Africa: Meghan Markle and Identity Politics - When Racist Trolls Become the New Normal

opinion

Online age, the bane of social media platforms; 4chan, 8chan among others where public figures gets lampooned, at the click of a button. Meghan Markle has been at the receiving end of unprecedented visceral abuse, fuelled in part by racism and negative media coverage. Time to introspect and look into our global consciousness, writes Andrew Chatora.

I have watched aghast at the increasing pummelling Meghan Markle, Prince Harry's wife, (the Duchess of Sussex) has been receiving at the behest of a select hostile British media and a plethora of online trolls cheering in tow, thus, I have felt the utmost compulsion to pen this article. Perhaps what tipped me over the proverbial edge was UK veteran broadcaster, Danny Baker's recent twitter faux pas in which he appeared to mock Meghan Markle's African-American heritage, through his unsavoury, tasteless, grisly chimp tweet about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's baby. Curiously, his tweet came on the day Harry and Meghan, who is African-American, welcomed their first child, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor. The tweet portrayed a black and white image showing a well-dressed man and woman holding hands with a suited chimpanzee, which was accompanied with an equally uncouth caption; "Royal baby leaves hospital. Sensibly from the BBC, the tweet elicited swift response which culminated in Danny Baker being summarily dismissed, notwithstanding Danny's unashamed lame excuses at his impropriety, that it was an attempt to 'lampoon privilege.'

What this unsavoury incident does though, is to bring to the fore a festering problematic malaise afflicting our nation today, i.e. the vagaries of increasingly incessant racist xenophobic attacks, perhaps fuelled in part by Brexit and a misguided sense of nationalism as some would argue. Disconcertingly, the Meghan Markle vitriolic abuse is only the tip of the ice berg of what the royal family daughter in law has experienced since joining Windsor household in May 2018. A cursory glance online alerted me to the litany of vile abuse the Duchess of Sussex has and continues to receive. Whereas, I never take the volatile subject of race relations lightly, nonetheless a critical discourse analysis of the putrid diatribe directed at the Duchess only serves to underscore how these insults seem to be mainly because of her mixed race ethnicity and the general loathing we seem to have cultivated for diversity or the other.

Day in, day out, vile connections are made between black people and sick racist monkey comments have become the new normal, be it in football, showbiz or celebrity culture world. Only recently, the Premier League in England and Champions League matches within Europe have increasingly been marred by racist chanting and invectives hurled at black players such as Raheem Sterling, Danny Rose and Pierre Aubemayang among others. Worryingly, Crystal Palace FC Team Doctor, Dr Zafar Iqbal and his two children were recently racially insulted with the P-word insult by a three-year-old, yes, you heard me correctly, a three-year-old mouthing racist diatribe is a hugely disturbing phenomenon for any nation. And if that doesn't prick our national psyche and conscience enough, then we are heading towards an abysmal abyss. It is largely because of these vile microcosmic behaviours that Danny Baker's foolish sense of humour needs to be called out and denigrated by all.

Pertinent questions abound for us as a society, if we unwittingly condone such loathsome, racist behaviour from supposedly eminent members of our community as Danny Baker, without so much as raising a whimper of admonishment or censure. What is increasingly unsettling is, not only has Meghan been subjected to sustained extensive barrage of racist insults since she became a member of the royal family, but this disgusting behaviour continues to be replicated within other facets of mundane British life style, the case of football has been noted, whereby black players have been increasingly at the receiving end of racist slurs, insults and obnoxious behaviour such as being pelted with banana skins at football matches. Is there a coincidence all this is happening in a toxic fuelled Brexit environment, the cynics' amongst us are bound to ask. Beyond the Atlantic, the world continues to witness with alarm, a disturbing trend in the proliferation of white supremacist ideologies which have sadly manifested in the murder and genocide of fellow global citizens the world over, cases in point being, Charleston Church shooting, (2015), and Charlottesville massacres of August 2017, among others. Perhaps, none sums it better than American rapper, Childish Gambino's, This is America song and music video, which are both a poignant metaphor and timely reminder on wider issues of gun violence in the United States, mass shootings along with longstanding racism against African Americans. This is not the kind of world we deserve. If anything, we should be turning our backs on this absurdity.

Thus, the gratuitous vilification of Meghan Markle is symptomatic of broader discourses and flaws inherent in our global community, i.e. a debilitating malaise currently afflicting our nation and the world over; intolerance and racist prejudices spawned by, among others, xenophobic Brexit malfeasance currently unfolding in Britain, and Trump's toxic politics of hate, misogyny, bigotry and white supremacy disguised under the façade of America first jingoism soundbites.

