Oprah Winfrey interviews Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on A CBS Primetime Special.
The 90-minute conversation with Oprah and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was a revealing look behind the curtain at one of the most famous royal families in the world. While it was Harry and Meghan’s personal story, it also surprisingly met the cultural moment and highlighted many of the social themes to have emerged this year. The interview was one of the most-watched television events and resonated with 17 million US viewers, in part because it humanized the three major themes we’ve collectively struggled with during the pandemic: race, mental health and resilience.
Structural racism exists, even for royalty
The most memorable moment of the interview is perhaps when Meghan tells us, “There were concerns and conversations about how dark [Archie’s] skin might be when he is born.” Even Oprah seems visibly surprised. While we’re all in collective shock that a baby’s skin tone could be a discussion point, the revelation is quite telling of how deeply entrenched institutional racism is, even within institutions like the British monarchy. Meghan’s comment humanizes how larger social forces like structural racism can play an insidious role in our individual, everyday lives. And those differences have been made stark during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, communities of color have experienced 2.5 times more cases and 4.5 times more hospitalizations. Of the many reasons for this, nearly all can be traced back to a long history of institutional racism. Harry and Meghan’s interview, similar to events like the Black Lives Matter protests and Covid-19’s impact on low-income communities, is a critical cultural moment which highlights how institutional racism shapes our reality, whether it’s on the streets, in a hospital, or inside Buckingham Palace.
The shame of mental health is pervasive
In another poignant moment of the interview, Meghan shares her struggles with mental health and suicidal ideation, “I was ashamed to say it at the time. And to admit it to Harry especially because I know how much loss he has suffered. But I knew that if I didn’t say it, that I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. That was a clear and real and frightening and constant thought.” Meghan’s struggle is more pertinent than ever, since rates of depression and anxiety have tripled during the pandemic. Before Covid-19, the World Health Organization reported that 25% of the world’s population suffered from a mental health condition, but the pandemic has exponentially worsened the mental health crisis. The interview also addresses the stigma of seeking treatment. As Meghan describes, when she asked for professional help she was told “that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.” Meghan’s story is deeply disheartening but not uncommon. Let’s hope her very public retelling will amplify the need to address the mental health crisis as well as its stigma.
Resilience can prevail through adversity
In spite of the many challenges faced by the couple, the interview ends on a hopeful and resilient note. Meghan sums it up, “We’re on the other side… of a lot of life experience that’s happened.” At the end, we’re left with the sense that Harry and Meghan have lived through adversity and emerged stronger, wiser and more adaptable. That’s the very definition of resilience and it’s a trait many of us have learned to cultivate this year. One global study found a strong link between facing adversity and building resilience during the pandemic. In another study, resilience was found not only to be a purely individual trait, but one that could also be influenced by our relationships. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why Harry and Meghan seem to have emerged stronger together through their adversity.
Meeting the cultural moment
In recounting their story to Oprah, Harry and Meghan humanized themselves, but perhaps more importantly, they humanized the major cultural themes of race, mental health and resilience that we’ve collectively struggled with during the pandemic. Their interview has sparked multiple conversations around the world about these critical issues, and hopefully with that, subsequent social change. With Oprah’s help, Harry and Meghan were able to meet the cultural moment perfectly in the most humanizing way. That takes great skill and it is without question Oprah’s inimitable brand of magic.
I’m a physician at Harvard Medical School, media contributor & speaker. My work in resilience, stress & the mind-body connection can be seen in the Wall Street Journal,