Vogue's Edward Enninful: ‘Was the criticism of Meghan Markle racist? Some of it, yes’

The editor on his collaboration with Markle, the culture war that followed – and proving his critics wrong

If you have ever wondered how it feels to have your magazine guest-edited by the world’s most-watched royal, here is a rough guide. Travel to Kensington Palace alone, in secret, many months before publication. Agree a plan over mint tea. Assign said royal a code name, known only to your innermost circle, and distract the rest of your staff by having them work on a completely different issue. (This may be used later, or even written off as a loss leader; it’s a price worth paying for the impact the project will have.)

For Edward Enninful, who morphed from Vogue editor to covert agent when the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, expressed an interest in guest-editing his magazine, the deception was the hardest part. “Every single day we were having secret meetings in my office,” Enninful tells me, speaking on the phone a fortnight after the magazine reached newsstands. “We were just grateful for each day that went by without a leak.”

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And I never became reconciled to the prevalence of this form of hereditary privilege in American higher education, particularly given this country’s deeply ingrained commitment to the ideals of merit and equal opportunity.In the intensely competitive process of admission to America’s selective universities, the advantage afforded legacy students is no small matter. One study that looked at admissions to elite colleges in 1997 estimated that legacy status afforded applicants an admissions boost equivalent to an added 160 points on the SAT. Another study, which looked at admissions to 30 highly selective institutions in 2007, concluded that legacy applicants were more than three times as likely to be admitted as their non-legacy peers. Because legacy students at these schools are more likely to be wealthy and white than non-legacy students, the very existence of legacy preferences limits access for high-achieving low- and middle-income students, and also for African American, Latino, and Native American students.[Read: The real reasons legacy preferences exist]Over the past two centuries, higher education has served as America’s most potent engine of social mobility. The creation of public university systems and community colleges, visionary legislation such as the GI Bill and the Higher Education Act, and universities’ own investment in financial aid have given students from all socioeconomic backgrounds greater access to higher education and the opportunities it confers. Today, according to the economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues, a child without a college degree from a family in the lowest income quintile has only a 5 percent chance of moving to the highest quintile. But if that child graduates from one of America’s most selective universities, the odds of making that leap rise to 60 percent.Liberal democratic societies make a compact with their citizens that anyone with enough grit and talent can move beyond the confines of the class into which they were born and live a better life than their parents. As we well know, Americans are increasingly cynical about that promise, believing that democratic institutions are stacked against them. As American higher education has become more stratified, with the wealthiest students concentrated at the most selective institutions, the unabashed commitment to legacy preferences cannot help but lend credence to that belief.It doesn’t have to be this way. Extraordinary institutions such as MIT and Cal Tech have never entertained legacy preferences, and the University of California system did away with them in the 1990s. In 2014, Johns Hopkins joined their ranks. We made this change with little fanfare, so we could watch its impact and ensure that our approach was sustainable.Admittedly, the decision to do away with legacy preferences was not easy. Defenders often argue that legacy preferences are a powerful tool to strengthen multigenerational bonds within a university community. Institutions like Hopkins rely on a robust network of dedicated alumni for counsel, outreach, and support. We take sincere pride in the fact that so many of our graduates feel such a strong connection to their alma mater that, years later, they urge their own children to apply. All our applications are subject to a holistic assessment, and many of these young people are exceptional applicants.But maintaining the long-standing tradition of affording such students a routine admissions advantage based solely on their parentage had come at a high cost. It was impairing our ability to educate qualified and promising students from all backgrounds and to help launch them up the social ladder.[Read: Elite-college admissions were built to protect privilege]The year I arrived, Hopkins had more legacy students in its freshman class (12.5 percent) than students who were eligible for Pell Grants (9 percent). Now those numbers are reversed—3.5 percent of students in this year’s freshman class have a legacy connection to the university, and 19.1 percent are Pell-eligible—and we expect that the number of Pell-eligible students will continue to rise in the coming years.Ending legacy preferences is but one piece of our university’s work to make a Johns Hopkins education accessible to all talented students, to mitigate the burdens of debt, and to ensure that students receive the supports and services that will help them thrive. These efforts are not a panacea for the structural inequities that plague our society. 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The Goop Lab Is a Sparkly, Cynical Artifact of 2020
