After living abroad in Canada and the U.K. for 10 years, the Duchess of Sussex says it’s “good to be home” in the United States.
The Duchess of Sussex joined a discussion on race and gender issues in the media with the founder of a new non-profit news organization focused on gender equity. Reversing the roles, Meghan interviewed journalist, cofounder, and CEO of The 19th*, Emily Ramshaw, to close out a week-long virtual summit featuring conversations with women from the worlds of public policy and leadership.
Despite finally moving back to her home country, Meghan admitted that returning to California at the time of racial unrest following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless more had been difficult. “To come back and to just see this state of affairs, I think at the onset, if I’m being honest, it was just devastating,” she said. “It was so sad to see where our country was in that moment. … If there’s any silver lining in that, I would say that in the weeks after the murder of George Floyd, in the peaceful protests that you were seeing, in the voices that were coming out, in the way that people were actually owning their role … it shifted from sadness to a feeling of absolute inspiration, because I can see that the tide is turning.”
Reflecting on the need for change and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, she added, “From my standpoint, it’s not new to see this undercurrent of racism and certainly unconscious bias, but I think to see the changes that are being made right now is … something I look forward to being a part of. And being part of using my voice in a way that I haven’t been able to of late. So, yeah, it’s good to be home.”
Meghan, who was speaking from the Sussexes’ new Santa Barbara home, spoke to Ramshaw, a fellow Northwestern graduate and editor of The Texas Tribune, about the importance of honest journalism and launching the 19th*, a nonprofit, bipartisan newsroom, during a pandemic. “You just took that jump and you took that leap of faith,” the duchess marveled. “And I think there’s so much we can all learn from that, that in those moments where it might feel scary, you just need to trust your gut. I’m also really aware that in the media landscape at the moment, having women’s voices be able to be part of that storytelling is so key.”
I’m also really aware that in the media landscape at the moment, having women’s voices be able to be part of that storytelling is so key.
Reflecting on the impact a patriarchal media can have, the duchess pointed out that the word “suffragette,” which describes a woman who organized for the right to vote, was originally coined as a term of belittlement by a British newspaper in 1906. “What I found so fascinating is that this was before digital media and before the online space and before things could travel around the world with rapid fire,” she said of an article she had recently read. “The American women as part of the suffrage movement didn’t want to be called suffragettes, and yet this term coined by one man in 1906 has stuck as part of a movement, and I think when you look at that through that lens, at the power of one person’s influence in the media to be able to shape an entire movement or way of thinking or even an ideology or an identification, if women had their voice as equally, how different that would have been.”
Today, says Meghan, that issue lives on through monetizable content in the media and is why many news organizations need to be transformed. “My husband and I talk about it often, this economy for attention,” she she explains, alluding to her own battle with the tabloid media. “If you’re just trying to grab someones attention and keep it, you’re going for something salacious instead of something truthful. I think that once we can get back to the place where people are just telling the truth in their reporting and telling it through a compassionate or empathetic lens, it’s going to help bind people as a community in a way that I think at the moment we are feeling so much more of a disconnect in a space where I feel we could be feeling more of a connection.”
The 19th*, whose staff is 90 percent women, is named after the amendment that allowed (some) women to vote in the U.S.—the asterisk represents the work that is still needed to be done to ensure equality for marginalized people, such as women of color and trans women. Meghan, who revealed she recently spoke to “legend” and feminist icon Gloria Steinem about voting, said the importance of women using their voices through their ballots is needed more than ever.
My husband and I talk about it often, this economy for attention.
“When I have these conversations about encouraging people to go out and vote, I think it’s often challenging for men and women alike, and certainly for people, to remember just how hard it was to get the right to vote and to be really aware of not taking that for granted,” she said. “I look at my husband [Prince Harry] for example; he’s never been able to vote, and I think it’s such an interesting thing to say the right to vote is not a privilege, it is a right in of itself.”
Meghan was one of many high-profile speakers to attend the five-day The 19th* Represents Summit, joining an impressive list that included Hillary Clinton, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, Meryl Streep, Stacey Abrams, and Melinda Gates. Being interviewed by the duchess, says Ramshaw, was “a completely surreal experience.” During the conversation, the pair, who are both parents, briefly spoke about juggling motherhood. “I know what it’s like with a toddler,” the Duchess of Sussex said of her one-year-old son, Archie. “There’s not a lot of time!”
The 19th*’s mission to build a diverse and representative newsroom “immediately spoke to the duchess and her desire to see more equitable coverage of women and people of color in the news,” a source tells BAZAAR.com. The outlet, which is not funded by advertising, was one of the first national outlets to elevate the Breonna Taylor case, Ramshaw says. Taylor’s family approached one of their reporters after noticing that Black men killed by police were being covered and discussed in a way that the deaths of Black women were not.
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