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German TV accused of royal wedding racism

Alistair Walsh
May 20, 2018

ZDF commentators consistently described Meghan Markle and her guests as "exotic" and were fascinated by her black hair. The public broadcaster has been roundly condemned by news outlets and people on social media.

Britain’s Prince Harry gestures next to his wife Meghan as they ride a horse-drawn carriage after their wedding ceremony at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle
Image: Reuters/D. Sagolj

German public broadcaster ZDF was heavily criticized on Saturday for its sometimes questionable coverage of the royal wedding.

Social media users and news commentators found its coverage revealed deep-set racism among German media. The broadcaster responded that it takes viewer concerns seriously.

Read moreOpinion: What we say when we talk about race

Some of the comments that caused controversy

  • Repeatedly describing Meghan Markle and black guests as "exotic."
  • "Meghan always wanted a Barbie doll family. But there were only white and black Barbie families [rather than mixed-race Barbies]."
  • Question: "Are those dreadlocks on Meghan's mother?" Answer: "It's curly hair that's been somewhat de-curled, same as Meghan probably does all the time."
  • "The choir sang beautifully black."
  • "Victoria Beckham came to this event as if it were an appointment with a gynecologist. And with her makeup on, she's like The Addams Family."
  • Comparing Markle to Amal Clooney and Victoria Beckham, because all three had successful careers before marrying well-known husbands.

Read more: Are Germany's anti-racism initiatives achieving enough?

What some spectators had to say about the royal wedding

‘No respect'

Die Welt's Nicola Erdmann wrote: "Airtime was filled with questionable remarks about Meghan's origins, macho-language and cliches. There was no respect for spectators and people who were involved."

Huffington Post Germany's Lennart Pfahler and Josh Groeneveld wrote: "The station never tires of emphasizing that Meghan Markle … is black. Black, black, black. Can we please talk about hats again?"

ZDF: Taking criticism 'seriously'

ZDF responded to the criticism on Sunday, saying it received several concerned responses from viewers, but praise as well.

"In addition to the comments on Twitter, ZDF's viewer service received calls and emails from viewers who had questions as well as praise and criticism concerning different aspects of the broadcast. We take the criticism of our viewers seriously," a ZDF press spokeswoman told DW in an emailed statement.

The broadcaster did not apologize for its coverage in the statement.

Social media reactions

Comedian and TV presenter Aurel Mertz tweeted: "Expert on @ZDF: "Meghan radiates Afro-American spirit" Officially the whitest sentence ever said #RoyalWedding."

"Dear @zdf, it is extremely annoying that Meghan's lineage is THE subject for the reporters. If Meghan was white, what would they snigger about? Please treat them equally. #RoyalWedding," another Twitter user posted.

"I haven't heard so many racist slogans since the NPD party congress."

One user proposed a drinking game — a shot of Pimms every time "African-American background" is said.

Taxpayer money: ZDF is one of the public broadcasters funded by the compulsory broadcasting fee levied on all German households. Given the station is directly funded by taxpayers, viewers feel it should be subject to rigorous standards.

Multiculturalism in Germany: Black people in Germany often report having a particularly difficult time being accepted as German. Deutsche Welle's Afro Germany project wrote: "Colonialist cliches continue to poison the social climate even now, during the so-called refugee crisis. Nowadays, people of color living in Germany — Afro-Germans, refugees, or just people who look different - are facing even greater resentment, hostility, and sometimes even violence."

How people of color experience living in Germany

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