Welcome to The Language Matters Memo
A monthly newsletter focussed on fostering more inclusive language.
Hello, and thanks so much for signing up!
I'm so excited to share this first issue with you. I'm going to keep experimenting with the format, but most issues will likely revolve around these topics:
You must watch/read/see: This will be a book, TV or cultural recommendation. I have varied tastes, but the common thread will be the inclusion of diverse perspectives and stories.
Interview: I have a long list of people I want to introduce you to. Due to scheduling conflicts, I'll be kicking this off next month.
Deep Dive: This will form the bulk of the Memo. It may be a subject I've covered on Instagram that warrants more discussion or topical news I want to explore further. Instagram’s great, but it isn't great for nuanced conversations. This month I’m sharing an analysis of Prince Harry's memoir Spare.
I'd love to know what you think, so please like, comment, and subscribe, and if you really enjoyed the issue, please share it with a friend.
You must watch!
This month’s recommendation is season two* of Love Life. For the uninitiated, the first series chronicled the life of thirty-something Darby (Anna Kendrick) as she navigated love in NYC. Season two opens with Darby's wedding reception, where we meet our new protagonist, wedding guest Marcus Watkins (William Jackson Harper).
Marcus's journey of romantic introspection is triggered when he meets a fellow guest Mia Hines (Jessica Williams). I loved the honest depiction of how messy life and love can be. Later episodes feature one of the most realistic depictions of the pandemic as Marcus, a book editor, navigates life in lockdown. It also features the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and Marcus's heart-wrenching reaction to it as a thirty-something Black man.
In one of the rawest scenes, we see a remote-working Marcus being asked to sign off a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. He rightly calls out his manager's performative BS. It's an important scene that all business leaders should study as an example of what not to do when supporting marginalised communities within their organisations.
I can't say enough good things about Love Life. From the dialogue to the art direction to the acting, *chef's kiss* - a 10/10 recommendation.
*You can jump straight into S2, but S1 is also excellent.
(Love Life is available on HBO Max in the USA and on BBC iPlayer and Netflix in the UK).
Let me introduce you to.....er..TBC!
As mentioned, I'll be including an interview with someone of interest each month. These will be individuals from various backgrounds - creators, educators, tastemakers - what unites them is that they are folks I think you'd benefit from knowing more about.
Deep Dive: Prince Harry's Spare and what it tells us about Harry's anti-racism journey.
What follows are reflections on Prince Harry’s references to race and racism within Spare, with a particular focus on his relationship and marriage to Meghan. This is not a book review but a deeper dive into Harry's anti-racism journey and the interrogation of his own biases, those of his family and wider society.
On paper, I shouldn't be interested or invested in the British Royal Family (BRF) or any royalty. I prize equality, inclusion and merit. The idea that someone has the right to 'rule' others via a mythical birthright doesn't sit right. It's also strange to be invested in a family whose actions had such an impact on the journey of my own family through the actions of the British Empire and, specifically, the British rule of India.
My disinterest in the BRF shifted somewhat when Kate Middleton entered the scene. I have a healthy interest in fashion, and I'm very 'hair involved'. Kate and her tresses satisfied that itch. My interest was piqued again when several years later, Meghan Markle made an appearance. They both became my favourite government-funded influencers.
At the time, Prince Harry was adored by the British press and public. This wasn't a sentiment I shared; I was troubled by his spate of problematic behaviour and racial transgressions, the Nazi uniform, him reportedly saying, "She's not Black or anything, you know", when answering a question about his relationship with Zimbabwean heiress Chelsy Davy and the one that hit closest to home - the use of the racial slur “p*ki” to describe a fellow solider of Pakistani heritage. A heritage I share.
Nevertheless, I was intrigued by their relationship. Here was a mixed-race woman on the precipice of joining an establishment that had a terrible history of racism against Black and Brown people. It brought up a lot of conflicting thoughts.