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Even Ana seems surprised at how correct she was to distrust the premise of the exercise—which is also, as it happens, the premise of Goop as a lifestyle brand: that the physical world is, to some extent, a faith-based initiative.But then, off camera, a producer’s voice interrupts the proceedings. “Hey, Laura? This is really strange. I think you’re actually reading Lindsay right now.”The show’s camera pans over to Lindsay, an associate producer, who is crying. Lindsay explains that her grandfather died a week ago. And that her grandmother is a twin. And that she is getting married in Mexico next year. Even the Shrek note tracked: “My father was just joking that he really wanted, for the photo booth at our wedding in Mexico, to have a donkey,” Lindsay says. “And my grandpa, like, laughed about it in the hospital days before he passed.”The people in the room seem shocked to have witnessed this moment of intra-realm wire-crossing. Jackson does not. “So this is what happens when I’m open and they’re determined,” she says breezily, explaining how the spirits of the dead might try to communicate with those who are not a reading’s appointed “sitters.” A title card echoes her claim: “Lindsay did not have any communication with Laura Lynne Jackson prior to this taping.”Is this evidence? Is it trolling? Is it something else? Goop—the name, the story goes, derived from Gwyneth Paltrow’s initials and her assumption that the most successful websites have an “oo” in them—has evolved, since 2008, from a newsletter into a website into a commercial platform into a series of books into a powerful and lucrative brand. As it has expanded, it has also become infamous for selling products that traffic in the culture of “wellness” with little evident regard for the science of it. (In 2018, the company settled a false-advertising case brought by the state of California involving three of its products. One of them was a blend of essential oils that the site claimed could fight depression.) The Goop takedown, whether directed at the yoni egg or the coffee enema or the $125,000 gold dumbbells, has become its own branch of journalism, some of it authored by medical professionals and some by cultural critics who, correctly, take issue with the brand’s blithe assumptions about who can buy their way into wellness and who cannot.[Read: I Gooped myself]The Goop Lab is best understood as a six-episode-long infomercial for Goop. You can also read it, though, as a show about the set of circumstances that led to the star of Shallow Hal becoming, to some, an authority on health. The show’s episodes, led by Paltrow and Elise Loehnen, Goop’s chief content officer, explore topics such as psychedelics (“The Healing Trip”), cold-exposure therapy (“Cold Comfort”), women’s sexual health (“The Pleasure Is Ours”), and energy-field massage (“The Energy Experience”). Goop employees often serve as the appointed topic’s guinea pigs, testing out mushrooms and plunging into Lake Tahoe in winter and explaining in talking-head interviews how the treatments improved their life. The show’s unifying assumption is that there is science beyond “science.” The series is a stylized argument for all that might be achieved, on behalf of the body and the soul and the culture that contains them, if humans could look beyond the dull contingencies of fact.This is, on the soft-lit surface of things, an optimistic premise. The show’s appointed authorities often note, in discussions with Paltrow and Loehnen set in Goop’s gleaming offices, that progress requires its own kind of faith. (One of them points out that the world was assumed to be flat until people of vision determined it to be otherwise.) Several of them note as well that true visionaries are often mocked, in their age, by those who are insufficiently open of mind. They have a point. The show’s strongest episode features Betty Dodson, the feminist sex educator, discussing the physics of women’s orgasms; it reads as a timely corrective to American culture’s tendency to treat women’s bodies as agents of shame.But to watch The Goop Lab as a series, with its arcing assumptions about the limitations of medical science, is also to wonder where to locate the line between open-mindedness and gullibility. It is to wonder why Gwyneth Paltrow, celebrity and salesperson, should be trusted as an arbiter of health. To have a body is to live in a constant state of uncertainty. Goop transforms that anxiety into a sales pitch.