and that he had gone through an “awakening”.
“It is not about pointing the finger, it is not about blame,” the Duke said. “I will be the first person to say, again, this is about learning.”
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And there was more, much more, most of which everyone who does not have a copy of Mein Kampf on their bookshelf would wholeheartedly agree with. Racism still exists and we all have a part to play in addressing it.
And yet … and yet … oh Harry.
This just isn’t quite working.
Here we have someone with a cutglass, upper crust accent saying, “If you actually get out onto the streets and you actually talk to people … it doesn’t feel as diverse as it actually is.” It gives rise to the truly mind boggling image of Harry popping out of Kensington Palace back in the day to stealthily check up on diversity.
(“You can only be what you can see,” he also enthusiastically told the journalists interviewing the duo. Which makes perfect sense given that for years his more usual haunts, such as the Cowdray Polo Club and Mayfair’s most popular nightclubs, probably aren’t bastions of racial diversity and inclusion.)
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To be clear, the fact that he and Meghan are using their global platform to engage with one of the most pressing issues of the time is to their significant credit. They seem to be conducting their entire post-palace career with little if no concern for the waves they might be causing back across the Atlantic, guided entirely by their moral compass. Insert loud and enthusiastic applause here!
And for Harry, watching this video, you can’t help but see his utmost sincerity and conviction.
But the huge, flashing neon issue here is that of the two people on that couch talking about why Black History Month matters, one is a bi-racial woman and the other once saw fit to dress up as a Nazi for a party. (Oh, and just happens to be a member of an institution that for many symbolises centuries of racial oppression.)
This is not to say that the mistakes we make in our youth should define us forever or that we can’t learn and grow. The point of contention here is that over the course of the last six months, as Harry has spoken out more regularly about social justice and systemic racism, that he has never, ever explicitly addressed his own past.
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Here’s the thing: Being white, rich and titled should not disqualify anyone from wanting or playing a part in the global conversations about racism and the fight for equality. However, what it does mean is acknowledging your privilege.
No matter how steep a learning curve he might have gone on since 2005 when he wore a swastika armband for a fancy dress party, he can never truly know what it is like to walk into a room and not be a straight, Anglo-Saxon millionaire. (Or since 2009 when video footage emerged of him referring to one fellow army college cadet as “Paki” and told another wearing a cloth on his head that he looked “like a raghead”. In each instance he apologised at the time.)
Complicating this issue further is not just what Harry himself has done and said but the history behind the British royals. For centuries, the British monarchy profited from slavery. Queen Elizabeth I sponsored slaving voyages to western Africa. A century later, members of the royal family invested in the slave trade during the reign of King Charles II. King George III opposed the abolition of the slave trade, oh and he also bought Buckingham Palace. In fact, according to historian William Pettigrew, “The Royal African Company of England shipped more enslaved African women, men, and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade.”
When it comes to slavery, the British royals have a very, very complicated history on the subject. To not talk about this uncomfortable fact again only undermines Harry’s message.
While Queen Victoria might have helped abolish slavery in 1807, it remains as true now as it was then that a hereditary monarchy is the absolute antithesis of equality.
Imagine how powerful it would be to see Harry and The Sofa appear on a Zoom screen and actually talk about his past, to acknowledge his mistakes and to speak frankly about his journey, not to just offer up oblique references to awakenings and learning?
Because, until he does that, every time he earnestly sits down to offer up his new-found wisdom on racial inequality, there is going to be a huge elephant in the room. Beyond that, every time he speaks out on this subject, he is just giving those who have accused him of hypocrisy or have sought to write off his activist bonafides a forest full of fuel for the fire.
To skip over this is to the Sussexes’ ultimate detriment.
What Harry and Meghan have is the potential to be worldwide leaders on an issue that affects billions of people. But, until Harry talks about his own past, until he finds a way to reconcile his own actions and the royal family’s history with the work he wants to do, he is just going to keep coming off as lecturing and hectoring a public and giving his critics the means to all-too easily dismiss him.
So, Harry, pet, love: Please. You are uniquely placed to play a pivotal role in the global conversation about racial equality but you are only going to make serious headway when you address the past.
The world is ready. The Sofas are waiting.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.