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A California Girl in Queen Elizabeth’s (‘Very Much Not a Racist’) Court

On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle is back from vacation and living her best life. So is Meghan Markle. Together with Oprah, who Toure calls the “queen of interviewers,” she may have just upended the British monarchy.

  • Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sat down with Oprah Winfrey for a bombshell interview about their decision to leave the royal family.

  • It was a stark account of racism and how it knows no class boundaries –– and a reminder Oprah is still the reigning queen of compelling television.

  • In other news this week, Congress passed a COVID relief bill without a provision for a minimum wage hike, the trial of George Floyd’s killer begins and hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise.

It seemed as if Meghan Markle was living a dream: becoming a real-life princess. But we learned this week in a devastating interview with Oprah that her experience was a waking nightmare.

“It's clearly an example of how you can get to the upper-upper class as a Black person and still experience extreme racism,” says Toure.

It was perhaps unsurprising that a Black American woman wouldn’t be embraced wholeheartedly by an institution that literally reigns over a commonwealth of nations it colonized. But it was a welcome reminder that Oprah’s talent as an interviewer is unmatched.

“She is confrontational,” says Toure. “She uses her emotional intelligence. She understands that it's all about the follow-up, so she's in the moment.”

The genius of Oprah is her empathy, Danielle says.

“People want to open up to her because they feel like they're being heard and seen.”

The interview was equal parts scathing takedown, courageous disclosure and declaration of independence.

Harry, welcome to America. Meghan, welcome back. Oprah, we missed you.

Episode Highlights –– Oprah Is the Queen

Inimitable Oprah

Toure thinks that as an interviewer, Oprah is “the queen of circling back.”

She asked Harry about his relationship with his father, and wasn’t satisfied with the answer. And even though the interview went in another direction, she brought it up again. But her follow-ups never seem like attacks, Toure adds.

“Her emotional intelligence, in terms of creating empathy, in terms of trying to understand how someone feels, or felt in the moment, says: I am with you. But not in a mawkish way.”

He’s struck by her talent at asking “sharp, direct” questions.

“A lot of people in the game do long questions, because they are thinking through what they're trying to ask as they're asking it. But Oprah is so quick she can scalpel. What did you say when the Queen said that? What do you think the palace really meant by that?”

Those are more effective than “multi-directional, nuanced questions'' –– and yet none of them are sensational, he says. They’re “genuine and organic.”

Danielle thinks the difference between Oprah and other journalists is that she has “never been a clout chaser. She wasn't going into this interview thinking … How can I trend today?”

Instead, Oprah approached her sit-down with the ex-royals with an openhearted approach: “These people have been hurt. They're vulnerable. How do I present this conversation so people understand the depth of what transpired?”

Toure says she still, after all this time, demonstrates a commitment to being of service –– “to the audience and to truth.”

He also notes that –– although she does it less now –– she’s “extraordinary at code switching: going from saying the homegirl sort of things that made us be like, yes, she's she's still one of us, and then saying something that made suburban white women think, she's one of us.”

‘The Firm’ dies hard

Toure thinks it was no surprise that the British Royal family, “which has never had a Black person in it, was not welcoming to her.”

But it was notable that Harry and Meghan seemed careful not to implicate the family but direct their accusations toward “The Firm” –– ostensibly the palace administration –– instead.

It was clear what “The Firm” thought of Meghan: We don't want you; we don't like you. We're wondering what the color of your baby will be.

“These are not questions that are foreign to people who marry into white families,” says Toure.

But it’s not entirely foreign to nonwhite folks either, Danielle says.

“I’ve heard those same utterances in Black spaces. Colorism is very real … the closer you are to whiteness means you are better. There were paper bag tests for a reason.”

There’s an important difference, though, says Toure.

“White people will be horrified that the child will lose status. But we understand that browner skin will be a burden for the child to overcome. We are colorist in negative ways sometimes. But we can enter those conversations with an understanding that … there is light-skinned privilege.”

Black folks “can have that conversation, at least in private spaces, in a way that is empathetic and not meant to be pejorative or derogatory,” he adds.

Meghan and Harry rewrite a storybook ending

The tragic, untimely death of Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, hung over the interview.

Danielle doesn’t think Harry “would have had the courage to live his own life, to find a partner and to leave the royal family, if Diana had not created the path for him.”

Harry said he didn’t even know he was trapped until Meghan pointed it out, Toure notes.