Notable examples of some of the abuse directed at Meghan range from the absurd to the increasingly ludicrous claims that she was faking her pregnancy, with attendant unkind hashtags and memes sprouting up, demonising her as #duchessof deception, #duchessofdeceit, #CharlattanDuchess, #Moonbump among other pejorative and derogatory terms. The moon bump moniker was coined in a bid to discredit Meghan that she was actually not pregnant. Such is the intensity of the uncouth attacks, in April 2019, Sky News channel commissioned an investigation into this, and they uncovered considerable findings, some which I briefly outline below, to quantify my contribution. The research affirmed how Meghan is the subject of constant conspiracy-led and racist attacks on social media sites.

In all this needless vendetta, social media has been at the epicentre of facilitating this diatribe. I have felt perhaps, unashamed trolls feel powerful and invisible, hiding behind the supposedly anonymity of their Black Mirror, keyboards and computer screens. A multitude of what appears to be ghost accounts have been opened on Facebook and Twitter - as well as platforms 4chan, 8chan, and Gab whose remit appear to be a confluence in sharing abusive material about Meghan. Some of the anti-Meghan Facebook pages include the Maggot Markle page and Meghan Markle the Farce, which are conduits of extreme hate speech. Social actors are also using YouTube and Instagram as platforms to organise, perpetuate and orchestrate this seemingly unending vendetta. In a somewhat paradoxical turn of events, Meghan's critics and supporters are both using the aforementioned sites to trade insults, it's an all-out war sabre-rattling, with battle lines firmly entrenched and attendant clarion calls in situ. Meghan's fans have been equally brutal in firing back salvos to her tormentors and perceived partial journalists.

Racist abuse ~ banana leitmotif

In execution of their royal duties, Meghan and Harry visited the sex worker charity One25, in February 2019. In a spur of the moment act of selfless love and empathy towards the sex workers, Meghan requested a banana and wrote on it, 'you are special' and 'you are strong' messages. This was a disinterested show of solidarity to the sex workers and importantly, the bananas were to be used in packed lunches. Trolls were quick to jump on Meghan's selfless gesture hurling racist insults at her and coined the term 'banana baroness.' One Twitter account shared a news story about the Duchess and captioned it, Meghan was 'showy' and 'like a monkey.' One other Twitter account used a photoshopped image of Meghan eating a banana as its icon. Disturbingly, many of these anti-Meghan pages and profiles have a significant following, meaning their abusive posts have a large potential audience. Some, like Twitter-style platform Gab are the preserve of far-right accounts, and they host multiple racist comments. But perhaps, much more bizarre are the indications, some trolls are perpetuating the anti-Meghan diatribe as cash fodder, to make money out of it at the bidding of her name.

Certain sections of the British media have not been immune from fanning this outright sexist, misogynistic anti-Meghan rhetoric on the xenophobic bandwagon. Her background and African American heritage have been consistently questioned, ridiculed and demeaned, with one article alluding to her, 'rich and exotic DNA.' Such is testament to the gravity of the torment his then girlfriend Meghan was being subjected to that in 2016, the sixth in line heir to the British throne, Prince Harry made a rare public chastisement, in a chiding rebuttal statement on the 'racial undertones of comment pieces and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.'

One glaring act of trolls exceeding decency and decorum was evident in the deluge of names, UK Daily Mail readers exchanged the day after Meghan gave birth to her first-born son. Trolls scrambled to outdo each other in further debasing themselves and sinking dismally in the sewer of murky waters, floating around numerous names they 'anticipated' both the Duke and his wife would name their new born son. Names ranging from, Abdulla Mohammed, Leroy Windsor, Jiggly and Squishy were bandied around as possible names, but for the discerning audience, the cruel racist innuendos hinted within the names were clearly evident.

Conclusion

Why can't we peacefully co-exist as a nation, in celebration of our diversity and cosmopolitan nature as modern Britain? A seismic recalibration is needed in terms of our race relations, moving forward. And we really need to have a broad-based national discourse in which we confront our prejudices and fears of alternative viewpoints, diversity and people beyond our borders, a light bulb moment of some sort, introspecting within ourselves. In recent years the world over, we have witnessed terrorist attacks fuelled by hate, bigotry and intolerance among other ills, we certainly need to move beyond these excesses and strive for the spirit of ubuntu or humanism, regardless of race, colour, creed or divergent political affiliation. I am in awe of Prince Harry for marrying a woman he loves regardless of her ethnicity and the unwarranted negative backlash raised thereof. Prince Harry's marriage to Meghan certainly deserves plaudits if it can, as I'm sure it will, in years to come bridge the gap in terms of race relations in Britain and beyond. I for one feel it's a start in the right direction, a positive step to have a mixed-race daughter in law in Buckingham Palace, perhaps, itself an atonement for those acrimonious race relations of yester-year, we seem to be sleepwalking back to.

Author's Bio:

Andrew Chatora teaches English, Media and Sociology at The Bicester School in Oxfordshire, England, where he manages The Media Department. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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