This new valorization of Kate is racially inflected, because Britain’s most durable template of respectable womanhood—the “English rose”—is much less accessible to anyone foreign or dark-skinned. The language used to indicate Meghan’s blackness has been noted by some writers, even as it fails to register with many white Britons: She is “exotic,” “urban,” “straight outta Compton.” The author Afua Hirsch told NPR that mixed-race people see in the coverage of Meghan “very colonial narratives about how we should be so grateful that we were allowed in.” But this “English rose” framing is not an unalloyed benefit for those anointed as the “right” kind of women, either. If minority and working-class women are attacked for being unruly and ungrateful—for not knowing their place—their wealthier white sisters are, in the feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon’s description, dismissed as “effete, pampered, privileged, protected, flighty, and self-indulgent.”
Read: Thoroughly modern Meghan
The pro-Meghan side has also embraced the culture war. She has been presented as a symbol of change—the first person of color in the royal family, an avowed feminist, a divorcée, and a woman with a successful career of her own. But as Nesrine Malik, the author of We Need New Stories, has argued, the radicalism of an actor marrying an aristocrat has often been overstated as a marker of progress. “When black and brown voices heralded the Meghan-Harry wedding as some sort of watershed moment on race it was, to use a problematic word, problematic,” she wrote. Inevitably, there are those who argue that any criticism of Meghan must be driven by racism. Although some of it undoubtedly is, Britain also has a long tradition of deeming royal women unsuitable— yet pointing this out is taken as denialism and white obliviousness.
As a result, much current commentary reads less like scrutiny of the specific situation at hand and more like artillery barrages in a proxy war. The real subject is anxiety over female emancipation and women’s roles in public life. In this framing, any praise for one duchess must be a negative commentary on the other. To be pro-Meghan is to be anti-Kate, and vice versa. Everyone is invited to pick a side, as if choosing a sports team. It is part of a broader trend where political discussions morph into something closer to battles between fandoms.
Read: The hypocrisy of Harry and Meghan’s decision
The trouble with a culture war—the reason there’s never a cease-fire—is that everyone gets what they want from it. One side prides itself on “defending traditional values,” speaking the plain truth about snowflake-Millennial duchesses and sticking up for the Queen (What did she do to deserve this?). The other sees itself as championing diversity and progressive values, standing up to racism and calling out the excesses of the media. Television and radio programs get inflammatory debates; participants burnish their in-group membership; big political arguments are thrashed out on-screen alongside pictures of attractive celebrities in lovely clothes.