[Read: When beauty is a troll]Goop also, at times, turns that anxiety into a joke. Its products get a lot of mileage from puns. The Goop Lab, its title suggestive of scientific rigor, makes fun of the brand’s reputation for the opposite. The poster for the show features Paltrow, clad in a pink dress, situated on a graphic that is unmistakably evocative of labia. (“REACH NEW DEPTHS,” the poster offers, winkily.) Late last week, Goop released a candle called This Smells Like My Vagina. Scented with geranium, bergamot, and cedar “to put us in mind of fantasy, seduction, and a sophisticated warmth,” the object cost $75, was the subject of much discussion, and sold out almost immediately.The Goop Lab continues that lulzy approach—each episode begins with a title-card disclaimer that the show is “designed to entertain and inform” rather than offer medical advice—but combines the mirth with deep earnestness. That creates its own kind of chaos. What is the meaningful difference, legal niceties aside, between “information” and “advice”? When a medium talks about Shrek during a reading that claims to connect the living to the dead, how seriously are audiences supposed to take that? When Julianne Hough, a celebrity best known as a ballroom performer on Dancing With the Stars, joins the show to talk about a childhood trauma that she held in her toes, is that a testament to the body as a site of discovery, or to a kind of medical anarchy? “How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million” is the title of The New York Times’ 2018 feature on the brand and its founder; the company’s Netflix spin-off, as well, has the potential to troll all the way to the bank.The Goop Lab is streaming into a moment in America that finds Medicare for All under discussion and the Affordable Care Act under attack. It presents itself as airy infotainment even as many Americans are unable to access even the most basic forms of medical care. That makes the show deeply uncomfortable to watch. So does The Goop Lab’s just-asking-questions approach to health—its breezy mistrust of expertise itself. The show, like the online store from which it is spun, is perfectly calibrated to the post-fact cynicisms of 2020. Can you improve your immune system through breathing techniques? Can you lower your biological age, even if you cannot control your chronological one? Maybe. But it is telling that Goop, the lifestyle brand that treats health as a luxury good, is the one asking those questions.
My Time With the British Aristocracy
The world Meghan Markle entered when she married Prince Harry is unlike any other. But, as a black American woman married to a member of Britain’s upper class, I have caught just a glimpse of it, from a roughly similar perspective.For a while I lived in London and, through the man who would become my husband, I was introduced to some of the ancient class dynamics that permeate British society. He went to Eton, the elite boys’ boarding school attended by Prince William, Prince Harry, and many prime ministers.Once, I went with him to the christening of an old classmate’s child. At the event, I sat across from David Cameron, an Old Etonian—or OE, as Eton’s former students are called—who was then the Tory party leader. His wife and my partner were both godparents to the new baby. If I were British, the christening and subsequent lunch with a gaggle of OEs and their equally posh wives would likely have made me nervous, angry, and uncomfortable. But I was somewhat insulated by the fact that, as an outsider, I didn’t have negative associations—or really any associations—with their traditions and ways of expressing themselves.“Toffs,” as members of the upper class are sometimes called, have a language of their own that by turns obsesses and infuriates Britain’s middle class. More than once, my husband has leaned over during a film and whispered, “They’re speaking Etonian.” I’ve picked up some jargon over the years. Students call the residents of Windsor, where the school is located, “plebes.” They speak of “messing,” or of teatime prepared by the “boys’ maid.” When they say someone was in “Pop,” they are referring to the Eton Society, an elite club. Membership in the Eton Society comes with strange privileges, such as permission to wear decorated waistcoats under your tailcoats and keep your umbrella unfurled in class. I also came to know more than I ever wished about the King’s Scholars, the 14 or so people who score the highest on their entrance exams each year. They live in a separate residence house and are given distinctive gowns to wear over their uniforms. My husband is a firm member of the Labour Party, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s superiority as a King’s Scholar is etched into my husband’s memory and seemingly that of other OEs his age, regardless of their party affiliation.[Read: Harry and Meghan won’t play the game]Tim Graham / GettyMy husband has said that he was drawn to me in part because, again, as an American, all that Etonian mostly washed over me. I suspect this was part of Meghan’s draw for Harry. My husband told me about previous girlfriends not of his background who had been terrified when visiting his family. One girlfriend, a fellow student at the London School of Economics, retreated to his childhood bedroom in tears. His parents’ accents, their formal meals with fish knives and grape scissors—all of these signs combined to remind her that she was not one of them and, as British society had been telling her all her life, that they were “better.” When I first arrived in England, these stories confounded me. Why were these accomplished people so fragile?I never really cared about who was thought of as posh. While there are some silly efforts to claim membership in a black upper class in the United States by documenting longevity of homeownership on Martha’s Vineyard or by claiming an ancestor as the first black doctor or lawyer in the town, these distinctions don’t permeate the consciousness of most black Americans. That is to say: My race provided an added layer of protection from the tensions that permeate British social interactions. If a black American woman lets birth hierarchy affect her, she will be easily crushed. I’m made of different stuff, sterner stuff.