Race and Royalty

Why Ms. Markle Is Significant

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As the Meghan-Harry wedding approaches, I’ve been thinking about the significance of Ms. Markle joining the Royal fold. I am not a Royalist, you understand. Whilst I appreciate the continued need for a monarchy in practical terms (sort of), for me, the institution is at best outdated and at worst an enduring symbol of our colonial past. So what is it about this particular Royal knees-up that interests me?

I know Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane, the stylish and supremely clever Associate at Pearson Specter Litt. Beyond her acting role on the TV show Suits though, she’s a self-confessed feminist (yass) and humanitarian (watch her eloquent and moving 2015 UN Women speech and weep).

Accomplished and beautiful, Meghan is every inch the princess, save for 3 things: she is American, she is divorced and, perhaps most divisively, she is ‘black’.

Born to a Dutch-Irish father and an African American mother, Meghan is of mixed heritage, like me. Whilst this shouldn’t be noteworthy, the media response to the engaged couple’s announcement has been fervorous, to say the least. Even before the Prince and Ms. Markle got engaged in November last year, there was a great deal of press interest in Meghan, much of which focused on her ethnicity.

I for one have never felt more connected to the Royals, never more able to relate to them, finally seeing a woman who shares my hue welcomed into Kensington Palace.

Indeed, Harry’s press secretary released an unprecedented statement earlier that month calling out the ‘wave of abuse’ she had been subjected to since news of their relationship surfaced, much of which had ‘racial overtones’. The idea of a black princess, for some it seems, is unthinkable.

I for one have never felt more connected to the Royals, never more able to relate to them, finally seeing a woman who shares my hue welcomed into Kensington Palace. The Royal family then will soon be a little more reflective of the diverse nation it serves. About time.

Growing up, I was all too aware of how society often perceived me as a person of colour (POC). The fact that POC were frequently absent from the media I consumed, black women rarely presented as beautiful or capable – princess material they were not. Indeed, it was only in 2009 that Disney introduced its first black princess, Tiana, in the somewhat problematic though generally welcome ‘The Princess and the Frog’. Meghan then is another princess young black girls can engage with. Loathed as I am to encourage girls to aspire to princess status, which is of course technically a bloodline rather than a role with any inherent merit, it does signal that there is a place for them in high society. That all of the characteristics associated with princesses are equally theirs to enjoy. Meghan explains to ELLE Magazine in a beautifully penned piece about racial identity “I have come to embrace [my mixed heritage]. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.” Surely, a proudly biracial soon-to-be Royal can’t help but change attitudes to race in this country?

Many have been quick to comment on the fact that Meghan doesn’t ‘look very black’, questioning how Harry’s chosen spouse would have been received by the Royal family had she possessed a darker complexion or sported an afro hairstyle. I’m reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s conversation with Synne Rifbjerg where she ventured that “If Michelle Obama had natural hair, Barack Obama would not have won” – It’s quite a statement, but sadly one that I’m inclined to agree with. Don’t get me wrong, all skin tones are beautiful (as if I needed to say that!). I happen to have a caramel skin tone, just a little darker than Meghan’s perhaps, and well understand the pains that come with living in a society that expects you to identify as either black or white, never both. Furthermore, I don’t resent any women of colour who happens to have straight or wavy hair, or any woman who chooses to style her hair in such a way. That said, be it politics or royalty, it’s true that many black women feel the need to downplay their ‘blackness’ in order to access powerful spaces. Whilst I don’t believe Meghan has done this, one thing is for sure, colourism exists and her so-called ‘ethnic ambiguity’ no doubt makes her a more suitable Royal in the eyes of the world than would any of her more melanated sisters.

So, whilst this marriage won’t end racism, it has the potential to be a significant moment in our history. As one half of an interracial couple living in the fractured era of Brexit and Trump’s America, this union feels particularly sweet. That’s why, come Saturday, I’ll be tuning in to witness the young couple tie the knot at Windsor and raising a glass to hope, progress and love.

Lorelle x

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  • This is articulately expressed Lorelle. I agree that The Royal Family as a whole are a reminder of a colonial past and outmoded on many levels. Thankfully the new generation of Royals are infinitely more relatable than their prececessors.

    Meghan is an intelligent, beautiful and accomplished young woman who is about to make history. Her presence in the Royal Family is a positive message, although the colour of her skin should really have no relevance.

    I have never understood why people cannot be judged on their actions and who they are as people rather than by their physical appearance/ethnicity.. but this is the sadly shallow and ignorant world we live in. Meghan is a powerful sign of the change that surely some day has to come.

  • What a fabulous piece, Lorelle. I do completely agree with you that the Royal Family is outdated and even archaic, but I love that Harry has been able to marry the woman he loves and I truly, truly hope that this is a turning point for not only the Royals but society in general. With all the tension around Brexit, Trump and everything else, I think this is what’s needed and it shows that we aren’t all horrible racists. I wish them both all the best on Saturday, I hope her being welcomed into the Royal family has an impact on wider society.

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