Like many people from marginalised communities, on one hand, I saw it as a sign of a more open, progressive society whilst at the same time also being deeply worried for Meghan. As predicted, the racist dog-whistle coverage started almost immediately, and it was impossible to ignore the racist, misogynistic, and classist undertones.
I cheered Harry on when he released his statement calling the press's racist coverage out. It was overdue, and it felt monumental coming from a member of the BRF. A family who had been exempt from the Equality Act until at least the 1970s. Harry promoting wider conversations on racism was welcome, especially at a time when Trumpism and Brexit loomed large and social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter were dominating the headlines.
I supported Harry and Meghan stepping back from being working members of the BRF, happy they were building a future away from the toxicity they faced. I've continued to lean into the couple's endeavours; as someone invested in the power of language, Meghan's Spotify podcast series 'Archetypes' was of particular interest. When Harry announced the publication of his memoir, I hit pre-order pretty sharpish. As a couple who are so careful about the language they use, I was interested to hear about how he would discuss their experiences pertaining to racism.
I've read Spare twice, and I thought the most useful way to share my thoughts is to categorise them around the events as they unfolded in Harry's life. A few caveats:
We all have a story, and this is Harry’s. We might not agree with public discussions of family affairs, but it’s his story.
Context is everything; you won't get a sense of this book from reading headlines, blogs or even this newsletter. To have an opinion of value, you have to read the whole text. I appreciate I'm focussing on certain sections, but this is an analysis of his anti-racism journey specifically.
Although this is Harry's story, the press, due to their innate misogynoir, couldn't help but make this about Meghan. Harry will remain the focus of this piece.
There is much glorification of war in Spare. I'm not going to focus on that or Harry's 'number'.
Harry's use of the term “unconscious bias” in the publicity for Spare was problematic. I get it; calling one's family racist is hard, but we cannot deny that unconscious bias is rooted in racism.
One's proximity to people of colour (POC) does not inoculate one against racism or expressing racial bias. Harry is, however, trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to unlearn his biases. This is something all white and non-Black POC people need to do. If you're not invested, that means that you're happy to have racial biases. It is as black and white as that.
The Nazi Uniform: January 2005 (Page 101)
This is the first mention of race or ethnicity within Spare. Harry details his choice of the Nazi uniform for a birthday party where the theme is "Natives and Colonials" - a theme he describes as "cringy". He expresses his deep shame for wearing the uniform and outlines the steps he took to educate himself following the fallout. Harry's explanation is that he didn’t think through the implications of wearing the uniform and that he’d shut down thinking at all at this point in his life.
There are references to Kate and William co-signing the wearing of the uniform, but from my reading, Harry's not shifting the blame. Rather it shines a light on the fact the decision was made because, in these privileged circles, heinous choices like this are inconsequential.
Later in the book, Harry calls out his education for failing him. I don't know enough about the curriculum at Eton to comment upon this, but most Britons are taught about the holocaust, and we should ensure that this education continues. It’s worth emphasising that the Nazi regime started by dehumanising Jewish people through their language. It all followed from there, and it’s why we should always speak up.
Getting back to Spare, the real question for me is why was someone hosting a party where the theme was "Natives and Colonials" in 2009? It was quite literally an invitation to cause maximum offence.
"P*ki": 2009 (Page 161):
A video of Harry using the slur 'p*ki' went viral in 2009. It was filmed by Harry as an army cadet three years prior. The video when released by a newspaper, and the fallout was immediate. At the time and in Spare, Harry says he was unaware that it was a racial slur. Likening it to a shortened version of Pakistani, much like 'Aussie'. Whilst it's not considered a slur in other parts of the world, it absolutely is in the UK.
It's a horrible word, and using it against a South Asian individual would rightly be considered a hate crime. I felt sick at the time because when you've had this word screamed at you by white adults and children alike, the experiences are forever seared in your memory. The word is the equivalent of the n-word for south Asian people, and we can all recount stories of when we’ve had the word thrown at us.