[Joanna Weiss: Harry and Meghan might not like the price of financial independence]When I lived in the U.K., people usually expressed incredulity when I said I would never want to be a princess. But I wasn’t angry about the continued existence of the British monarchy; I was indifferent. Although many of my friends complained that the royals suck up precious funds, I didn’t have anything against them other than my general lack of interest in inherited position. In my opinion, they have boring jobs, and most people with phenomenally boring jobs should be paid well.At yet another OE party, I sat across from a man whose wife was the private secretary to a member of the royal family. I asked him a few questions, not because I was impressed but because I was curious, and not about his wife’s employer. What I really wanted to know was why his wife, a wealthy woman with options, would choose to spend her life curtsying—literally and figuratively—to someone whose sole credential was her birth and marriage? If I divide people into a hierarchy, I tend to be guided by morals, intellect, and action. Most black Americans don’t have to reach too far back in their past to find relatives who worked as domestics or other servants. The legacy of our ancestral background is the inherent belief that drivers, secretaries, and cleaners could easily be our better, of character and intellect. Maybe this is why Meghan startles Brits by closing her own car doors.Some commentators have posited that racism is driving the couple from the U.K. But racism is laying people low all across North America too. What I found more distinct in the U.K. was the collective acquiescence—physical and psychological—to dominance by birthright.Although I was mostly bemused, not enraged, by the aristocratic world, I eventually had enough. About a decade ago, I scooped up my English husband and our baby and moved us out of the U.K. to Harlem. My husband, for his part, has become enamored of his freedom from the British class system, and with each passing year, he grows more reluctant to return.
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I remember little of it, other than the hammy and perfunctory sign-off, which was “Death to America, Death to Israel,”—but delivered without the venom I expected, and instead with the casual tone of a Catskills comedian at his thousandth performance (“you’ve been a lovely audience”).Then an amazing thing happened. Seconds after the word “Israel” stopped echoing off the empty street and the canyon of buildings, a convoy exited the campus, and turned onto Enqelab Street. In the middle of the convoy, in an armored sedan, was Khamenei himself, looking at me quizzically through very thick windows as he zipped past, perhaps 20 or 30 feet away.That was then. Since the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, I suspect that he and other senior Iranian officials have upgraded their security protocols. Soleimani, who was Khamenei’s military counterpart, died in Baghdad. But America’s unwillingness to attack Iran’s leaders, even inside Iran, can no longer be assumed, and it would take only a minimal level of rationality for Khamenei to conclude that death could come from above (in an air-strike), below (a car bomb), or any other direction, and that he should minimize contact with random weirdos on the street.Killing Soleimani did not begin World War III, but it did start another familiar conversation, about whether the Iranian government is so stressed that it might topple soon. Washington’s “regime change” crowd has taken up this line, but of course their word is worth little. They are attempting to diagnose and prescribe in the same action: by saying that collapse is imminent, they are trying to make it imminent, encouraging revolution by convincing Iranians that revolution is inevitable anyway. When John Bolton, the recently departed national security adviser and an Iran hawk of long standing, says the regime “has never been under more stress,” it is impossible to know whether he is stating a fact or a desire.