I watched the TV event of the year: Oprah’s sit down with Meghan and Harry and I have been thinking about allyship of Prince Harry. Or rather allyship in general.
He said during the interview that although he had been doing the work before meeting Meghan and reading and educating himself, he grew up in an environment that active anti-racist thoughts and behaviours were absent. He then said, it only took a week in Meghan’s shoes for him to understand the implications and effects of racism and how insidious racial microaggression can manifest themselves.
As he was talking during the interview and rocking the foundations of a racist organization, I was thinking about Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life. She is one of my favourite feminist theorists. In her book, Ahmed talks about feminist killjoys, those who do not let a racist, sexist, or a homophobic comment pass by at the dinner table without addressing it. They/we are called killjoys because we can’t just ‘go with the flow’, ‘not rock the boat’, ‘for once not get political’.
And a family, like any other powerful institution, will respond back to any rocking-of-the-boat, with as much force and power as it can muster.
We forget that our families, not just the Royal family, are institutions. The first institution we are born into, and it wields a mighty power over its members. We must abide by the rules and the culture of our families or face the possibility of being cut-off, exiled, and excluded.
I have a wonderful family, and my family just like any other family has its own flaws and problems. A decade ago, as I was going through an internal upheaval and significant growth through therapy, I decided that I would not go ahead with the lies that my family had set up. I was being crushed by keeping up the draw bridges and not letting anyone in. As I changed and shifted, my family not knowing how to deal with my changes, excluded me for a short period of time. My father and my sisters decided to not share information with me on a family trip that involved my extended family being there as well. The story of course is so much more complicated than this, but the exclusion and the brief exile was traumatic.
Although I worked through that with both my sisters apologizing and saying that they would never repeat those actions again, whenever I remember the impact of that trauma, I shiver. Being excluded and exiled without any explanation or any conversation is crazy-making. It made me question my reality and my sanity, it was a form of gaslighting because I wanted to tell the truth.
I was a feminist killjoy.
As I watched Meghan and Harry talk about their struggles, especially Harry, I remembered with vivid clarity how those days felt like. We talk about how Meghan and Harry ‘left’ the UK, or ‘fled’ the media scrutiny, but those two are more like refugees fleeing a place that became no longer a ‘home’.
And Harry in particular became a feminist killjoy. He didn’t remain silent at the dinner table. He spoke up and spoke out.
He rocked the foundations of a colonial institution because he learned through feeling how racism played out on the body of his wife and by extension him.
One of the best ways that allyship happens is not just through reading and speaking with others who have experienced oppression, but by experiencing it through the close friendships or relationships we make with others. Understanding the pain that racism causes, the trauma that it inflicts, and the scars that it leaves on our bodies are much more palpable if our allies can see us in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, tears, lack of sleep, fear for one’s safety and place in the society, and all the other physical effects of racism.
This is one of the reasons that Meghan and Harry’s interview was so profound, both because of the courage of a woman who voiced how she contemplated suicide as a result of racism of the British press and lack of support from the institution she married into, AND by a man from that institution who stood with his wife to say ‘I will not remain silent and complicit in this charade’.
Prince Harry is a good ally and he learned that mainly through his wife.