On Monday, November 27, Prince Harry announced his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle. After noting the fact that Harry designed the engagement ring himself and even asked his fiancè’s parents for their blessing, it is important to understand what their engagement means in the larger socio-political context. Markle best known for her role as Rachel from the hit-series Suits, will become the first “biracial” member of the British monarchy and only the second American to join the royal family.
Wallis Simpson was the first American to marry into the monarchy. However, the union was so controversial that King Edward VIII decided to give up his throne in order to ensure his ability to marry her. After learning that Harry has been coaching Meghan on how to act “royally,” many citizens noted that American manners are different from British manners and being royalty comes with an entirely different handbook.
Aside from just being an American citizen, Markle presents another challenge to the traditional British ideal as she identifies as a biracial woman. Reflecting in an essay for Elle that as a child, when pressured to check the Caucasian box on the census, she could not and instead chose not to fill out any box. The idea of “passing” has long plagued American society, as people of color are encouraged to deny part of their cultural history and experience to be fully accepted into society.
According to studies and reports, the British culture and media in general tend to operate similarly to the antiquated American thought that even “a drop of black blood” qualifies someone as being entirely black. It is said that the British media do not make the distinction between biracial and black.
Although Markle has already come forward and criticized the media for its focus on her race and ethnicity, many British citizens believe that she will be coached to deny her blackness. Kehinde Andrews, a sociology professor at Birmingham City University, remarked, “she won’t be allowed to be a black princess. The only way she can be accepted is to pass for white.” Even though the media and many theorists seem to perceive Markle’s racial identity as problematic, reports show that the majority of British citizens seem to be unphased by their soon-to-be duchess. It will be interesting to follow the development of this, as Markle has been described as “an independent career woman,” and has been outspoken about her gender and racial identity in the past.
After reading countless articles leading up to the announcement and after the official word was given, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy.
I was left wondering, how are we as a society still stuck at this crossroads? While Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry is a sign of progress, it also draws out trolls and highlights the fact that not enough attention has been given to the ways in which our societal and governmental institutions contribute to the maintenance of white supremacy. Why has it taken so long for non-binary conforming ethnic identities to be added to a government survey, such as the census? How can we support and encourage platforms that allow people the space and freedom to understand and live out their identity?
Even while writing this I am overcome by the privileges I am afforded. We must work to identify, understand, and deconstruct privileges so that one day my delusions of grandeur may actually be realized.