[Read: The endorsement Iran’s protesters didn’t want]What is clear is that the Iranian regime is facing public protests more intense than at any point in recent memory—perhaps beyond even the Green Revolt of 2009, which the government put down with near Tiananmen-like force. Sanctions are cutting the general population deeply; subsidies are being slashed; and after the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner filled with Iranians—and the subsequent denial, then acceptance, of responsibility—hatred of the regime is rising fast. The images from Iran show beyond doubt that large crowds of Iranians do not fear the reaction of their government, and that they are willing to risk becoming its latest victims.But I hesitate to infer from these images imminent regime collapse. In Iran, like in many other countries, elite opinion is a poor guide to popular opinion. Visitors to Iran—especially journalists—usually spend their time in big cities such as Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz. In the rare cases when they enjoy real freedom of movement and can spend more than a few days in the country, they might add Mashhad and Tabriz.On that same backpacking trip, in Tehran and Isfahan, I met many Iranians whose greatest fear was that their government would develop nuclear weapons, thus guaranteeing its survival—and their own captivity in a totalitarian theocracy—for the next half-century or more. The mood in Tehran in particular was depressive. Even during the Green revolt, they thought rebellion was pointless, because the government would outlast the protests. The only adversary to the Iranian government that mattered, they said, was the United States, whose intervention they both feared and desired, like a rough course of chemo that was the last chance to shrink a cancer that their own body had failed to contain.The best places to find these forlorn liberals, I found, were on the hiking trails on the northern edge of Tehran. There they picnicked together and disappeared, like Winston and Julia in Nineteen-Eighty-Four, into the safety of nature, for a glass of wine and maybe a roll in the grass.[Read: Qassem Soleimani haunted the Arab world]But when the regime called for protests and parades, the streets filled with Iranians just as enthusiastic about their government as my Tehran friends were depressed by it. I mingled with them (I have highly incriminating photos of my younger self, browsing Holocaust denial pamphlets on the street, to prove it) and have no doubt about their sincerity. Many said they were not from Tehran but from smaller cities and towns—some of which I later visited, and where people were relatively content with the mullahs’ rule. They had been bused into Tehran for the parades, in classic authoritarian rent-a-mob fashion. But they were no less Iranian than the cosmopolitan residents of the capital.The assassination of Soleimani will, naturally, perturb those regime supporters who filled the streets. What may be less obvious, though, is that even some of the regime’s critics will mourn the man’s death. Soleimani headed the Quds Force, and his primary role was the expansion of Iran’s overseas power through relationships with proxy militias. Unlike other regime figures, he was not identified with oppression domestically but with Iran’s fights overseas against groups that consider themselves enemies not only of Iranian mullahs but of Iran as a whole. Soleimani fought against ISIS, which did not distinguish between Iranians who loved Khamenei and those who did not; he fought against Saudi Arabia, a country that has vilified Shia and Persians for its entire existence. As such he was not the divisive figure within Iran that he was in, say, Iraq or Syria, both of which have large populations who suffered greatly under the brutality of his allies. Iranians who hate their government could simultaneously appreciate its efforts to keep Sunnis, especially Sunni Arabs, from overrunning its borders. And since Soleimani kept the barbarians from the gates, I would expect that many Iranians who disliked him are nonetheless rattled by his death.Two weeks have passed since the Trump administration decided, after years of forbearance, to hit Iran’s leaders. The Iranian regime knows that many American weapons formerly housed in their scabbards are now drawn, and their security requires a vigilance they have never experienced. But the Iranian people are, for the first time in decades, worried about whether the leaders who have been their captors are not also their protectors, and whether the U.S. cares about their survival, once those leaders have been eliminated. The year 2020 is a year of pessimism for many Americans. Imagine how it looks to an Iranian.
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Australian wildfires prompt $11,000 fine for tossing lit cigarette out of car
Australians could now face a major if they toss a lit cigarette.
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Here's why Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang supporters may be the most powerful Iowans on caucus night
The most consequential moment of the Iowa caucuses won't be the first time that people across the state line up in support of their preferred candidate on February 3.
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Letters to the Editor: White candidates got wall-to-wall coverage. Look who's left on the debate stage
We can't bemoan the exit of candidates of color without pointing out how much coverage the media gave to Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg.
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Letters to the Editor: Trump is giving us a real-time lesson in how democracies die
Trump believes the Constitution lets him do whatever he wants. If we let him get away with this, our democracy will have died.
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Opinion: Senators at Trump's impeachment trial aren't impartial 'jurors.' But they shouldn't be partisan hacks either
Trump's trial isn't a criminal proceeding, but fairness is still vital.
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