Last week, the British press were on a rampage after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spoke out in support of people voting in the upcoming US election. The couple, who has relocated to a very The Tig-esque (RIP) house in Montecito, California, sat in their backyard as they encouraged Americans to use their voices in what Markle dubbed, “the most important election of our lifetime.”
Quickly, journalists such as Piers Morgan – who has been one of the most vocal anti-Meghan commentators since she joined the royal family – jumped on Twitter to denounce the couple for getting political, an area that’s always been completely off limits to the royals. In fact, as Harry reiterated during the broadcast, he’s not only unable to vote in the upcoming US election, he’s never voted in his life.
Of course, Harry and Meghan aren’t technically working members of the royal family, as the palace reiterated in a statement shared shortly after the couple’s comments, and though it’s pretty clear that Markle won’t be voting for Donald Trump (in 2016, the duchess called Trump “divisive” and “misogynistic” on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, while Trump recently said he’s “not a fan of hers”), she didn’t actually endorse the Democratic Nominee Joe Biden, either.
But given the couple still hold the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex, many Brits think they shouldn’t be able to get political in the slightest – not even when it could be the difference between another four years of utter hell or not.
“It’s time to not only reflect, but act.” This #NationalVoterRegistrationDay, join #Time100 alumni Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in taking action for the future. pic.twitter.com/JerXHxiZK3
— ABC (@ABCNetwork) September 23, 2020
Now, addressing the backlash publicly for the first time, Markle said that what she’s saying isn’t controversial, it’s the interpretation of it that is. During Fortune‘s virtual Most Powerful Women Summit yesterday, the publication’s editor Ellen McGirt brought up Markle’s RECENT graduation speech, which included her first big public statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with some of the criticism she’s faced from Trump and the tabloids off the back of her voting comments.
“You’re not the only powerful woman even in this community who has had a sitting president take a shot at you, mobs come at you, powerful people, powerful forces try to take you down or try to disparage your message,” McGirt said. “This is a tough time for people with power and platform. What is your best advice for other folks with stakeholders with a desire to weigh in on the important issues of the day to take those risks carefully, to access them correctly and then to weigh in?”
Meghan responded with: “Yes, I mean I think, it’s about being authentic. And if you look back at anything that I’ve said, it’s really interesting because it often ends up—what ends up being inflammatory, it seems, is people’s interpretation of it. But if you listen to what I actually say, it’s not controversial. And actually some of it is reactive to things that just haven’t happened, which is in some ways, I think you have to have a sense of humor about it even though there’s quite a bit of gravity and there can be a lot of danger in a misinterpretation of something that was never there to begin with. But that again is a byproduct of what is happening right now for all of us.”
"If you listen to what I actually say, it’s not controversial."
— FORTUNE (@FortuneMagazine) September 29, 2020
“I would say the biggest thing and what I have always stuck to, you know, that high school graduation speech I had done it a week or so before,” she continued. “I had pre-taped it for them; it was for high school, 17-year old girls, right, so the tone and the sentiment while it was of course going to be a call to action, was certainly lighter than where we landed after the murder of George Floyd. I knew I couldn’t use that tape. I really struggled, if I’m being honest, about what to say, and I didn’t sit down and write anything, and I didn’t ask anyone for help with how I should word this. I was just in tears thinking about it and I was explaining to my husband why I thought that it was so heartbreaking, certainly for me to be back in Los Angeles and it feeling so reminiscent to the state of Los Angeles with the riots after the Rodney King beating. And so for these girls to be graduating from high school, which should be a really celebratory time, to be plagued with that unrest felt troubling to me. So I just spoke from the heart, and that’s probably why it doesn’t look polished, and that’s why it doesn’t feel perfect and—but that’s also why it’s authentic.”
She continued: “I think that is the takeaway that I have found is if you don’t listen to all the noise out there, and you just focus on living a purpose-driven life, and you focus on knowing what your own moral compass is, there are always going to be naysayers, but at the end of the day, you know, I used to have a quote up in my room many, many moons ago, and it resonates now perhaps more than ever … it’s by Georgia O’Keeffe, and it’s ‘I’ve already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain, and I am quite free.’ And the moment you are able to be liberated from all of these other opinions of what you know to be true, then I think it’s very easy to just live with truth and live with authenticity, and that is how I choose to move through the world.”