Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have said people will feel “uncomfortable” as racism and unconscious bias is challenged across the Commonwealth in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The royal couple joined representatives from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT), which they are still president and vice president of, despite stepping back as senior royals, to discuss justice and equal rights.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been having conversations with community leaders throughout the US in the wake of the death of George Floyd, which has sparked renewed calls and pressure for equality around the world.
On Wednesday, they spoke to some young leaders in the QCT network, in one of the trust’s weekly discussions.
The group talked about Floyd’s death as a turning point, discussing how people can be allies in the quest for greater equality.
Meghan said: “We’re going to have to be a little uncomfortable right now, because it’s only in pushing through that discomfort that we get to the other side of this and find the place where a high tide raises all ships.
“Equality does not put anyone on the back foot, it puts us all on the same footing – which is a fundamental human right.”
The group also talked about the Commonwealth’s past, with Harry saying: “When you look across the Commonwealth, there is no way that we can move forward unless we acknowledge the past, and guess what, everybody benefits.”
Meghan said “this is a moment of reckoning” and called for people to “put their hands up” and recognise where they may have gone wrong in the past.
She also spoke about her “personal experience” of racism, and said that “in people’s complacency, they’re complicit”.
Harry said institutional and systemic racism “stays there because it benefits someone”.
The duke said: “We can’t deny or ignore the fact that all of us have been educated to see the world differently. However, once you start to realise that there is that bias there, then you need to acknowledge it, you need to do the work to become more aware, so that you can help stand up for something that is so wrong and should not be acceptable in our society today.”
The duchess added: “It’s not just in the big moments, it’s in the quiet moments where racism and unconscious bias lies and thrives. It makes it confusing for a lot of people to understand the role that they play in that, both passively and actively.”
"I understand that Harry and Meghan have taken a step out from being members of the royal family,” he said.
"Therefore I'm surprised that he would be making comments like that. I don't agree with what he is saying. We should look forward not back. As someone who has stepped out of the royal family he should focus on his own life and not get involved in politics.
"That is not the appropriate thing to do. I'm not sure his grandmother would be too pleased either."
Both Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, have addressed racism in speeches in recent weeks, starting with the duchess’s message to the graduating class of her former high school in LA, in which she said she was sorry the students were growing up in a world where racial injustice still exists.
Last week, Harry used his speech at the Diana Awards to apologise that “our generation and the ones before us haven’t done enough to right the wrongs of the past”.
The couple are living in Los Angeles and preparing to launch their new non-profit Archewell next year.
It’s thought the discussions they are having will play into the work the non-profit focuses on.
Harry and Meghan heard how the young leaders – including Chrisann Jarrett, QCT Trustee and co-founder and co-chief executive of We Belong; Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas; Mike Omoniyi, founder and chief executive of the Common Sense Network; and Abdullahi Alim, who leads the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers network of emerging young leaders in Africa and the Middle East – are looking at the issues in terms of their own countries’ history and realities.
Omoniyi said: “After pressing send online, people need to roll up their sleeves and do the work.
“There’s a whole host of things that it means to be an ally but the impetus has to be humility, kindness and a willingness to learn new things.”
Harry praised the Black Lives Matter movement for sweeping the world while working without a single leader.
Alim called for people to “allow implicated groups to determine what the best course of action is”.
The duchess said she understood that means people should “know when to lead and know when to listen”.
The couple said the young leaders had the “attention of the world” and that there was “nothing they could not do”, but acknowledged the process would be “painful”.
They remained as president and vice president of the QCT after stepping back from royal duties earlier this year, having previously committed to it as one of their main areas of work when they got married.
Launched in 2018, the QCT works with young leaders who are working to change the world. The QCT does not necessarily reflect the views of the royal family.
With additional reporting by Marni Dixit.