Many fear racism in Britain is on the rise. In the midst comes Meghan Markle, a mixed-race woman who is to be the bride of Prince Harry, the sixth in line to the throne of Great Britain. She’ll become the first ever mixed-race woman to marry into the Royal Family.
Meghan Markle’s inclusion into the family which in many ways is a symbol of white superiority, a family which hails from a Queen (Victoria) who ruled over half the world, is a conversation changer and inspires discussion about mixed-race identity. Her marriage and expected subsequent elevation to the post of Duchess will question the idea that Britishness is at its core a white identity.
Markle was born in Los Angeles in 1981 to a Dutch-Irish father and African-American mother. She herself has described her being of mixed ancestry as “when your ethnicity is black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.” What does she mean by this? Well, in the U.S., despite it being 2018 almost 50 years since African-Americans were given the power to vote, 14percent individuals are still opposed to their relative marrying a black person.
This racism shows in other ways too. Markle elaborates, “I was home in LA on a college break when my mom was called the 'N' word. We were leaving a concert and she wasn't pulling out of a parking space quickly enough for another driver. My skin rushed with heat as I looked to my mom. Her eyes welling with hateful tears, I could only breathe out a whisper of words, so hushed they were barely audible: 'It's OK, Mommy.'”
But Markle was confronted with the question of her identity as early as seventh-grade. She narrates: There was a mandatory census I had to complete in my English class – you had to check one of the boxes to indicate your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic or Asian. There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other – and one half of myself over the other. My teacher told me to check the box for Caucasian. 'Because that's how you look, Meghan,' she said. I put down my pen. Not as an act of defiance, but rather a symptom of my confusion. I couldn't bring myself to do that, to picture the pit-in-her-belly sadness my mother would feel if she were to find out. So, I didn't tick a box. I left my identity blank – a question mark, an absolute incomplete – much like how I felt.
She’s been open with her personal identity struggle and has concluded, “You introduce yourself as who you are, not what colour your parents happen to be. You cultivate your life with people who don't lead with ethnic descriptions such as, 'that black guy Tom', but rather friends who say: 'You know? Tom, who works at [blah blah] and dates [fill in the blank] girl.' You create the identity you want for yourself, just as my ancestors did when they were given their freedom.” She describes herself today as ‘ actress, a writer, the Editor-in-Chief of my lifestyle brand The Tig, a pretty good cook and a firm believer in handwritten notes.'
Markle today becomes British by marriage at a time when forty percent of families from black African and Caribbean backgrounds live in low-income households in Britain, compared with 19% of white families. Twenty-three percent of young black people and 25% of young Bangladeshi and Pakistani youth are unemployed, more than double the number of white job seekers of the same age. From conversations starters to the illusion of change, Markle does bring something.
As the election of Barack Obama as the U.S.’ first black President broke the ceiling on achievement for African-Americans so does Markle’s elevation into the Royal family mark a moment in time that symbolizes racism as an ideology has been dealt another blow.
Meghan Markle’s notes on her mixed-race identity have been quoted from her write-up for ELLE.