The Duchess of Sussex has shared her “absolute devastation” at racial divisions and the death of George Floyd in the US, telling girls graduating at her old high school: “I’m so sorry you have to grow up in a world where this is still present.”
Meghan told leavers at the Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles: “I realised the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing because George Floyd’s life mattered.”
Mr Floyd died after a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking days of protest in the US.
The 38-year-old duchess recalled living through the 1992 race riots in LA which were “also triggered by a senseless act of racism”.
In a video address to the all-girls Catholic school on Wednesday, she said: “What is happening in our country and in our state and in our home town of LA has been absolutely devastating.
“I wasn’t sure what I could say to you.
“I wanted to say the right thing and I was really nervous that I wouldn’t or it would get picked apart and I realised the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing, because George Floyd’s life mattered and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered and Philando Castile’s life mattered and Tamir Rice’s life mattered and so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we do not know.”
The former actress, the first mixed race person in modern history to marry a senior British royal, has been outspoken on racism in society.
She recalled seeing armed men on the street and burnt-out buildings during race riots in the Californian city in 1992 after police officers were filmed violently beating Rodney King.
Meghan went on: “I remember the curfew and I remember rushing back home, and on that drive home, seeing ash fall from the sky, and smelling the smoke and seeing the smoke billow out of buildings.
“I remember seeing men in the back of a van just holding guns and rifles.
“I remember pulling up to the house and seeing the tree, that had always been there, completely charred. And those memories don’t go away.
“I can’t imagine that at 17 or 18 … that you would have to have a different version of that same type of experience.”
She said they should understand it but only “as a history lesson, not as your reality”.
“Now you get to be part of rebuilding … we are going to rebuild and rebuild and rebuild until it’s rebuilt. Because when the foundation is broken, so are we,” she added.
The video was first reported by the African-American female US magazine Essence.
The duchess, who filmed the video on her phone earlier in the week, felt compelled to speak out, a spokesman said.
“She felt compelled to directly address and speak to these young women about what’s happening in this country right now around the killing of George Floyd, as well as what’s been happening over many, many years and many, many generations to countless other black Americans,” the spokesman said.
A source told the PA news agency that Meghan’s “heart hurts” for the young people that are graduating into “a world of uncertainty and injustice”.
She hopes that her words will provide “a small bit of hope, comfort, or inspiration” for the school community.
Meghan and Harry are now living in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, with son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, who turned one on May 6.
The Sussexes have quit as working royals and have spoken of their struggles with royal life and intense tabloid interest.
They are preparing to launch their new charitable organisation Archewell – named after their son.
It will replace their now-defunct Sussex Royal brand, but plans to launch the venture have been delayed while the world battles coronavirus.