As an American, I confess that my knowledge of British culture stems from television footage, such as documentaries, James Bond movies, and ‘Britcoms.’ In school we’re taught Eastern and Western European history however, the history of Great Britain is not a major focus. Most nations have cultural threads that the citizens at least think are specific to them. For example, it is believed that Americans corner the market on free expression, since it is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. What I’ve learnt from many Brits over the last few years and specifically the last couple of months, is the prevailing sentiment that they proudly possess the quality of the “stiff upper lip.” According to Wikipedia, the phrase is most commonly heard as part of the idiom “keep a stiff upper lip”, and has traditionally been used to describe an attribute of British people in remaining resolute and unemotional when faced with adversity. A sign of weakness is trembling of the upper lip, hence the saying keep a stiff upper lip. I, of course, am not about to dive into whether or not I feel this is true for all Brits because that would be unfair. However, what I have observed from those with public platforms, the stiff upper lip attribute seems to be just a smokescreen! From the Royal Family, members of the Royal Rota, to Royal Vloggers, the excessive amount of whining, reacting to criticism, and push back that I have observed, makes the expression quite comical.
The stiff upper lip myth is never more prevalent than within the ‘The Firm’ which has demonstrated that the “never complain, never explain” edict is selectively applied. For over 3 years now, supporters of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been told that the couple must learn to endure the constant barrage of negative media because of the Royal family’s decision not to respond to negative media. We have been told that decisions by Prince Harry to release statements regarding press behavior in 2016 and in 2019 were not in keeping with Royal protocol. The roofs of Buckingham and Kensington Palace were apparently shaken when during their ITV documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, the couple dared to be human and express how the events of the last few years have impacted their lives. Initially before someone said, “umm this looks bad,” there were numerous reports coming out of the palaces that Harry’s biological family members were quite upset by the couples’ choice not to put up a façade (i.e. the stiff upper lip). Then the stories turned to Senior Royals being ‘worried’ and all coming to the rescue; mainly Kate the Great, of course. A Google search of “palace upset over Harry documentary” led to numerous headlines about the “fragile” Sussexes.
Much of the print and video medium conundrums regarding the African tour documentary focused on the American Duchess’ statement that she tried to “adopt this British sensibility of a ‘stiff upper lip’” in the face of press scrutiny and racism, but expressed “what that does internally is probably really damaging.” The press, bloggers/vloggers, and British citizens on social media and comment sections of tabloids boasted about their stiff upper lips and resorted to unflattering name-calling because Duchess Meghan did not demonstrate the mental toughness of Brits and even that of fellow Royal wives before her. In my opinion, her not invoking the stiff upper lip attribute sounds like palace courtiers failed in their attempt to advise Meghan to not respond to negative press, and probably because the palace courtiers are the ones feeding the negative press. These are the same palace courtiers who have released multiple statements in defense of Prince Andrew and made emphatic denials regarding Duchess Kate’s hair extensions and Botox use. Why didn’t William utilize his stiff upper lip when certain rumors about him were reaching the press pages? Instead he sent in his lawyers to complain about his human rights.
Excuse me, but I must digress. As a fellow American, moreover as a person of integrity, I cannot imagine that for 36+ years, minding my business, leading an upward mobile life, performing humanitarian deeds without a hint of negativity, because I’m not doing anything negative, to just be expected to sit still and internalize the robust character assassination Duchess Meghan has endured and at the same time; seeing your husband unjustly maligned, and your newborn called a monkey. To simply ignore that level of hatred is not normal. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are right not to do so, because they have every right to speak their truth and defend themselves.
What I found most eye opening however, was those who proclaimed that the Sussexes were bad Royals in particular and unworthy Brits because the unfair press impacts them, will themselves complain bitterly at the hint of any pushback. The catalyst for this essay was actually a personal experiment I conducted involving a well-known British royal YouTuber, whom I will not name. In the past, after watching a weekly chat, I posted my feelings on my personal twitter feed. The next week that YouTuber, who I choose not to name, read my tweet and the responses aloud on his chat and responded to every tweet. At the time, I considered that behavior to be weird. I’m just some random person on Twitter; why is my opinion worth repeating on your chat? Do you! On a recent chat about the documentary, the discussion focused on Duchess Meghan’s quote about the British stiff upper lip.
There was this whole diatribe about WWII and how tough the Brits were. The YouTuber, whom I will not name, read comment after comment about how many weren’t tough like the Brits and that Duchess Meghan should follow the lead of Duchess Kate and Duchess Camilla when dealing with the press. I took to my Twitter feed to state that I felt that the comments made the British people seemed cold and insensitive. I also stated that although present day Brits may be a product of surviving WWII, Duchess Meghan is a product of former slaves so she has her own mental fortitude! I placed my thoughts on my Twitter account to see if a stiff upper lip would be enacted and they would just ignore this random person’s tweets. Sure enough, I soon learned that a screenshot of my entire thread was placed on the YouTube channel, thereby proving my point.
If my random tweets aren’t worth ignoring why should Duchess Meghan ignore an ENTIRE PRESS CORP who definitely have more influence than I. Additionally, as described in past articles, those British Reporters quickly block critics, label people as trolls and bots, and exclaim they are being harassed, often using the word “attacked.” Some have hilariously threatened to sue for merely being called racists. I have witnessed Royal reporter after Royal reporter whine and moan when people don’t accept their reports at face value and fawn all over them. One of Duchess Meghan’s main detractors, Piers M., has hissy fits nearly everyday regarding Duchess Meghan. Shouldn’t he have utilized that stiff upper lip when communication ceased or when he didn’t get that wedding invite? Shouldn’t he just be “getting on with it?” I’ve witnessed Royal reporters becoming completely unhinged over the silliest of supposed Sussex infractions which is all as annoying as it is hilarious. Add on to that the daily tweets from certain segments of British society that literally complain about every move the Duchess makes.
If Duchess Meghan is not your cup of tea, shouldn’t you just carry on and enjoy the others? One Sussex Squad member provided me with a good laugh when she tweeted that their lower lips must be working double time. Indeed! Because surely I see very little evidence of them ignoring and overcoming aspects of the world around them that they don’t favor any more than Prince Harry and his American wife. I perceive all of it as an excuse to tell the biracial outsider that she just needs to “adopt that stiff upper lip and let us malign your character in peace!”