You can’t truly understand the royal race row unless you’ve felt the sting of skin tone bigotry

<span>Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP</span>
Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

There are a few words and phrases I’ve muted on X (formerly Twitter) for a while, including: mixed-race, biracial, interracial relationship, and royal race row. But I would have had to have thrown my phone in the sea to avoid part two of the latter, involving Archie’s skin tone, Meghan and Harry’s unofficial biographer, Omid Scobie, and his new book, Endgame – in which the two royals who apparently commented on Archie’s skin colour before he was born were named in the Dutch-language version of the book (which was promptly pulped by the publisher).

I do sympathise – with Archie first and foremost, that is. Before he is even able to talk, his heritage has been loaded with meaning, his very existence described as progressive, transgressive, a step forwards or a step backwards, depending on whom you speak to. Being born into a story over which you have little control is a heavy load to bear. Many people of colour in white spaces and “mixed-race” people will relate.

To me, the most tedious part of this race row is the “is it racist, is it not racist” dance. While Meghan and Harry have yet to break their silence, Boris Johnson has declared that it is “not remotely racist” to query how dark a baby may be. Timeline trolls and rightwing thinkers repeat the same refrain. But rather than getting into this pointless back and forth, we need to think about why these kind of comments about skin tone are still being made in the 21st century; and those directly affected by these words need to express why, and if, it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Personally I’d quite like it if no one passed comment on my particular “mix” ever again – and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Quite recently I was sharing a late-night taxi with someone who commented on the low “timbre” of my voice. He confidently put this down to the Nigerian side of my heritage and compared the voices of his mixed-Jamaican friends to his mixed-Nigerian friends, concluding that west Africans had voices like mine, and that I couldn’t “pass” for Jamaican. I shut this down quite quickly, but found myself tiptoeing around my language, lest he would feel that I was calling him racist – which would inflame the whole thing. I also had no backup.

I can definitely relate to having white people analysing one’s appearance or “phenotype” as a mixed-race person, trying to work out which aspect comes from the white side versus the black side. The comments are rooted in eugenicist-style thinking: they are ultimately a hallmark of darker days gone by when the justification of the subjugation of black people was rooted in proving their non-humanity. Whether or not there is ill-intent behind these kind of comments doesn’t really matter. The onus is on the person making them to educate themselves and make a pledge to do better.

Trying to empathise here is key. Many people will never really know what it’s like to be in a room full of people to whom you are related, or you know quite intimately, and overhear a remark that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and makes you wonder: do they think those things about me?

In my book Raceless, I wrote about experiences like this: the reality of being raised in all-white spaces when you are not white. Many people have written to me over the years, some of them multiracial, some of them not, to say they recognise the fatigue and mental anguish that comes from standing out in homogeneous settings. When Meghan spoke about her troubled time within the royal family and the racial minefields she walked through, I didn’t find it hard to relate – as I’m sure was the case with many others. But she was shut down, brandished a liar and a drama queen, and effectively forced out of the country by our mainstream press.

Many people of colour in white spaces and those of mixed backgrounds battle every day with the idea that their very existence represents a crossing of boundaries, a disruption of long-held beliefs around kinship and belonging. Your experiences and your skin shade can also be called into question by those with whom you share loving and intimate experiences.

Instead of pretending these instances don’t happen in modern Britain and in our families, we need to let those affected speak up when they do – to avoid repeating the same old mistakes.

  • Georgina Lawton is the author of Raceless: In Search of Family, Identity, and the Truth About Where I Belong

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.