“He was like, I’ve always been in this cage. What's the problem? It’s like fish: What is water? This is just the way it is.

Danielle thinks that’s scary, because we consume celebrity “through the eyes of us wanting the glamour and the glitz. But we don't think about the sacrifices. And I wouldn't want that level of scrutiny.”

There's no amount of money that would be enough for her to forfeit her mental health. The Markle-Windsors would seem to agree, especially because of the “trauma of Princess Diana's death for Harry,” Danielle says.

“There is no protection in the U.K. against these rabid paparazzi and tabloids. In the United States, celebrities sue them. We have precedent in terms of court cases.”

And, as Toure points out, Meghan “drew a direct correlation between media saying racist things about her, stoking the fear, anger and anxiety of a lot of people, and the fringe making threats, to where she felt her life is truly in danger.”

Hate crimes against Asian-Americans on the rise

In the same media ecosystem, Asian-Americans are under attack (literally, being beaten in the streets) after more than a year of vitriolic speech from the former president and others on the right who call COVID-19 the “China virus.”

“It's disgusting and it's tragic,” says Toure. “But there's a direct relationship between the things that people like Trump and Sean Hannity say and what the lower-level fringe maniacs hear, and their actions –– and the way this plays out.”

And of course, indiscriminate hate crimes are committed every day against Black people, gay people and trans folks too, he says.

“It's just louder right now for Asian-Americans. But this is happening for all of us. So when we talk about racism, it's not a game of wokeness. It's not an abstraction. It is a direct impact on our lives.”

WTF is ‘woke supremacy’?

While there’s clearly plenty of actual crises going on, right-wing pundits are fixated on cancel culture.

“It's so silly,” says Toure.

“Republicans have become caricatures of themselves,” Danielle says, pointing out Senator Tim Scott’s recent remarks about “woke supremacy” being just as bad as white supremacy.

“Toure, did woke supremacy kill your ancestors?” she asks. “And what the fuck is woke supremacy?”

Toure is sure that it is “so not a thing.”

Every time Scott “says some hot shit like this,” Danielle thinks: What went wrong in your childhood? What happened to you?

“Because something clearly happened to make him hate himself and hate Black people,” she says.

“This is where I break down the notion that Black people can't be racist,” says Toure. “White privilege is happening all over the place, and the people who are the pawns of white supremacy, perpetuating it on a day to day basis, include Black people like Tim Scott.”

Being Black isn’t a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” he adds. “You are perpetuating and working for white supremacy, so you are being racist and you are making our lives more vulnerable in the process.”

‘Cancel culture’ vs. the fight for $15

While Tim Scott deserves a roast, another lawmaker deserves a toast: Tim Ryan, “who went off on Republicans this week,” says Danielle.

“He was like, I have fucking had it. You all want to sit around and talk about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head … everything except the American worker. Get to fucking work.”

She thinks everyone in the Democratic Party needs to start acting like Tim Ryan.

“They should,” says Toure. “And I'm not against shaming them, but shaming them will not make them come around on a $15 minimum wage or monthly basic income –– the kinds of economic measures we need to get through this economic situation.”

That’s because the Republicans “are not acting in good faith, on some principle whereby they genuinely think a $15 minimum wage would be bad for business, bad for their constituents or bad for their voters.”

Instead, he thinks they’re “playing political defense” to block anything that could help President Biden get reelected or keep Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer in charge of Congress.

Big Macs and big hypocrisy

A federal minimum wage increase –– which we haven’t seen since 2009, would be “incredibly valuable and helpful for millions of Americans,” Toure says. “It’s not about kids getting extra money for flipping burgers. There are a lot of parents who are making minimum wage.”

Arguments about the minimum wage always seem to include the idea that it will raise prices for the middle class –– but “the ridiculous, exorbitant salaries of CEOs never come into the conversation,” he adds.

“A typical CEO is making 20 to 40 times what an average low-level worker is making. Yet we don't want to talk about the impact of that on the price on a Big Mac.”

Danielle wonders why Republicans never tried to raise the minimum wage themselves (or did much of anything that had a positive impact on the middle class) when they controlled both Congress and the White House.

“In the four years of Trump, what was his crowning piece of legislation?” she asks.

“Nothing,” Toure replies. “Trump did not understand politics and policy on a basic level to even think that far. He was only able to think in terms of executive actions. He had no legislative goals whatsoever.”