Meghan and Harry – Standing their ground
Meghan and Harry are keeping busy. Meghan was a guest speaker at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit this year, to discuss how “Our experiences online shape our communities offline”. Apparently, Fortune Magazine liked what they heard because they booked her again for the Fortune MPW Next Gen, this time to talk about “Courageous leadership – How do you lead with your values?”. Harry and Meghan did a podcast with Teenager Therapy centered on mental health and the toll pervasive and too often nefarious social media take on it. They have curated a TIME100 Talks session on “Engineering a Better World” which focused on building online communities that are more compassionate, safe, and trustworthy. Let me introduce a side note here: that TIME100 Talks is sponsored by P&G, which has sponsored another guest-appearance by Meghan. Remember the company Meghan as an 11-year-old sent a letter to complain about the misogyny of one of their ads? That was P&G. When Meghan became the Duchess of Sussex, the media started digging into her backstory; they discovered how early her activism went back and what started it. It’s easy to guess that P&G figured since they were portrayed as the villain every time that story popped up, they might as well this time be on the right side of history and partner with Meghan (and Harry), hoping it will be noticed. Well, it has -not that they are taking too many risks.
This list does not encompass all the zoom calls and appearances -and one article for Fast Company- Meghan and Harry have been involved in since they relocated to California. It focuses on their activism around the impact of social media on mental health and society. As Meghan and Harry are busy drilling on this subject, so are their detractors (mostly UK-based) who question their eligibility for talking about it, like this journalist for the Daily Telegraph who wrote an article with such a clickbait title as “Meghan’s social media message was the right one -just from the wrong person”. In fact, their UK-based detractor’s question Meghan and Harry eligibility to advocate for anything, as in their eyes (quoting approximatively from a post on Twitter) “they have gone off for a life of luxury while the Queen is still standing at 94-years old with her people” -seriously? Forget that whatever wealth Harry and Meghan might accrue, it will never compare with the wealth of the British Royal Family. All the pushbacks and whining like this one -or the calls for Harry to “come back and fulfill [his] duty to Queen and Country”- always gloss over why they left in the first place. In their unwillingness to acknowledge the indescribable bullying and harassment by the British media Meghan has been subject to and still is to this day, these detractors cannot comprehend why Meghan and Harry are such in high demand on this side of the pond, and so popular worldwide. They fail to realize the world has been watching how badly Meghan was treated by the British media, which triggered, interestingly, social media to mobilize in their support -the Sussex Squad has become a force to reckon with.
Time for me to introduce another side note: I grew up in Europe (I know it’s not a country, but I don’t want to be more specific), a 2nd generation child of immigrants. When as an adult I hit the corporate world, I was regularly the first and only Black woman in my position in the companies I worked for. What I missed wasn’t so much somebody like me to look up to -though I don’t deny the power of examples of accomplished Black women such as Michelle Obama; what I missed at the time were Black women in the same situation I was in to share my experience dealing with that world. Fast forward many years, and an ocean, and here I am in the United States witnessing with the rest of the world a WOC entering one of the whitest space there is: the British Royal Family. I also witnessed the harassment meted out to Meghan by the British media right from the start when she was just Harry’s girlfriend, and which kept on increasing to a level rarely seen. I was angry about it and luckily, I found a community, the Sussex Squad, whose support for Meghan is steeped in many Squaddies’ experience as Black women working in white space. That resonated with me as these Squaddies were articulating what I had and still experience (I’m the first and only in my job, even on this side of the pond), and that supporting Meghan goes beyond supporting a stunning WOC who happened to marry a prince. This is not a reductive take on the Sussex Squad, an overall inclusive community which takes offense of seeing a woman being bullied almost to oblivion just because she fell in love with a guy from a prominent white family while she is not, and because they form a charismatic mixed-race couple who reflects the world we live in.
Back to Meghan and Harry though; why are the causes they are advocating for so triggering for UK’s conservatives and many more liberals than one would expect? See, we live in a world where people are so used to seeing their leaders (whether politicians or religious figures) compromise on ethical principles that some either struggle to comprehend or just cannot stand a couple who shows courage in standing up for what they believe in. Meghan, though an activist, never had to show her spine (at least on the global stage) until she joined the BRF. The reason she’s booked solid is people are aware of the media and social media storm she went through and admire the fact she walked away from being a “princess” which is a shortcut for “standing down from being a working royal” to preserve more than her mental health, to preserve her soul. And the reason people admire Harry, beyond his achievements (Sentebale, Invictus Games, etc.) not everybody is aware of, honestly; the reason Harry has garnered so much support is that he walked away from a life of privilege he was born into for the love of his wife and to protect both Meghan and their son. Beyond that, they’re also taking on a beast throughout them suing the Daily Mail and newspapers involved in the hacking scandal.
What detractors who are blasé (the older generations) fail to realize is that Millennials and Gen Z (and some older ones as well) crave for such models. Otherwise, why would Greta Thunberg resonate so much? It used to be a time, during the ’60s through the early 70s when the youth took to the streets across the world claiming for their ideals to become part of their reality. It is the same now, and Harry and Meghan by walking away and standing their ground are echoing it. I can understand then why Fortune would be interested to book Meghan. The next generation of leaders will be dealing with a workforce whose expectations are very different from the old guard. While Meghan and Harry are portrayed by the naysayers as “celebrities” -which they are, the naysayers have completely fallen to understand the phenomenon their celebrity is based upon.