SO, we’re racist. The Duchess of Sussex was driven out of Britain because of her colour. Indeed, those who dissent are themselves racists. And those who even want to enter into a conversation about the matter are enablers of racism, wrapped up in the cotton wool of white privilege and unable to see the stark bigotry in front of their noses.

Really? Is this the best of us?

The Meghan Markle fire was kept alight last week when Laurence Fox, the actor best known by this watcher of Lewis as Inspector Hathaway, appeared on Question Time.

It is slightly discombobulating when someone like Fox goes on Question Time. Nine times out of 10 its celebrity panellist is an archetypal poster person of the morally superior left, so when they have someone on who is not, it makes their comments all the more interesting.

I chuckled at his answer on his climate footprint, albeit I am certain it will be lost on the colleagues he mocked. But it was his exchange with Rachel Boyle, a lecturer in race ethnicity, on the media treatment of the Duchess which captured the headlines and provoked mass Twitter hysteria.

Fox’s comments deserve a calmer airing. He is saying that if someone shouts racism the decent amongst us are increasingly expected to accept it and stay quiet.

White people don’t understand racism, so shut up about it. But where does that get us, in the end, other than to the point where certain people are effectively prohibited from talking about certain issues in polite society?

I confess that I thought twice about choosing this topic for this column for precisely that reason. It will give me nothing but trouble. I’ll get tweets and emails which won’t be nice to read, and for which a thick skin will be required.

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However, I can’t accept that here in Britain, which has spread freedom of speech all over the world, we should be fearful of practising it ourselves.

In truth, I don’t know if Britain is a racist country. I instinctively recognise Britain as a global leader in tolerance and integration, but self-criticism is integral to ensuring that it doesn’t become complacent.

I suppose it depends on one’s definition. Are there racists? Of course, but that would make every country in the world racist by definition, and there is a good argument to be made that the digital loudspeaker of social media has brought into public the behaviour that was always taking place amongst a small minority in private.

But those people are the lowest of our society, and I’m not sure we can label our country according to their behaviour. So is there, then, racist-enabling behaviour by people who should know better? Yes, and of course the oft-quoted example is Boris Johnson’s “letter-boxes” description of Muslim women wearing the Niqab. I do not think that the Prime Minister is racist, but I do think that people in a lofty position need to understand the effect that their language could have on the way others behave.

What we are insinuating in the case of the Duchess, though, is altogether different. We are saying that Britain is an institutionally racist country. With that I confess, I have some trouble.

In deconstructing her media coverage, there are elements of no doubt and elements of doubt.

It is of no doubt that her coverage has, since her wedding, been diametrically opposed to that of her sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge. That’s perfectly obvious, and those who hold up a mirror to the sympathetic – some might say sycophantic – coverage Kate received when she “lovingly cradled” her baby bump, comparing it to the “why can’t Meghan stop touching her bump?” headlines are correct. There is no shortage of other examples.

That the coverage is different is in no doubt. But, surely, we are capable of having a deeper and calmer conversation about why the coverage is different. Because we have jumped a step here. We have said the headlines are different (step one), ergo the British press is racist (step three). We have not analysed why the coverage is different (step two).

Now, it is imperative that as part of our considerations of step two we include race. Because if the Duchess of Sussex’s media coverage is different to that of the Duchess of Cambridge because of her race, then that is a matter of national seriousness which would require a seismic response.

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But if it is not because of that – if it is for entirely unrelated reasons – then it is dangerous for us to blindly accept that it is.

What other reasons might there be?

Well, let us remember that when the relationship began her media coverage was excellent; indeed it was seen universally as being a welcome development that Harry was in a relationship with a person of mixed race.

But the press then began to believe that Meghan Markle is not a royalist. Right or wrong, they now see someone who doesn’t love or respect the traditions of the Royal Family, who doesn’t enjoy her role within it, who doesn’t relish being an understudy to the more senior members of it, and who acts out the “Duchess Difficult” persona in reality.

For the record, I am not a Royalist either. Although I’m not hugely exercised by the existence of the Royals or their role in our constitution, I am a republican. But if there is one thing around which the British press unites it is its Royalism. So perhaps it is little wonder it takes a dimmer view of the Duchess of Sussex than it does of the Duchess of Cambridge.

And here’s the critical point. If that is why the press treats her badly, then that may be unfair, but it is not racist because it has nothing to do with her race. When the Duchess of Cornwall, for instance, endured years, decades, of negative coverage, self-evidently nobody suspected the press had a race issue.

I know the press; I’ve worked with them for the best part of two decades. I need to be persuaded that journalists and headline writers have Meghan Markle’s skin colour in their minds when they are writing about her.

But if I am wrong, then let’s hear it. Let’s talk about it. Calmly. Let’s see evidence. If I can’t spot discrimination because I’m not subject to it, I need to know how to do better. This is too important a topic, and too serious an accusation, to be too afraid to talk about.