It’s understandable that Prince Harry is less than thrilled with his future at the Firm, given that his job was to be a spare, and even that job is no longer needed. So he, with his Duchess of Sussex, decided to take their own path of progressive manifest destiny. Whatevs.
True to the intense attention the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have attracted since their marriage in May 2018, the press was quickly filled with stories about their finances and prospects, and about how the queen, the prince’s grandmother, would handle the defection. A few articles actually showed sympathy for a couple trapped in a gilded cage that exposed them to constant scrutiny — and, in the duchess’s case, virulent racism.
On the one hand, there are a few benefits to being royals, like money, title, adoration. But the gilded cage analogy is a good one, particularly for Princess Di’s second boy, who’s struggled with where exactly he fits into the scheme of monarchical stability in a former empire in turmoil.
But for Meghan, it’s “virulent racism“?
From the very first headline about her being “(almost) straight outta Compton” and having “exotic” DNA, the racist treatment of Meghan has been impossible to ignore. Princess Michael of Kent wore an overtly racist brooch in the duchess’s company. A BBC host compared the couple’s newborn baby to a chimpanzee. Then there was the sublimely ludicrous suggestion that Meghan’s avocado consumption is responsible for mass murder, while her charity cookbook was portrayed as somehow helping terrorists.
Shredding royals has been a mainstay of the Brit tabloids for decades, but in the list ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, what’s really heartbreaking is that Meghan was forced to endure Princess Michael of Kent’s “overtly racist brooch.”
Not that I’m a fan of Princess Michael of Kent, daughter of a Nazi SS officer, before marrying well, but this is a magnificent brooch, and one that would likely be found in the jewelry box of every royal, not to mention wealthy fashionista, because it’s magnificent.
The brooch appears to be nearly two inches in length and includes an antiquated depiction of a black figure that many contend exoticizes people of color. Blackamoor art often appeared in European furniture and jewelry between the 13th and 15th centuries, either depicting black individuals as subservient or as members of royalty.
As might be clear, this brooch wasn’t depicting a black individual as subservient.
The use of the blackamoor aesthetic came up in 2012 when Dolce and Gabbana came under fire for using it in their brand’s spring 2013 runway presentation. According to the Guardian, one of their models wore a pair of blackamoor earrings.
Now you can hate on Princess Michael all you want, but this wasn’t just about her as D&G came under fire for it as well. But [TRIGGER WARNING: ANTIQUE JEWELRY MENTION AHEAD] the blackamoor brooch was a magnificent work of art. The mastery reflected in such a fine brooch deserves better than it “exoticizes people of color.” In 14th Century Europe, black people were exotic, and in a good way. But regardless, blaming a masterful brooch for being racist, and hereinafter good only for melting down or wearing on one’s Klan robe, is bizarre.
Whether Harry and Meghan’s decision to go rogue was, as the New York Times contends, a partial reaction to Brit racism, is unclear. Certainly marrying a prince isn’t a particularly racist experience for an American woman, even if the nastier tabloid stories said mean things about her being biracial. But if there is room in their litany of horrible for a blackamoor brooch, then the Times really hasn’t made its claim, and has needlessly besmirched a fabulous piece of art for no good reason.
As suffering racism goes, it may be harder to do while a duchess than a commoner, although there are probably a few biracial American women who would be willing to take Meghan’s place. But leave the brooch out of it, and don’t cancel fabulous antique jewelry because it’s not the sort of thing a master would craft 700 years later. The Duchess of Sussex may well suffer the pain of her position, but not because of a beautiful brooch.