Wearing "The Mask" & Spilling Tea - Harry and Meghan's Interview

Harry and Meghan's Interview with Oprah

Most days, I have no idea what's on TV, but when I heard that Oprah had interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan, I put two reminders on my calendar to watch.

The Royal Wedding

Like many of you, I arose in the early morning hours of May 19, 2018, to watch the historic event, a Royal Wedding. Whatever you may think about the idea of royalty, I probably tend to agree, but the wedding itself was undeniably magical and beautiful. It was royal, and that's incredibly rare. It was even more rare that the Queen, Prince Charles and all of Buckingham Palace prepared such a spectacular, inspiring event. From the horse drawn carriages to the gowns, gospel choir and violinist, the drama of the weeks up to the nuptials couldn't overshadow the images on TV. Meghan and Harry were glowing. Meghan's mom was beaming. The guests were in awe, and it seemed that the monarchy would become a positive example for all of the world to see.

The Harry and Meghan Interview with Oprah

In an interview that aired Sunday night, March 7 on CBS, Harry and Meghan both spoke of their attempts to endure a rather un-royal life that we didn't see: one of living under constant and unbearable pressure to fit in, stay quiet and ignore the toxic media scene.

To survive the chaos, Meghan wore "the mask." That's the familiar black woman smile, hair toss and laugh pretending everything is okay because you're too strong to actually stand up for what you really want and need. Both Harry and Meghan felt ashamed to ask for the help they needed. When they did, "the firm" (I took to mean the administrative body of the monarchy) refused to intervene. Harry described life in the palace as being "trapped." As employees of the monarchy, they were called to check their voice and individuality. Prince Harry shared the account of a call from the firm informing him that his security detail would terminate in a few short weeks and how his father, Prince Charles, cut off his finances. The firm had also previously refused mental health treatment for Meghan while she was pregnant with their son Archie. Harry shared that his wife's bi-racial heritage was a topic of conversation as was concern over the possibility that Archie would be born with a darker skin color. Because Harry and Meghan were Royals, we only saw what we were supposed to see. Harry and Meghan expertly played every bit the part of Royals. It was easier for him due to upbringing, but she wore the mask. Film producer Tyler Perry offered his home and security detail while they sought refuge in Los Angeles.

So, why would two people walk away from all we think we know about the royal life if they were treated so well? To me, the answer to that question is why their story rings true. It says a great deal that they required the help of a stranger to get them through. The interview was a royal unmasking.

Before the interview was over, people were already questioning whether Harry and Meghan went too far in telling their story. To that I say, your truth is your truth. How you use it, or speak about it, is entirely up to you. Rich or poor, when people endure discrimination, ridicule, and tumultuous events, sometimes talking about it publicly is all they can do, to try to set the record straight, and to get through.

What Happens When We Wear the Mask

It's not easy showing up when you want so much to fit in, but you simply don't. You know when you're not being treated fairly, and when no one's got your back. Yet, you still keep smiling, keep laughing, and keep showing up. That's wearing "the mask." How many people, rich or poor, man or woman wear a mask to try to fit in? Sometimes love makes you wear the mask. Sometimes ambition makes you wear the mask. Sometimes people make you wear the mask because you need to keep food on the table. We often keep hoping it will get better or that others will have a change of heart so that we can stop wearing the mask. It might be a toxic marriage, a company, a boss, a friendship. Do you have to wear a mask to be respected and considered? Are you able to be respected for the real you? Wearing the mask is not like a Mardi Gras party. Many times, no matter how hard you try, you still lose.

This idea of wearing "the mask" is described in the late, great Maya Angelou's poem (listen to her here) We Wear the Mask (adapted from Paul Laurence Dunbar's 1892 poem).


We wear the mask that grins and lies.

It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.

This debt we pay to human guile

With torn and bleeding hearts . . .

We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.

Why should the world think otherwise

In counting all our tears and sighs.

Nay let them only see us while

We wear the mask.

Being True to Yourself

The problem with wearing a mask is that you never get to let people see the part of you that you ultimately want them to accept. So perhaps you're allowed in, but not fully accepted. If you take off the mask, you'll lose it all. In the end, we all want to be accepted for who we are and what we do. There comes a time when you must give up the mask or one day, you'll wish you had. Our job is to find that role, that life, that place or to create it for ourselves.


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© 2021 by Shai Littlejohn