I don't understand how someone younger than me, albeit a Prince, would not be aware of this history. I have three thoughts on this; 1. That the word was part of Harry's vernacular for him to be using it so openly and freely on film, b. I feel incredibly sorry for Ahmed Raza Khan, who was thrust into the spotlight through no fault of his own and c. Why didn't someone at Harry's publisher, Penguin Random House UK, not use an asterisk versus printing the whole word?
Seeing it in full all these years later felt like a smack in the face.
"Africa was his thing" (Page 255):
This is a reference to Harry and William arguing over their respective focus on philanthropic projects in Africa, with William insisting that "Africa was his thing" and insisting Harry, therefore, must find another focus.
The idea that the continent is a possession for two Princes to squabble over is truly bizarre. It reeks of a colonial mindset and is further evidence that despite Harry's work to interrogate his biases, they run deep, but how could they not, given his family background?
The headline "Harry's girl is (almost) straight out of Compton", etc.etc. (Page 298)
This is at the point that after secretly dating for months, Harry's relationship with Meghan was revealed in the press, and a slew of racist headlines followed, targeting Meghan as well as her mother, Doria Ragland.
I don't need to share any other headlines here, but it's indisputable that they ranged from outwardly racist to peddling dangerous stereotypes and troupes. During this time, Harry released an official statement condemning the coverage and, most importantly, calling it racist. I have no 'notes' here. It was the right thing to do, and whilst POC do not owe Harry any thanks, I don't underestimate how hard this would have been. British tabloids regularly ruin people’s lives; Harry took them on. That’s brave.
The continued harassment of Meghan by the press and public on social media (Page 371)
This made for hard reading. As time passes, memories fade, but it took me right back to that period of time and the hatred of Meghan and how the media and people in IRL talked about her. It was continuous and hideous.
Harry talks about the "physical effects" experiencing hate has on the individual and society. Although he does not say this explicitly, he mentions the narrative around Brexit, and this may be a projection on my part..my sense was he felt Meghan's introduction into our lives unleashed something within the British psyche that was lying dormant, ready to bubble up when POC don’t do what they're meant to do. The treatment of young Black players after the Euros is another example we could cite for this.
We need to be honest about the fact that although overt racism is thankfully taboo in our society, racial bias is calcified into our institutions, language and culture, and this is plain to see if you're willing to look. What’s evident is that far too few people are willing to do so.
My concluding thoughts are that Harry fails to understand that he is operating in a system, one fundamentally built on bias and racism. Whether that racism manifests itself unconsciously or consciously is inconsequential. To his credit, Harry acknowledges that the Crown “rest[s] upon lands abstained and secured when the system was unjust and wealth was generated by exploited workers and thuggery, annexation and enslaved people.” Whilst this is an important admission, he avoids any true engagement with the monarchy’s legacy of colonialism and how that manifests itself in today's society. In order to move forward, we always need to look back. To learn and unlearn.
While it may not seem like it now, I predict history will be kind to Harry. Although it took falling in love with mixed-raced women to kick start Harry's anti-racism journey, he’s contributing to the discourse. It's not a new discourse, of course, it's centuries old, but people haven't always been willing to listen to people when they look like me or other POC. I'm glad, at the very least, that the conversations are happening. But they will only have value when they elicit change. That's what I'm interested in and why I'm keen to see where Harry goes from here. I really hope he continues to champion the importance of being actively anti-racist.
Thank you for reading
That's it for issue one; thanks so much for reading, and if a friend forwarded this newsletter, why not subscribe, so you never miss an issue?
I'd love to hear what you think, so please do leave me a comment, like or share with a friend. I think next month's topic will be about Race & Reality TV, with a particular focus on Love Island and the Housewives franchises.
Until next time,
I love your words in all forms, this was a great read and really looking forward to the next.
Congratulations on launching your newsletter, Sadia. I know this will be just as good as your excellent Instagram account.